There are more eyes on men’s fashion than ever before, says Bergdorf Goodman men’s fashion director Bruce Pask. “The business is growing exponentially and men are caring increasingly about how they look and dress,” he said.
The impact has been most keenly felt within the luxury industry due in large part to the shuffling of high-profile designers like Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones at Dior, Kris Van Assche at Berluti and Riccardo Tisci at Burberry. “This has brought a more intense focus to that side of the market,” he says.
The media also has played a role, he added. “It has helped inform the customer and inspired him to become more adventurous and to try new things,” he said, “and an informed customer is an intrigued and experimental one.”
And change certainly feels like it’s in the air. From the get-go, starting with the fall ’19 shows at London Fashion Week Men’s in early January, there has been an increased focus on tailoring, with elements of traditional suiting fusing with a sportier aesthetic. It was evident at Astrid Andersen and Cottweiler in London and it continued at Y/Project at Pitti Uomo in Florence.
Glenn Martens of Y/Project offered an explanation to his new take on shoes. “We went for a more classic, refined look, just like the tailoring,” he told FN. Hence, the tuxedo-inspired dress shoes and ankle boots that came in graphic black and white.
But does this mean the sneaker is over? Browns Fashion menswear buyer Thom Scherdel doesn’t believe that’s the case. “I think this is going to run and run (pardon the pun),” he said. “As much as people are trying to bring back smart shoes, sneakers are still dominating the market from the top to the bottom.”
“I don’t see a sneaker slowdown at all, but simply a readjustment of styles and trends,” agreed Fiona Firth, buying director of Mr Porter. “I feel that the core sneaker brands, such as Nike, Adidas and Vans, will continue to get stronger this year — including the designs, the collaborations and the ease in which you can pair them with a variety of styles.”
“I don’t think streetwear and sneakers are going anywhere,” echoed Pask. “They are part of a guy’s wardrobe but there’s a shift every season. The pendulum always swings back and forth and we’re now seeing a smarter take. It’s now more about adding to the current repertoire as opposed to one thing completely eclipsing the rest.”
Reebok’s collaboration with Cottweiler during London Fashion Week Men’s, which showed on Jan. 6, is an example of the sneaker evolution. The two launched a sneaker-loafer hybrid that they dubbed the “sloafer.” Likewise, at Fila Fjord, the new premium label under Fila that debuted at Pitti Uomo on Jan. 10, also saw disruption, namely with the sports brand’s best-selling Disruptor sneaker, which was redone with a sandal upper.
“Streetwear has become so extreme,” said Elgar Johnson, co-creative director of Fila Fjord. “It used to be something you wore when you wanted to feel relaxed, but now the people who wear it look really uptight.”
“It’s a reaction to that,” continued Astrid Andersen, co-creative director of Fila Fjord. “It’s a way to progress without going in completely the opposite direction. We wanted it to feel more elevated and take it in a different direction that was more mature and sophisticated. Sportswear is part of my generation, so let’s try to find a way for it to stay relevant rather than have it disappear.”
In Milan, this blend of formal and casual gained momentum both on and off the runway. “Sneakers are part of our culture, but I don’t want to completely forget about tradition and put it in the garbage,” said Giuseppe Zanotti.
In response to the shift in the market, the designer has given his formal category an overhaul with slick dress shoes in mixed materials including calf hair, plaid and embossed croc panels. The season’s threefold inspiration? Cuban meets British meets “Miami Vice.”
At Santoni, its collection of classics got a contemporary spin with slick hand-colored shoes and ankle boots with bright orange, non-slip rubber patches on the soles. The label also updated its sneaker collection with retro style runners that featured wooden veneer detailing on the soles. “I definitely see more formal wear coming back, but sneakers are still a big part of our group,” said CEO Giuseppe Santoni.
Tod’s updated its classics with sporty fly-knit cuffs were seen on polished derbies and Gommino loafers. Creative director Andrea Incontri also showcased the third iteration of his “No_Code Shoeker” project — think: shoe meets sneaker — with the help of Matrix-style holograms projected around real-life versions of the new shoes.
Meanwhile, at MSGM, Massimo Giorgetti collaborated with Fila on a redesign of the label’s 1992 Silva sneaker, he also showed square-toed boots that he teamed with striped gaiters. “It gives the looks a different attitude,” Giorgetti said. He also introduced streamlined pieces for a “more tailored, made-in-Italy vibe.”
And even though Paris Fashion Week Men’s was all very much about the sneaker, the designers overall embraced this tailoring renaissance and the footwear to match. “Traditional tailoring is at the heart of the collection,” wrote Hedi Slimane in his show notes for his Celine menswear debut that took place Jan. 20. By the time he closed out the week, it was clear that formal footwear was back with a vengeance, with the spotlight on the loafer.
On Jan. 18 at Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh’s take on Michael Jackson’s signature penny loafer alternated with updates on the LV skate sneaker. There were also chunky styles at both Christian Louboutin and John Lobb. “We’ve seen sneakers and casual wear for so long now, so I’m actually just craving occasion dressing,” said Lobb creative director Paula Gerbase. Her “new formal” was characterized by black calf city shoes from the brand’s 1960s archive.
For his Berluti debut, former Dior Homme designer Kris Van Assche revamped the footwear with a signature hand-painted patina technique, which was amplified in glorious technicolor. He also gave sneakers an elevated spin with chiseled toes.
Dior’s Kim Jones, however, eschewed the sneaker altogether in favor of brogue-style boots and laser-etched looks with panther print to match the garment’s fabrics.
Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing is relaunching the house’s sneaker category in June, but he gave us a preview of what’s to come, with arty cutout sneakers from his fall ’19 show on Saturday. “When everyone is struggling to be streetwear, to me it’s important to remember that being a designer is about tailoring and treatments,” he told FN. Of the sneakers, he said that working with interesting materials gives them a whole different attitude. “It’s exciting for me to bring that element of couture and craftsmanship to a shoe,” he added.
Elsewhere, Pierre Hardy introduced a new sneaker called the PHMC (MC stands for master of ceremonies, which nods to 1980s hip-hop culture). However, he also created two new formal styles, a lace-up and a jodhpur boot, both in the boxy silhouette that’s indicative of the new season. “We always need classics,” he said.
And while Sacai’s Chitose Abe reprised her Nike sneaker collaboration from last season, she added faux fur details and fringed components that she borrowed from more formal men’s footwear. “I wanted to add some elegance to the sporty Nike pieces,” she said. One thing’s for sure: This season’s fusion trend is definitely in Sacai’s wheelhouse. After all, splicing and fusing together pieces has been a signature of hers since she launched her label.
In reaction to this new landscape, retailers, too, are modifying their strategies in order to sustain momentum. Last week, London department store Harrods announced a staggering overhaul of its men’s department with superbrands and sportswear all on the same floor.
At Bergdorf Goodman, Pask is championing the more relaxed attitude gaining ground in the sneaker universe. He’s betting on more traction for old school Converse All Stars and Chuck Taylors we saw at the Paria Farzaneh and Feng Chen Wang shows during London Fashion Week Men’s. This retro vibe, he said, is an evolution from last season with Kim Jones’ floral high-tops at Dior.
There is no room for complacency. “We cannot rest on our laurels,” Firth said. “We are continuously exploring the ways in which we connect, and interact with our customers. It’s important for us to both listen and lead on a global scale.”