The Death Of The Trainer | The Sunday Times Style

This piece was written for The Sunday Times Style.


Where have all the trainers gone? This was my overarching thought during the recent month of AW17 fashion shows. Aside from the stylist Kate Foley in a pair of adorable powder-blue Vans, there was barely a rubber sole to be seen in the street-style shots. Ever since Adidas relaunched its Stan Smith shoe in 2014, everyone has had a pair of these fresh white, green-tipped trainers hiding under their desk. More pairs were sold in 2014 than in the four years previously; all of a sudden it became acceptable to wear trainers at the office, at meetings, for dinners.

If you weren’t in Stans, you were in Gazelles, or one of Nike’s wildly popular variations: Air Max, Roshe Run, Cortez, Flyknit. True sneakerheads even queued up for Kanye West’s sellout Yeezys. For those with a few more bob to spare, it was the Golden Goose Superstar, or Saint Laurent’s star-strewn version, or suede flatforms by Eytys. It didn’t matter what you were wearing, an expensive dress or a pair of battered jeans, trainers had become your 24/7 friends. Admittedly, there was something undeniably democratic about this trainer boom. Unlike a £2,000 pair of crystal-encrusted Balenciaga court shoes, everyone can afford Adidas sneaks. And yet I for one am happy to see trainers relegated back to where they belong: the gym.

I’ve never been a fan of trainers. I mean, obviously, I own some. Three pairs, in fact: Nike Fitsole for the occasional exercise endeavour; ecru Supergas for summer holidays, when their main function is to complement tanned legs; and a pair of Adidas Gazelles for the rare moments I believe I can still pull off adolescent, festi-grunge at the age of 30. I understand and applaud the trainer’s necessary functionality; it is the trainer as a high-fashion accessory that I have no truck with. Sure, they’re comfortable, but flattering? Pfft. Great seductions have never taken place while wearing a pair of Air Max.

So why has the trainer hit the skids? “At a time of political chaos, we want to feel good, we want to feel empowered,” says Alexandra Carl, the Danish stylist and fashion director of Rika magazine. So we reach for familiar motifs, and a high heel will for ever be on that list. “The stiletto feels suddenly fresh again, a symbol of feminine power,” says Thalia Tserevegou, the senior shoe buyer at Net-a-porter. Where last year saw feminism filtered through slouchy suits, sneakers and gender-fluid apparel, right now we crave drama and power flounce (which also includes extravagantly flared sleeves and high-shine leather).

Despite the huge revival in streetwear, which continues this season, trainers have been conspicuously absent. Young fashion types are wearing their Adidas tracksuit bottoms and Vetements bombers with fierce black high-heeled ankle boots instead. That said, the trainer hasn’t disappeared completely: Céline has launched a new one for SS17, and JW Anderson showed trainers for AW17.

For your post-trainer shoes, consider instead the kitten heel, otherwise referred to as the “training heel”: “An easy way into sophistication”, according to Tserevegou. Slides and mules with a low, blocky or non-existent heel are also a great alternative. See Joseph’s leather buckled slides (in cognac or buttermilk), or suede mules by Mansur Gavriel and Maryam Nassir Zadeh. At Temperley London models wore soft backless leather mules. And for every trainer that I didn’t see over fashion month, I spied a pair of pointed stiletto boots by Balenciaga or JW Anderson (Zara has a great pair of hot pink ones).

The Italian stylist Diletta Bonaiuti puts the demise of the trainer down to it hitting saturation point, and now we find ourselves in the middle of a mild rebellion. “Stan Smiths were this huge moment in fashion, but then every brand started copying them,” Bonaiuti says with an elegant shrug. “Now I can’t wear them any more.” The Italians have called it. Romance is back.

Ph. by Jason Lloyd-Evans

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