Sneaker: Fashion’s New Favourite Canvas

Sneaker: Fashion’s New Favourite Canvas

A change at the helm of a fashion house is a momentous thing. That bridge between the old and new is as tenuous as exciting. What will the newcomer bring? What, in terms of his individual aesthetic, might he let go or tweak? For the house in question, how congruous will the changes be, and how relevant the past?.

sneaker shoe trend

Two years ago, when Raf Simons was to present Dior’s autumn 2012 couture show, his first since taking over as creative director, most speculation revolved around what a low-key minimalist would do at a company that revelled in the luxury of full-skirted excesses. Simons said it with his rendition of the iconic Bar jacket and the abbreviated ball gowns, which now came over cigarette pants. And he said it with flowers—panels of orchids, mimosa and delphiniums that enveloped attendees in a heady world of his own making. That was his tribute to Monsieur Dior’s love of flowers and the gardens of Granville that spurred the legend’s creative vision and thrust on construction.

Later, the spring/summer 2013 show led us through a spring garden, blooms appearing in embroidery and appliqué on bustiers, on sheer panels on floor-length dresses, on diaphanous gloves… Flowers as leitmotif, if you will, but also a tangible representation—of a delicate sensuality injected with freshness. Now, for spring couture 2014, the flowers found a platform on the season’s favourite canvas—sneakers, which, considering the collection’s focus on movement, seemed just apt. Sneakers in couture though? Perhaps a mirror to fashion’s changing paradigms.

Sneak(er) peek

sneaker shoe new fashion

Sporty has moved beyond sport. Neoprene and mesh vie with tulle and silk in silhouettes that are constantly reinterpreting the old. Normcore’s elevated the ordinary to a special—even covetable—class. Function and ease of movement have become buzzwords in a world where craft has always taken precedence, often from a pedestal. The Dior sneakers seen at this year’s couture show—hand-embroidered slip-ons with a four-layer mesh and bi-colour outsole—are priced at approximately 64,000 a pair. This, therefore, isn’t about making fashion accessible; it’s more about making luxury covetable to a newer audience.

What they do represent is fashion’s acknowledgement that craft and function needn’t be mutually exclusive. That a lot of effort and technique can fit into something you can actually run around in (not that one would). Fashion’s muse is becoming younger—the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart and Cara Delevingne who love tripping on red carpets (again and again), changing into their Vans and Converse the first available opportunity, and being general photobombing goofballs—and it’s great that fashion now aims to talk to them and their ilk.

Haute steppers

Sneaker shoes

This has been the year of the super sneaker. Karl Lagerfeld’s spring 2014 Chanel couture show saw pearl-studded—what else—trainers crafted out of python and tweed (three months later, sneakers again walked the ramp at Chanel’s ready-to-wear show) while Tom Ford launched a line of luxury low and high-top sneakers for men. In turn, sportswear brands have been drawing from a very rich design pool that’s been more than happy to oblige. While Adidas has been continuing its spate of designer collaborations (Jeremy Scott and Rick Owens, to name a few), Simons’ second line for the sportswear giant, an eight-shoe offering, interestingly, released this May.

Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci collaborated with Nike on their Air Force 1 trainer, while Colette in Paris teamed up with Pharrell Williams on a range of hand-painted Stan Smiths (Stan, as the hoardings claim, is clearly back). Ashish’s light-up platform sneakers have amassed a following that includes the likes of Katy Perry (who declared her love via Instagram) and Rita Ora (who also tied up with Adidas on a capsule line of apparel and footwear). While Kenzo’s prints have found an apt canvas on Vans sneakers, come November, print queen Mary Katrantzou’s line for Adidas will hit stores.

Lending itself to a variety of materials and surface details, all on a scale that’s more manageable than, say, a hand-beaded couture gown using 10 yards of fabric, the sneaker has become a canvas designers love playing with—a small-scale platform where their larger aesthetic can be distilled. The couture sneakers aren’t exactly fashion democracy. It’s not taking an item of street wear and making it a mascot of couture. This is, rather, an acknowledgement that high fashion, like all allied art forms, draws from life around it.

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