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Sneakers are a bonafide wardrobe staple for men and women, not only for casual moments but also for dressy and even formal occasions. However, there’s a distinct difference from, say, the Chuck Taylor’s or Vans you’ve relished since youth and the best designers sneakers for women and men. Indeed, the eased cool factor of sneakers is one characteristic that separates the popular shoes from the rest of your footwear collection, including the most comfortable sneakers and walking shoes for women. But trendy sneakers of 2021 from top designers like Gucci, Balenciaga and Prada boast an esteemed and pragmatic air that’s unmatched. The luxuriousness is, of course, covetable, as is the inherent dignity you assume from wearing a high-end label. But the fashionable nonchalance of designer sneakers thoroughly sets them apart from all the others. In an instant, any outfit accessorized with a designer sneaker goes from adequate to lust-worthy. We’re talking more than looks featuring tailored attire or incredible vintage denim, too. Even those rooted in athleisure staples like leggings and sweatsuits become enviable with the right high or low-top in tow. So it makes sense that shopping for the best designer sneakers is an exciting endeavor to embark upon and get right.
So, what to look for in trendy designer sneakers? According to Sam Lobban, senior vice president of designer and new concepts at Nordstrom, it starts with the two main categories that the best designer sneakers fall into: classic and fashion-forward styles. “There are the iconic sneaker styles that have been updated with elevated fabrication, construction and design details,” he tells Footwear News. “Then, there are the more fashion-forward concepts in terms of innovation and design. There’s often a strong focus on comfort and luxurious materials in the first category, and the second category is straight-up fashion and all about aesthetics.”
As the designer sneaker trend continues (with no signs of a slow-down), the range of options is vast, making it difficult to know what types of designer sneakers are worth investing in. But Tiffany Hsu, MyTheresa’s fashion buying director, tells FN, “We’re seeing Nike Dunk-inspired retro high tops coming through as the next big thing.”
Lobban says it’s different for everyone, however. “Some customers are looking for something timeless or something that’s going to make a statement and perhaps be the key element of an outfit,” he says, adding that, “there are so many segments of the designer sneaker business — low top versus high top, logo versus non-logo, classic white or a bold color, options in leather, canvas; the categories are endless.” Ultimately, choosing the right pair for you comes down to about personal preference.
If the most popular designer sneaker brands this year drive you to buy, then labels like Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Prada, and Golden Goose are the place to start when searching for the trendiest sneakers of 2021. “Some of the new Gucci retro styles have done very well for us, and in general, we have seen an uplift in that type of style,” says Hsu. (This is likely, in part, because celebrities like Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber champion the silhouettes.) At Nordstrom, Lobban says customers are split between favoring of-the-moment styles and versatile silhouettes. “For the more iconic sneaker styles, there’s the Alexander McQueen oversized sneaker, the Gucci Ace or Rhyton sneakers and Golden Goose’s Superstar,” he says. “If something more high fashion is what you’re after, there’s the Balenciaga Speed or Track, Prada’s Cloudbust or Versace’s Trigreca.” Balenciaga’s Track sneaker has been seen on stars like Kylie Jenner and The Weeknd, while Gigi Hadid and ASAP Rocky have worn Prada’s Cloudburst.
Top Designer Sneaker Trends of 2021
Designer runways are always first to signal the top designer sneaker trends of the year. Loewe, Khaite, Tory Burch and Proenza Schouler sparked the retro revival in 2021’s low-top resurgence á la the ’70s — and Miu Miu’s collaboration with New Balance is 2022’s next must-have evolution of the trend. Gucci, Prada, Balenciaga and Versace are leaders in futuristic looks like the hiker hybrids and bubble soles. For old-school ‘90s-style high-tops and court shoes, Dior’s Jordan collab, Golden Goose’s Sky Star High-Tops, Off-White’s vulcanized leather low-tops and Virgil Alboh’s collaborative works with Nike, including Air Jordan 1s, lead the pack. Then, there’s the logomania look, done notably by designers like Fendi, Dior and Burberry.
Celine, Saint Laurent, Givenchy and The Row deliver on some of the most impeccably minimal lace-up designs for clean and classic looks. Similarly, Alexander McQueen’s oversized platform sneakers and Gucci’s Ace remain a luxury lover’s favorite. And, of course, chunky silhouettes like Stella McCartney’s sustainably-made Eclypse and Loop designs, Dolce & Gabbana’s Daymaster, Gucci’s Rhyton and Dior’s B22’s are continued hits.
Whether you’re a designer sneaker purist or all about innovation and the next cult design, the 20 best designer sneakers for men and women ahead are sure to include one, if not several, must-haves worth adding to your collection.
Prada Cloudbust Thunder Lug Sole Sneaker
Prada’s Cloudburst Thunder Lug Sole sneakers combine the best of sneaker comfort with an adventurous, outdoor-inspired style. They’ve been bulked up with 3D injected rubber overlays but have a surprisingly lightweight sawtooth sole. “The Prada Cloudbust Thunder Lug Sole Sneaker is a great option for those looking for something more fashion-forward given the statement-making sole,” Lobban says. “They look great with a full fashion technical sportswear look, but also with a more contemporary tailored vibe.”
Alexander McQueen Oversized Crystal Embellished Platform Sneaker
Alexander McQueen’s oversized platform sneakers remain a designer cult-classic featuring a clean and minimal design that goes with everything from suits to dresses and leisurewear. The next wave is glammed-up and ultra-statement-making, sparkling with mixed crystals and finished with a leopard-debossed sole. “Alexander McQueen’s oversized embellished platform sneaker is the perfect statement shoe heading into the holiday season or for any time during the year when you’re looking for some extra sparkle,” Lobban says.
Gucci Chunky B Sneaker
The ultimate foray into the world of Gucci designer sneakers is undoubtedly the Ace. But if you’re more of a nostalgic sneaker lover, the B sneaker is the silhouette to start with or add to your collection. Featuring red- and green-striped webbed accents and the Italian label’s iconic interlocking G logo, this low-top sneaker is set slightly higher than the Ace on a chunky platform cupsole. “The Gucci Chunky B Sneaker is a versatile addition to anyone’s wardrobe with the style’s clean ’70s sports vibe but modernized with the chunky sole,” Lobban says. “These are a good fresh addition to a more casual, fun outfit.”
Givenchy Monumental Mallow Slip-On Sneaker
Are you the sneakerhead who dares to be different? Then this ultra-slick Givenchy sneaker is for you. The sculptural design is streamlined, while the subtly molded ridges boast a ripple effect. Featuring the house’s marshmallow technology for a lightweight feel, they’re the ultimate get-around shoe — whether paired with a fluid midi dress, knitted separates or denim. Lobban notes, “The lightweight Monumental Mallow Slip-On Sneaker from Givenchy is an architectural, monumental even, and distinctive addition to any outfit.”
Golden Goose Sky-Star High Top Sneaker
Golden Goose’s low-top sneakers boast a cult following, and this ‘90s-inspired basketball high-top is another must-have from the label. They’re handcrafted from leather featuring the brand’s signature scuffed and dirtied look in the vein of an old pair that’s beloved and well-worn. “Golden Goose proves to be popular among our customers consistently, and these Sky-Star High Top Sneakers add a vintage twist to any outfit,” Lobban says. “They’re great with ripped jeans and an oversized flannel shirt.”
Balenciaga Runner Sneaker
When it comes to running sneakers, styles from Asics and Hoka One rank highest for actual performance. But on the fashion front — at least as designer sneakers are concerned — Balenciaga’s Runner sneaker is the vibe. Taking inspiration from ’90s and ’00s styles, it’s overlaid with mesh and designed for a deconstructed look, including rough stitching, leftover glue and a rough topline. “The Balenciaga Runner sneaker is a high-fashion version of the traditional track sneaker, and as a bonus, it’s super comfortable,” Lobban says. “Team up with an all-black outfit, oversized jacket, hoodie and shades as a retro-futuristic pop of color.”
Fendi x Sarah Coleman Women’s Rise FF Fisheye Platform Sneaker
No shame in the logo-loving game! Half the fun of a trendy designer sneaker is showcasing brand loyalty for aesthetic’s sake and a confidence boost. So, it’s no surprise that Fendi’s platform style, designed with New York-based artist Sarah Coleman, is a hit among luxury lovers. “The Fendi Rise FF Fisheye platform sneaker is a fun and funky take on the classic logo sneaker with artist Sarah Coleman’s distorted update of Fendi’s double-F logo,” Lobban explains. “These can go with anything.” Think denim, dresses, tailored separates and beyond.
Loewe Flow Runner Sneakers
One of the most elevated ways to lean into the nostalgic trend of ’70s runner sneakers? Loewe’s Flow Runner sneakers, which Hsu says “are a great example of outstanding quality mixed with innovative design.” Iterations vary, but this one featuring copper-brown suede and technical fabric is highly versatile to pair with neutral tones and bolder colors alike.
Gucci GG Canvas Leather-Trimmed Sneakers
To get in on the chunky sneaker trend of 2021 while denoting your Gucci affection, look no further than the label’s GG canvas leather-trimmed sneakers. Combining the best of classic design with modern-retro elements, they feature lace-up fastenings and chunky rubber soles.
Hsu suggests combining them with skirts or dresses, an ideal look for feminine-leaning style. Likewise, these shoes make for an impactful finish peeking out from underneath a fluid pair of trousers topped with a vest for the ultimate ’70s look.
Balenciaga Track Sneakers
We can’t talk trendy designer sneakers without discussing Balenciaga’s hiker-inspired soles. Fusing the outdoor aesthetic with track-star elements, the mixed mesh and nylon design mirrors both high-performance hiking and running footwear styles. However, the chunky clear soles really set a modern tone to ensure the overall vibe says “fashion” and not “trail guide,” though totally cool either way. “The track sneakers by Balenciaga are a great example of high-performance craftsmanship similar to that found in hiking and running gear,” Hsu tells FN. “The multifaceted design is individually made with a washed, vintage effect for a pre-loved feel.”
Maison Margiela Replica Leather and Suede Sneakers
According to Hsu, Maison Margiela’s Replica sneakers have gained “icon status” among the fashion set and sneakerheads alike. Featuring a low-top silhouette and lace-up design, these are at once neutral and impactful, featuring a dimensional quality that ultra-minimal styles can lack. To wit, they’re incredibly soft, crafted in Italy from calf leather, and feature a padded tongue and collar with rubber outsoles for shock absorption. While the white stitch at the heel is a brand marker well-noted by some, the style remains understated for those not into the heavily-branded look.
Golden Goose Women’s Superstar Shearling-Lined Sneakers
One of the biggest shoe trends to endure 2020 and 2021? Cozy shearling-lined or accented styles. This look certainly extends to the sneaker department and is carrying on into 2022. Golden Goose’s fluffed-up Superstars, exclusively available at MyTheresa, are the ultimate move for all-around comfort with cool-factor. Hsu says they “offer a high-fashion stance on everyone’s beloved streetwear essential.” Plus, they go with just about anything from your favorite sweatsuit set to leggings and ankle-grazing dresses.
Fear of God Men’s Runner Lace-Up Sneakers
Designer Jerry Lorenzo earned Footwear News’ Designer of the Year Award for 2021, and for good reason. The vision behind his brand Fear of God focuses on the details and intricacies of clothing and accessories, all in a neutral-focused palette that just about anyone can see themselves in. Not to mention, Lorenzo uses luxurious fabrics from Japan and Italy to create his Los Angeles skate culture-inspired collections. These Fear of God sneakers, expectedly, are the versatile kind you can wear just about any look, like this tri-tonal neutral lace-up runner featuring an almond toe.
Off-White Low Vulcanized Leather Sneakers
The late Virgil Abloh created a legacy for himself with his label, Off-White, and in the role of menswear creative director for Louis Vuitton. Sneakers often rooted his runway looks, often modeled by It girl and sneaker-enthusiast Bella Hadid. Off-White’s vulcanized leather sneakers featuring an appliqué logo, hangtag, and signature diagonally striped midsole are among his greatest Off-White hits. They come in various colors, from neutral to saturated and high-top versions, ensuring a style for every vibe.
Versace Chain Reaction Sneakers
The chunky sneaker trend so often incorporates dad shoes of the ’90s, but other times, it boasts a more sporty aesthetic. Case in point: Versace’s Chain Reaction sneakers, crafted from cotton and nylon with an almond-shaped toe. What’s more, these are designed for maximum comfort, so they’re not purely about aesthetics. Padded insoles and undulating outer rubber soles cradle the foot and offer shock absorbing qualities — proving that designer trends and practicality can go hand in hand.
Stella McCartney Women’s Loop Logo-Print Neoprene and Faux Suede Sneakers
Stella McCartney is a trailblazer in the sustainable luxury space, including when it comes to designer sneakers. Like this neoprene and faux suede pair from the brand, every style is crafted from the most innovative and environmentally-conscious materials while maintaining the modern zeal any style lover craves. The Loop is one you can wear with suiting one day, slouchy jeans the next and a long dress to offset the inherent dressiness.
Roger Vivier Viv Run Embellished Neoprene, Mesh and Leather Sneakers
Roger Vivier’s Viv Run sneaker is one of the brand’s most recognizable styles, featuring its ever distinguishing buckle detail. This one comes oversized for an amplified effect rather than petite and polished like on a loafer or pump. The sporty look is in line with the futuristic sneaker trend, crafted in Italy from panels of black neoprene, mesh and leather. For the finishing touch, these are set atop chunky cushioned soles — making them the ultimate unexpected finish to pretty dresses in place of heels.
The Row Women’s Marie H Leather Sneakers
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s label The Row is synonymous with minimalist essentials. From exquisite outerwear to knits and, you guessed it, sneakers, each item is impeccable down to every intentional stitch. The Row’s H sneakers are the type that team beautifully with pared-back outfits of all kinds. Think relaxed weekend numbers centering around leggings, meeting-approved suits and ribbed dresses crafted from the finest cashmere and wool.
Saint Laurent Court Logo-Embroidered Leather Trainers
White court trainers are a staple in any wardrobe, not solely those belonging to sneaker lovers. Whatever camp you fall in, Saint Laurent’s sneaker is one to embrace both for its versatility and subtle playfulness when leveling up to a luxury style. An embroidered, graffiti-inspired logo sets off the Italian crafted white leather style for designer distinction with a modern mood. Pair it with ankle-skimming denim, sweet dresses or a shapely tailored suit; the beauty of these sneakers lies in their well-made versatility.
Valentino Garavani Perforated V-Logo Leather Trainers
Valentino is a fixture on the designer shoe circuit, with standouts like its iconic Rockstud pumps and Roman ballet flats. But not every coveted style comes prim and feminine. The brand’s Perforated V-Logo sneakers are among the most-loved designer trainers for an elevated aesthetic. Distinguished by more than the scaled-up insignia, these feature a back strap with a rockstud rivet at the heel.