The men’s market has been on the upswing for several seasons, and for spring ’16, designers are pushing the limits like never before — forgoing classic shoe styles for more experimental collections.
The newness began on the men’s runways in New York, London, Milan and Paris. On top of a genderless focus at Gucci and Saint Laurent — those shows featured models of both sexes — the spring runways saw a more directional offering of accessories.
The industry excitement has allowed a fresh crop of emerging footwear brands to thrive as well.
“There has been a change in the way men shop,” said Stephanie Moor, men’s buyer at Level Shoe District, which recently expanded its men’s floor. “It’s clear that there is a growing male archetype looking for styles that have a contemporary twist as [they] become more educated about fashion and are not afraid to stand out with their footwear choices.”
“Not only do we choose to market the runway ready-to-wear, but we curate the collections to uncover the next runaway success story in footwear,” added Tom Kalenderian, EVP and GMM of men’s and Chelsea’s Passage at Barneys New York.
Here, FN puts the spotlight on five rising stars who are poised to shake up the men’s market.
Hood By Air
Since debuting Hood By Air in 2006, designer Shayne Oliver has extended the brand’s signature genderless focus into a growing shoe business.
The excitement was evident at the label’s spring ’16 runway show, which featured models of both sexes wearing laceup heeled sandals with the word “Air” etched into the leather on the sides. “Hood By Air was launched because there was something missing — this is the driving force behind the brand,” said Oliver. “If you look at each collection, it will tell you what I didn’t see at the particular time.”
While men’s heels are nowhere near the norm — yet — Hood By Air’s highheeled shoes will be available at Barneys New York, proving that retailers are embracing riskier buys.
Hood By Air’s spring collection will also feature four footwear styles that are made in Italy, ranging in price from $600 to $800, with each produced in both men’s and women’s sizes.
A new signature for the designer? The Avalanche boot, a modern riff on a hiker with unexpected details like cutouts or a glittered upper. “It was inspired by strength — physically and mentally,” Oliver said. “I like a bit of sex placed in there also.”
Bucking the retro trend, Artselab isn’t recycling old silhouettes. Instead, the Italian brand offers architectural sneaker shapes finished with cutout leathers and flatform soles.
Founder and designer Giuliano Balestra creates his collection, which debuted in 2013, in the Sant’Elpidio a Mare footwear district of Italy.
“We launched with the aim of creating a brand that would combine creativity, craftsmanship and ‘Made in Italy’ quality,” said Balestra. The brand’s spring ’16 collection ranges from $440 to $663 and is sold at retailers such as Luisa Via Roma, Antonioli, L’Eclaireur and Politix.
Though the sneaker scene continues to get more crowded, Artselab aims to stand out in the marketplace with its handmade viewpoint.
“This heritage is missing in the market — a shoe that becomes real through the hands of artisans,” said Balestra. “That’s why we decided to make sure that this practice will not be lost.”
After launching for the fall ’14 season, Adieu co-founders Benjamin Caron and Isabelle Guédon evolved their unisex shoe line out of a never-ending search for refined punk wear.
“It was an old dream,” said Guédon. “When we were teenagers, Benjamin was a nice, dressed-up punk and was always disappointed by his creepers, so he was obsessively redesigning them in his school books.”
Now, the Paris-based brand has made the creeper its signature — elevating the classic with crepe soles and unexpected colorways, like powder pink or a polka-dot print.
“More and more, men want their shoes to be a different touch in their outfit — not just a functional, nearly invisible piece,” said Guédon.
Adieu’s spring ’16 collection ranges from $408 to $530. All of the shoes are made in Portugal and France, with leathers sourced from Italy. The brand is stocked in more than 50 stores, including Colette, The Broken Arm, Lane Crawford and Jeffrey.
In 2011, during his final year of studies at the London College of Fashion, Diego Vanassibara was already plotting the idea for his label. In January 2013, he debuted his
collection during Men’s Fashion Week in London, introducing unconventional men’s dress shoes produced in Tuscany, Italy. Vanassibara’s spring ’16 line, which retails from $400 to $850, has won over retailers that include Dover Street Market, L’Eclaireur in Paris and Joyce in Hong Kong.
“I was convinced that our brand could successfully fill the gap between classic and avant-garde styles,” said the now-32-year-old designer. “We embrace craftsmanship and artisanship in a contemporary way that is unique to us.”
Standout styles include laceup dress shoes with metal staples, as well as feathered smoking slippers for an over-the-top touch.
“My motivation lies in proposing new and original ideas in a wearable way,” he said. “My customers are definitely willing to take risks — the shoes that perform the best are the exciting ones.”
Achilles Ion Gabriel
“I like contemporary twists on classic styles,” said Achilles Ion Gabriel, who launched his Paris-based unisex brand for fall ’13. “I want the shoes to feel quite classic, but add something new.”
Made in Portugal and Spain, the designer’s shoes are produced in women’s sizes as well as men’s. The spring ’16 collection retails from $300 for sneakers to $750 for boots, with highlights that include graphic elements, painted soles and contrasting leather straps.
“I have always loved clean art,” said Gabriel. “Some shapes and colors I don’t like, but I enjoy trying to make something out of them.”
The brand’s retailers include Dover Street Market, The Broken Arm and Harvey Nichols. Gabriel hopes to continue appealing to the broad customer base that has already embraced the label.
“There is quite a wide spectrum of people who wear [our] shoes,” he said. “I’ve seen teenage boys and girls wearing them — and also 50-year-old women.”