Sneaker Culture

Pumped-up, futuristic, big trainers are back.  Acne Studio, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney all sent sci-fi sneakers bouncing down the catwalks, while Alexa Chung has just launched her 11-piece collection for Superga. Selfridges have dedicated a massive 187 square metres to trainers on their new shoe floor; and a quarter of all shoe sales at Net-a-Porter are kicks. Edgy, practical, on-trend – a trainer is pretty much the perfect shoe.

They’re also the most versatile choice of footwear, making the perfect partners to jeans and a classic white T, a summer dress, a trench coat – even a ballgown. Be bold; wear high tops with cropped, flared or wide leg trousers; dad trainers with Victorian-inspired finery or elegant silk; and performance trainers with a little black dress or a blazer. Trainers mix and match with anything and everything. 

Even the king of high heels, Manolo Blahnik has been won over by the sports shoe, “Every woman should have a heeled pump, a flat shoe and now, even though I was always against them, a pair of sneakers” he told Porter Magazine for their Spring 2018 issue.

Some history. Rubber-soled canvas plimsolls have been worn for sport since the late 1800s. The term “sneaker” was coined in the USA due to the rubber sole which allowed the wearer to “sneak” around quietly. Keds were one of the first plimsoll brands launched in the US in 1916, while Converse All Star followed hot on their heels in 1917. 

Inspired by celebrity endorsements – James Dean often sported a pair of Converse Jack Purcells – 1950s American teenagers started to wear training shoes on the street.  Meanwhile, over in Europe two German brothers – the Dasslers – had developed running shoes with leather uppers. They fell out in 1948 but each launched their own brand – Puma and Adidas, both hugely popular brands with sports stars. In 1968 athlete Tommi Smith won the 200m gold medal at the Mexican Olympics wearing a a pair of Puma suede “Clydes”, cementing the style as a cult classic. By this time, iconic brands Nike and Vans had also been born. 

The 1970s explosion in jogging led to sports footwear becoming even more popular, and, by the end of the decade trainers were to be found on the feet of football casuals, New York punk rockers, and skateboarders. Where those style-setters led, the rest of the population followed, and by the 1980s sneakers were ubiquitous. 

Sports brands now dedicate large marketing budgets to their carefully nurtured lines, and a high-end trainer collection is an essential branch of the modern fashion designer’s brand. The new millennium has seen collaborations between Mihara Yasuhiro and Puma, Paul Smith and Reebok, Stella McCartney and Yohji Yamamoto with Adidas, and countless others. In the last one hundred years, trainers have stepped out of the gym, onto the street and beyond – Reebok have even designed the new, ultra-modern boots for Boeing Starliner astronauts. Be inspired; go and get your kicks!