From the court to the catwalk: The saga of the sneakers

Worn by Lady Diana, Karl Lagerfeld, Kanye West, or Mick Jagger, the sneaker has established itself in a few decades as a fashion accessory that transcends genres, ages, and socio-cultural backgrounds, from the sport men, passing by the pioneers of hip-hop to the greatest of fashion designers.

The history of the sneaker dates back much longer than you might think. The first pair appeared in New Haven, USA, spearheaded by a rubber company, Candee Manufacturing. This model was called sneakers, from “sneak”, a reference to the sole that makes no noise when moving. These ‘sneakers’ were first worn by athletes and an elite who practiced sport, before reaching the lower classes at the end of the 19th century. The brands Keds and Converse popularized it in the United States.

For a long time, Sneakers were primarily used by athletes. The turning point in the history of sneakers was the Air Jordan red and black of 1984, at the time, NBA rules imposed the colour white. Nike paid a fine of $ 5,000 per game for non-compliant footwear, a formidable marketing coup that will propel the brand.

In the 80s, the sneaker became the symbol of hip-hop culture. "If you wear Adidas, put them on high!" New York hip-hop pioneers Run-DMC chanted to the Madison Square Garden crowd at their concert in 1986. The scene is memorable: hundreds of hands brandishing their Adidas Superstar model worn without laces by the hit-makers Walk This Way, crowned “best rap group of all time” by MTV in 2007. Present in the room, the representatives of Adidas immediately understood the extent of the phenomenon and signed a million-dollar advertising contract with them.

Subsequently, several successful rappers have worshiped their favourite sneakers. The rapper Nelly with his title "Air Force One'' or the legendary New York MC Nas and his Timberlands, the whole Hip-Hop and rap scene, with its rigid street dress' codes, have placed sneakers on a pedestal.

More and more rappers signed contracts with brands in the 2000s, like Missy Elliott with Adidas, Jay-Z and 50 Cent with Reebok, or even Rick Ross with Reebok a little later.

What about Luxury?

Nowadays Luxury has brought a lot to the world of sneakers: a real quality of material selection, high-end production, and boundless creativity. It is with this new dynamic that we have seen a new typology of sneakers appear: minimalist sneakers. Common Projects is the first brand to have developed its bestseller, the Achille model. The emphasis is on the quality of the leathers, the line is simple, minimalist and the branding is reduced. These sneakers are the closest to a city shoe model in mind because they are simple and versatile. In monochrome, they can be worn with all styles, while keeping a chic and luxurious side.

The fashion industry needed to bridge the gap between the street and high fashion, and it turned to artists. Music stars have a very important role because they make this connection possible, being in almost direct contact with their audience, they enjoy unparalleled influence with those who listen to them, which would undoubtedly boil some politicians.

The most popular music genre for over two decades remains to be Hip-Hop, so it was only fitting that its artists were the first to try their hand at partnering with luxury brands. The pioneer of this movement was Pharrell Williams, who in 2005 opened the doors with his collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Even though this was just a collection of eye wear (the Millionaire model), this is the first time that a luxury brand has collaborated with an artist from the Hip-Hop scene.

If we were nevertheless to grant the title of true pioneer to an artist, it is Kanye West, with his series of sneakers for Louis Vuitton in 2009 which today are exchanged on the grey market between 5,000 and 10,000 €.

Now that sneakers have entered popular culture, we can observe a particular phenomenon occurring: historical equipment manufacturers, having understood the impact of their products on an entire generation and much more, are now turning to designers for collaborations. This exclusive and new side of collaboration ensures the best sales and allows brands to stay at the forefront of the trend. It also allows designers from this Hip-Hop culture like Virgil Abloh to establish themselves in the fashion industry. We remember his collaboration between Nike and his label Off-White, which consisted of revisiting 10 Historic Nike models that had an impact on culture. Today, the famous Air Jordan 1 from this collection is traded on the grey market between 5,000 and 12,000 €.

On the other hand, fashion continues to be inspired by the streets, and new collaborations inspire the biggest luxury brands today. Thus, the new Lanvin sneaker is a model inspired by the Air Trainers from the Nike x Sacai collaboration.

As for the minimalist sneaker, we see more and more brands appearing on the market, such as Filling Pieces, Axel Arigato, National Standard.

We can also see emerging brands such as Pintta shoes or Alain Mukendi that with different styles represent contemporary handmade luxury shoes. On one hand, Pintta shoes represent elegance and quality in both sneakers and formal collections.

Alain Mukendi on the other side is loyal to the streetwear tradition inspired by graffiti and skateboard culture. Alain Mukendi proposes a full universe of street art in a shoe.

A few brands realize that the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world and that it needs to be addressed. The French brand Veja has taken more than 10 years to establish itself as the world leader in eco-responsible sneakers.

What will the sneaker of the future look like?

But while the sneaker is now everywhere, adopted all over the world by all generations and socio-cultural categories, how can we breathe new life into an accessory that has been perpetually reinvented for nearly half a century? The solution probably lies in front of our eyes, where most of the fashion designers, artists, and sportswear labels who design sneakers have always had an intimate connection to the future. Many models, such as the luxury Diamond sneakers by Jimmy Choo, seem straight out of science fiction films, it is because the object requires its function to provide technical and technological answers to the needs of users. , combining material physics and advanced engineering. This is particularly the case of the German label Adidas, which did not hesitate to collaborate with the chemical giant BASF to create its Energy Boost soles, and of its American competitor Nike, which created in 2018 the ISPA program - a unit entirely dedicated to experimental research combining technical progress and the latest ready-to-wear trends.

Designers like Stella McCartney believe that beyond technology, the future of sneakers will also have to think green. This eco-responsible fashion pioneer recently teamed up with Adidas and the environmental organization Parley for the Oceans to design the Ultraboost Parley model, designed entirely from recycled marine litter. New original production methods allow designers to respond to environmental challenges while continuing to invent the sneaker of tomorrow.


For Elemntz