The Finest Luxury Sneaker Brands For Men (And The Model To Buy)
Fusing high-end craftsmanship, quality design and brand cachet, these are the luxury brands producing the most desirable sneakers in %%currentyear%%.
The past two decades have been a transformative period for menswear. Perceptions of formality have been upended, dress code norms demolished, and the concept of luxury reimagined to form a new fashion paradigm.
Previously, ‘luxury sneakers’ might have seemed like an oxymoron. Athletic shoes were, by definition, casual. They were tools for a job, and certainly not something to be paired with a suit, or sold alongside designer goods in glitzy boutiques and department stores. Fast forward to the present day and that mindset couldn’t seem more dated. Sneakers are some of the best-selling products from high-fashion brands, and even many historic Northamptonshire shoemakers have turned their attention to athletic silhouettes of late.
So, just what exactly do we mean when we talk about ‘luxury sneakers’? And who are making the best versions? Below, we’ll delve into the details of this modern menswear phenomena and introduce you to the key styles from some of the finest luxury sneaker brands in the world.
What is a ‘luxury’ sneaker?
There are a number of factors that can bring a sneaker into the ‘luxury’ bracket. First and foremost is build quality and materials. Common Projects’ Achilles Low changed the game when it first launched in 2004, effectively reinventing the wheel by reimagining a classic leather tennis shoe in premium Italian leather, with a high-end Margom sole and handmade craftsmanship. This laid the framework for an entire movement of luxury sneakers, with a focus on bespoke manufacture and upscale materials as opposed to athletic performance.
Brand cachet also plays a big part. Over the past few decades, high-fashion houses have started to focus on their sneaker offerings, as have traditional British and Italian shoemakers and leather brands. Rightly or wrongly, when the Tom Fords and John Lobbs of this world create something, it’s granted luxury status (and a price tag to match) by default, simply because of heritage, reputation and, particularly with labels like Balenciaga and Gucci, hype.
With that in mind, let’s run down the very best luxury men’s sneaker brands for 2022, along with the model that defines their output.
Key model: Achilles
Don’t get us wrong, there were luxury sneakers long before 2004, but it was the success of the Achilles Low that really kicked things into gear. The shoe itself was gloriously simple, which, coupled with its high-end construction, made it one of the first sneakers that could legitimately be worn with smart casual outfits or even tailoring.
It’s one of the most influential pieces of footwear of at least the last century, and as elegant and easy to wear now as it was almost 20 years ago.
Key model: Sneaker 1
After 150 years of shoemaking, British brand Grenson unveiled its first sneaker to the world: the not-so-snappily titled ‘Sneaker 1’. This streamlined, minimalist sneaker is essentially a dress shoe with sneaker DNA.
The construction and materials involved have more in common with a traditional Derby shoe than an athletic shoe, but the shape and overall styling is still distinctly sporty. The result is a design that’s more than happy to slum it with shorts and a T-shirt, yet won’t feel out of its depth with dress trousers and a blazer.
Key model: Levah
John Lobb is another historic British shoemaker with a background in luxury handmade footwear. The brand only produces a small selection of sneakers, of which the Levah is a bestseller.
It combines the comfort and practicality of a tennis shoe with the quality and craftsmanship of a traditionally-made dress shoe, bridging the gap between smart and casual seamlessly.
Key model: Fast Track
French leather-goods brand Berluti makes some of the finest bags, wallets, belts and shoes in the world, not to mention an entire ready-to-wear collection. In recent years, the label has also welcomed several sneaker styles into the fold, including the classic minimalist Playtime, and the sportier, retro runner-inspired Fast Track.
Expect seriously high-end materials and beautiful construction as standard. Oh, and eye-watering price tags to match.
Key model: Ace
Gucci is one of the hottest luxury labels in the world right now, and sneakers have become a key part of its output. The French fashion house’s Ace sneaker riffs on the minimalist leather styles that dominate the luxury sneaker market, with a Gucci twist in the form of iconic stripe branding and intricate, often playful embroidered motifs.
For something more substantial, check out the brand’s Rhyton model, which sees Gucci venturing into chunky sneaker territory.
Key model: Triple S
When Spanish fashion house Balenciaga launched the Triple S sneaker back in 2017, it ended the reign of stripped-back, minimalist kicks and ushered in a new era of oversized soles and bulky silhouettes – the echoes of which are still very much being felt today.
Prior to that, the label’s Speed Sock sneaker reimagined knitted slip-ons for the fashion crowd, and more recently, the Track cemented trail runners as the hottest footwear trend in fashion.
Whether you love the sneakers or hate them, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that under the guidance of Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga has become one of the most prolific tastemakers in footwear, and perhaps the biggest name in luxury sneakers today.
Key model: James
From his acclaimed stint at Gucci to his razor-sharp own-brand tailoring and fragrances, Tom Ford is a true menswear legend, and someone who it seems can do no wrong. The American designer’s flair for men’s fashion extends to sneakers too, with a range spanning everything from stripped-back slip-ons to futuristic runners.
The James sneaker is one of our favourites. It’s a twist on a classic 70s runner, updated for the chunky sneaker age.
Key model: FBT
Known for its unique mix of Japanese, Native American, bohemian and Americana influences, Visvim is a brand like no other – and a firm favourite of menswear aficionados with leftfield tastes and bulging wallets.
The FBT is the label’s most-loved and best-selling footwear model, with a mid-top silhouette, fringed ankle and sporty sole unit. If that’s not your style, there are plenty of other options, including the retro basketball shoe-inspired Skagway, or the sporty FKT runner.
Key model: Replica
Elusive and mysterious Belgian designer Martin Margiela launched his iconic Replica sneaker back in 1994. It foreshadowed the future trend for understated, luxury sneakers, taking its cues from a classic German Army trainer, or ‘GAT’ as it’s often abbreviated.
Over the years, the Replica has been reimagined in all sorts of colours and materials, but with the core design remaining the same. For those who like to make a statement with their footwear, the iconic paint-splatter versions offer a colourful twist on the classic.
Key model: Keynes
Italian brand Officine Creative uses only the very best of materials, and employs traditional shoemaking techniques to craft some of the finest sneakers money can buy. The brand’s Keynes model is a sporty yet refined piece of footwear that draws on the track shoes of yesteryear for inspiration.
It’s handmade in Italy, available in suede or leather, and is perfect for tying smart casual outfits together from the ground up.
Key model: Dadstar
Known for its beautifully beaten-up luxury kicks, Golden Goose has made the distressed, pre-worn look its USP. Hailing from Venice, Italy, the label crafts beautiful sneakers using premium materials, often finishing them off with carefully placed scuffs, scrapes and dirt marks.
It might seem counterintuitive to pay inordinate amounts of cash for something that looks like it’s already well worn, but you really have to see a pair in the flesh to understand the appeal. The Dadstar is heavily influenced by the suede running shoes of the 80s, and eagle-eyed observers may notice some not-so-subtle nods to New Balance’s iconic 990 line.
Key model: 4D Halo
You can’t talk about luxury sneakers without mentioning Y-3. The collaborative project between Adidas and renegade designer Yohji Yamamoto represented one of the first times high fashion and sportswear had collided in a serious way, setting the tone for decades of luxury footwear to come.
The brand’s collection is constantly evolving and changing, but one of our favourite styles from the current range is the 4D Halo, which takes the Three Stripes’ innovative 4D sole technology and applies it to a design that’s equally futuristic and otherworldly.
Key model: Louis Junior
Perhaps better known for high heels than sneakers, Christian Louboutin is one of the biggest names in luxury footwear and has been for more than three decades. The designer’s red-soled stilettos are among the most iconic footwear designs in fashion, but that’s not to say the Frenchman doesn’t know his way around a sneaker too.
The Louis Junior is one of the brand’s core designs, featuring the trademark spiked toe cap on an otherwise simple and understated upper.