Opinions

Sneakers, Fashion’s New It-Shoes?

15th April 2021

WORDS BY NATALIE YIASSOUMI | PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHANNA RONTU

The female sneaker scene is growing fast, with sporty shoe brands penetrating the luxury fashion market.

NEW BALANCE 327

The ideal combination? Bottega Veneta jacket, New Balance 327 sneakers.

Sneakers have enjoyed a steady rise up on the popularity scale for at least the last decade: First there was the casualisation of dress codes in offices, then streetwear started making its way into luxury fashion runways and then the pandemic hit, limiting social activities to neighbourhood walks and supermarket runs. Under such circumstances, you can’t blame even the most dedicated of high heel devotees, for swapping their Amina Muaddis for New Balance sneakers

Ever since the beginnings of lockdown the shift was immediate: Heels were stored away or sold on Vestiaire Collective and everyone was turning to New Balance – not funky designer sneakers, not the sleek white low-tops of pre-lockdown days, but classic 977 New Balances with their thick white soles, familiar ‘N’ logos and retro tinge. 

Paired with thick white socks, monochrome tracksuits and a classic Chanel bag, they became lockdown’s unofficial uniform. But even as we start to think about a more free life post-lockdown, trusty New Balances – and sneakers in general – are still part of the equation. In fact, they have become established as one of the most necessary foundations of any luxury shoe wardrobe, in these new ’20s we’re navigating. 

Modern luxury and high fashion don’t just equal designer Cinderella heels.

Sure there’s talk of the return of revenge heels – and who doesn’t want to rock their Gilda pumps or a pair of party platforms again? – but sneakers won’t be going anywhere either. Sportswear companies are seeing to it, by teaming up with some of the most high-demand fashion designers, getting extra creative and increasing their presence on the most popular luxury shopping destinations. 

The message is clear: Modern luxury and high fashion don’t just equal designer Cinderella heels or traditionally feminine leather pumps, but also a pair of $100 sneakers you’ll wear time and time again, with everything from your tracksuit to your Prada nylon dress. 

It’s why online shopping mecca Net-a-Porter has just picked up New Balance, stocking its affordably-priced sneakers next to luxury mega brands like Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga. And it so happens that its chic leather and suede 327 styles, created in collaboration with Parisian label-of-the-moment Casablanca, already sold out on the site. 

New Balance has been upping the fashion ante and adding luxury, fashion twists to its signature running shoes with a series of sell-out collaboration, from Casablanca to Staud. Its latest move was to tap Teddy Santis of Aimé Leon Dore as its new creative director for New Balance Made in USA – the brand’s premium range which is mostly produced domestically in the U.S. 

The idea is for Santis, a street wear maven who runs in all the right fashion circles, to elevate the brand’s fashion credentials further and keep the momentum around the brand going. 

“I was drawn to New Balance for the way it has built a business founded on values such as integrity and authenticity, rather than passing hype,” said Santis, who has been collaborating with the brand since 2019 and has a new drop of colourful 550’s slated for April 22. “I see a tremendous opportunity to tell authentic stories with real people at the forefront,” he added. 

With retailers like Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion on board, we could also start seeing more of these collaborations extended to women – just like in the case of Net-a-Porter’s Casablanca x New Balance launch, which was initially designed for men. Santis himself has started offering his Aimé Leon Dore street wear collections across genders. 

It’s about time: With sneakers now becoming a wardrobe staple akin to a pair of jeans or a white shirt, the space should no longer be reserved to men or sneakerheads. The good news is that a growing group of female influencers are adding their touch on the sneaker scene and calling for size-inclusive collaborations and for more women to be included in the space – @sallysneakers is particularly good, if you’re not already following. 

Brands too are catching up by extending popular drops to women or tapping more female designers for collaborations. Recently, Nike joined forces with Chicago-based women’s wear designer Azeeza Khan who revamped the brand’s popular Air Max 95 shoes with croc-effect turquoise leather and paired them with her label’s frill-trimmed dresses. The inspiration was the Chicago flag and “all fashion girls out there.”

“Still a long way to go, but here’s to creating your own lane, ideating it, paving it and walking it,” added Khan on the subject of women and the sneaker scene. 

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