When it comes to luxury footwear, no one does it quite like the French. People from all over the world have long been flocking to the world’s fashion capital to find the perfect pair of shoes, but in recent years Parisian footwear has started to evolve. Luxury sneakers are now replacing boots, pumps and brogues on the racks of some of the city’s most elegant department stores and high-end boutiques, ushering in a new dawn for designer footwear.
For decades, the ability to navigate the city’s treacherous cobbled streets in the most vertiginous of heels has been one of the key requirements of embodying Parisian chic. While admirable, the rise of the flat sole means that this particular life skill may no longer be a qualifying factor for those looking to perfect French style.
From treadmill to runway
In recent years the high-fashion world has seen an influx of streetwear-inspired collections. After the global financial problems of 2008, the fashion industry embraced change. Luxury, while still an important factor in materials and manufacturing, took a backward step in favour of design. In this new ‘age of austerity’, it was no longer fashionable to look conspicuously expensive so designers turned to streetwear, traditionally the domain of young urbanites. Nowhere has this shift been more pronounced than in footwear.
As Parisian fashion houses began to embrace, and produce, luxury sneakers, an item that was once considered suitable only for a morning jog or trip to the gym has become a fashion must-have. Whether it’s Lanvin’s patent-toed tennis shoes, Valentino’s camouflage-print studded trainers or Givenchy’s gold-plated hi-tops, sneakers are now a wardrobe staple for Paris’s most stylish citizens.
As interest in luxury sneakers has increased, some styles have gained cult-like status among fashion fans and sneaker enthusiasts alike. Designer collaborations with premium sportswear brands have seen queues stretch around the block on launch day and stock sell out online within a matter of hours. Givenchy’s creative director Riccardo Tisci – famed for his own minimalist style and sneaker obsession – recently collaborated with Nike to produce a version of the classic Nike Air Force One. Fans queued overnight in New York and London to get their hands on a pair.
Dior creative director Raf Simons’ collaboration with Adidas was similarly popular. His partnership with the premium sports brand resulted in some of the most coveted and hard-to-find sneakers in recent history, which acquired almost mythical status among even the most discerning of footwear fans.
The new formal code
While many regard the rise of ‘casual luxury’ as a final blow to the dress code, others have seen it as the start of a new age for modern formal dressing. Guillaume Salmon is spokesman for acclaimed Parisian store Colette, one of the best places in the city to find luxury sneakers. ‘We sell many of them, from Dior Homme and Lanvin to Givenchy and Chanel,’ Salmon explains. ‘We’re very selective about the sneakers we sell – we only choose the ones we really like.’
Colette’s selective approach seems to have paid off, and it has seen a massive increase in the number of visitors coming to the store specifically to find a pair of designer sneakers. Salmon believes this is partly due to current trends and partly down to comfort. ‘Fashion knows how to adapt, which is the charm of fashion, and people love that,’ says Salmon. ‘But at the same time you have the comfort of a sneaker, which you can enjoy while also following the luxury code.’
The ability to wear sneakers without breaking Salmon’s ‘luxury code’ is one of the biggest draws of the new trend. Sneakers were even seen at one of the biggest black-tie events of the year, the 2014 Oscars; attendee Pharrell Williams donned a pair of red sequinned Adidas hi-tops with his tuxedo, while host Ellen DeGeneres opted to accessorise her all-white suit with white Saint Laurent sneakers – a fashion moment witnessed by millions worldwide.
Perhaps the most telling nod of approval from the fashion industry was seen on the spring/summer 2015 catwalks. Front rows in some of the world’s most fashionable cities were lined with trainers, while models at Burberry wore suitably chic sneakers to storm the catwalk. Undeniable proof – if any were needed – that the sneaker is the new fashion staple.