NEW YORK, United States — By now, it’s no secret that flat, menswear-inspired footwear is having a major moment. “At all the runway shows I went to this season, so many of the girls were walking in men’s-inspired footwear and sneakers,” said Carol Song, head buyer at Opening Ceremony.
Even Chanel’s couture show, held in January at the Grand Palais, featured sneakers, causing the audience to collectively gasp. “Look at the Shoes!” cried the headline of Suzy Menkes’ review for The New York Times.
“The moment of the model in six-inch heels and platforms, teetering down the runway doesn’t feel modern anymore,” said Sasha Sarokin, buying director for Net-a-Porter. “It’s not only about the £700 designer shoe, but the sneaker she can wear in her everyday life. Lace-up brogues and loafers are also huge right now — we saw more flats then ever on the runway [this season],” she continued, saying that, amongst current season footwear, slip-on styles by Givenchy, Jimmy Choo, Saint Laurent, Common Projects and Lanvin were driving the most sales.
“The menswear trend [in footwear] first started with the smoking slipper a few seasons ago,” said Erin Cerrato, divisional vice president of accessories for Holt Renfrew. “That look evolved into a more masculine-looking flat, which inspired brogues with built up creeper soles by brands like Prada and Gucci.” As for sneakers, Holt Renfrew has gone so far as to launch “Holts Common,” a “shared shopping” experience for both men and women at one of the company’s Toronto stores, featuring a gender-neutral sneaker wall with over 100 styles.
But is the rise of athletic- and menswear-inspired footwear merely a trend, destined to come and go, or a deeper development that’s here to stay?
“I liken it to a leather legging, if you will, which has transcended trend. She’s replenishing like a pair of jeans. Sneakers are the same thing — a permanent part of her wardrobe,” said Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing. “Our customer has a relaxed casual lifestyle and she’s very hungry for pieces with a comfort and cool factor.”
Interestingly, sneakers and other menswear-inspired flats have struck a chord, not just with younger consumers, but across generations. “Women of all ages are doing this,” said Sarokin.
So are heels being pushed to a less prominent place in women’s closets?
“Our customer still has a need to dress up,” said Downing. “I sell Manolo ‘BB’ pumps morning, noon and night. It’s still a very important look. There are many messages on the runway and many elements to [the consumer’s] lifestyle.”
Song said the growth of sneakers and menswear-inspired footwear was less about a rejection of heels and more about greater choice: “A variety of heel heights is not a trend anymore, but rather a permanent statement.”
“Whereas a woman may have felt she had to wear high heels to signal authority and confidence, now she can, but without having to don a pair of heels,” said Sarokin. “Five to ten years from now, I see her as still having that choice — to wear what she wants and not feel it’s too trite to wear heels or too casual to wear flats. She can own her position with out having to choose one or the other.”