Sneaker Madness

Gucci, the luxury-goods maker, last year began selling a line of sneakers that come pre-smudged. That’s right, filthy from the get-go. For a pair of these, Gucci will gladly accept your $870.

What’s that, you say? You’d like something a little more obnoxious? Okay, hand over $1,590 and Gooch will attach a strand of crystals to those scruffy shoes. Happy now?

Conventional aesthetic standards barely apply in the hypercompetitive world of “kicks” — which is, ya know, the street parlance. Each week’s most lust-worthy new models invariably sell out in a flash. Some go on to become collectibles. The sneakersphere after-market is not unlike the liveliness observed in the fenced-jewelry game. Except that top sneakers often fetch way more cash.

Fact: The American footwear market is on a tear, expected to reach an astonishing $320 billion annually within four years, according to Zion Market Research. Where’s all that growth coming from? You guessed it.

For the way we Americans live today, sneakers are the perfect fit: comfortable, casual, endlessly customizable. To be clear, they are more about fashion — sometimes freaky fashion — than performance.

“Sneakers can help us stand out or blend in,” writes Nicholas Smith in his new book Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers. “Every sneaker we wear says something about us in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.”

The other day I spotted a pair of high-top sneakers that featured a pattern of dainty pink flowers — and these were for men. I also noticed some folks wearing bold kicks to a funeral. (Okay, this was in L.A., but still.)  The point is that sneakers have evolved from predictably boring footwear into functional art. They’ve found soul.

A pair of super-rare ’70s-era Nikes sold for a record $437,500 at auction earlier this year.

Expect to lay out hundreds of dollars for a popular model. A pair of super-rare ’70s-era Nikes sold for a record $437,500 at auction earlier this year.

That’s batty. But let’s be honest, the luxe fashion industry bathes in batty. And as much as I’m a rational guy, brimming with ordinariness, I choose — much to my own surprise — to celebrate a world in which the old-timey Converse brand no longer rules the sneaker roost. Here is everyone’s socially acceptable opportunity to express their inner crazy.

Most sneakers — men’s and women’s — fall into clear categories: The popular urban look favors a chunky sole and, often, vibrant slashes of color; the much-ridiculed dad shoe is more of a walker and generally fails to light up the scoreboard, but it has its adherents; and, finally, the homages.  Examples among this last: beer-themed sneakers, models that honor the ’60s, and even — I swear this is true — a new bizarro pair that pays respects to the French croissant.

When the editor of Sneaker Freaker wrote in an early issue of the magazine that “Sneakers can be seen by non-believers as a flippant concern,” he worried that his budding hobby might not have legs. He needn’t have. The trend is so powerful that a respected publication recently ran a story headlined “Why Sneaker Culture Should be Taught in Schools.”

The ultimate validation may have been bestowed by a company that’s begun marketing so-called Shoe Condoms to obsessive sneakerheads. Waterproof. $10.99 per pair. Seems totally prudent to me.

In the last issue, Cable Neuhaus wrote about handwritten letters.

Featured image: Shutterstock.