The Real Sneaker Story: Some High-End Designers Might Be Moving On, but Retailers and Consumers Aren’t

“I don’t want to forget my past. I am a sneaker designer, but I’m also about elegance,” said Giuseppe Zanotti at his Milan Fashion Week presentation.

The veteran designer and most other luxury brands — both on and off the runway — showed fewer sneakers for spring ’20, opting for more feminine, comfort-driven looks. Influencers and editors also veered in a different direction, choosing flat sandals (early in the month) and then transitioning to more boots as the fall weather arrived in Paris.

It seemed as though the high-end sneaker revolution might be fading. But make no mistake, no one is backing away from a category that continues to fuel retail during a challenging time. “Sneakers are by no means slowing down, but it is definitely refreshing to see a slight shift back toward the leather-sole business,” said Julia Macrae, buyer at Dubai-based Level Shoes. “They offer the customer the comfort that they are accustomed to with a sneaker but in a more elegant and elevated way. We have seen brands shift their attention with the introduction of lower heels and flats, which mimic the basic principle of a sneaker.”

Jennifer Garner, Asics sneakers, Rag & Bone sweater, skinny jeans, celebrity style, street style, Jennifer Garner out and about, Los Angeles, USA - 02 Oct 2019
Jennifer Garner in Asics sneakers out and about in Los Angeles on Oct. 2.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Pierre Hardy said that while there might not be as much heat around kicks, it’s because that “fashion is always in motion. You’re always projecting to the next thing.”

The designer, who has long offered sneakers in his collection, said the category is a way of life now. “You buy sneakers like you buy a T-shirt. This season, I think there’s more femininity, lightness, joy. We’re not in a moment of ‘it’s this or nothing else.’ Nothing is forbidden,” the designer said.

Jay Bell, EVP and GMM of women’s at Barneys, agreed. “Sneakers will continue to trend with customers, but those looking ahead are [getting smarter]. At Barneys, we foresee chic being chic again,” Bell said. Meanwhile, Barneys’ business strategy remains uncertain as the retailer seeks a buyer during its chapter 11 bankruptcy.

While sneakers are less prevalent because they’re not a new story, they’re now a staple in wardrobes, said Erica Russo, Bloomingdale’s VP and fashion director of accessories and beauty. “Even though the fashion conversation is moving toward sport sandals with footbeds and athletic 
influences, sneakers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.”

Thania Peck, an influencer with about 115,000 followers, said she’s still seeing sneakers dominating street style. “Dad shoes are still hot. You’re going to continue to see fashion insiders in sneakers with suits and dresses. It’s comfortable, and comfort is never out of style,” she said.

A sneaker for spring ’20.

Sandra Choi, the longtime creative director at Jimmy Choo, said designers are continually adapting to evolving lifestyles and sneakers are just one part of the comfort equation. “The world is changing, and we’re changing with it. A trainer doesn’t have to make you run or walk faster. You want to look great, but it’s not about performance. It’s also about alternative heels, about different combinations, volumes, proportion. Do you really want to struggle?”

The Michael Kors-owned brand, which has seen its sneaker business grow rapidly, is teaming up with South Korean stylist Yun-kee Jeong on a collaboration that would produce a special iteration of its Diamond sneaker. — With contributions from Ella Chochrek

Jimmy Choo Fall 2019 Ads Kaia Gerber
Kaia Gerber models the Diamond sneakers in Jimmy Choo’s fall ’19 campaign.
CREDIT: Jimmy Choo
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