In the fall of 2010, Phoebe Philo of Céline walked out for a bow after her runway show wearing a turtleneck, plain trousers, and Stan Smith sneakers. It wasn’t exactly “and that was that” – but enough of a MOMENT that the image is still in my head, and maybe yours too, 12 years later. It was the beginning of the Stan Smith zeitgeist. That same year, I had added my own line of clothing to the company Sid and I had started 3 years earlier. I was in the thick of trying to make it all happen and was probably too busy to think much about it beyond “wow, that looks really cool.” Or more likely, “she looks really cool,” which is actually the bigger compliment. Not just the sneakers… the whole vibe.
It has been a few years since I’ve traveled to the fabric shows in Europe, but this is every designer’s starting off point for the season. First you pick the fabrics and then you get to work. The biggest, and maybe most notable, one is called Première Vision and takes place outside of Paris. Thousands of designers from all over the world make that trip twice a year. You might settle into a nice (or not-so-nice) hotel, have a quick café au lait, and then hit the streets to look for trends in the Parisian shops. Maybe a dinner of steak frites. The next morning, you wake up early to catch the metro that goes out to the convention center, ride the train for about an hour, then stand in line to get your lanyard that grants entry to the fabric show. You made it. A REAL designer. You could be working for a maternitywear company in Kansas, but you’d still be walking those aisles alongside designers from big-name labels based in New York or Milan or Shanghai. Booth after booth, fabric vendor after fabric vendor. It is so hot and so crowded that you need to strategize like crazy to squeeze in all your fabric appointments and still have time to get a ham-and-cheese baguette for lunch. (Another line to stand in.)
I will tell you – while I haven’t been in a few years, my memory is that it was really fun to walk those long aisles. Even with the lanyard, I always felt more like an observer following Sid. It was confusing, especially the first few times, and I was so happy to hang back and watch and learn while he led the way. Everything about it felt very high-low. The low: the massive slog of anything that takes place at a convention center in general. Once inside the expo hall, you could be anywhere: Paris or Las Vegas or Louisville. They are all climate-controlled and have poor cell phone reception and the sandwiches are only marginally better in France. It is not so glamorous. But the high is being around all that creativity and energy… watching Sid go crazy for the fabrics themselves… he is a nut about all of that. I loved the fabrics too, but what I remember most is all the people-watching. You hear every language spoken, and it makes you wonder: how can there be enough people in the world to possibly wear all the garments that are to be sewn by all the miles and miles of fabric at just this one fabric show? It still hurts my head to think about it too much. Back to the shoes. In those early years, around the same time that Phoebe Philo took that sneakered bow, many of those designers were also walking around the fabric shows in Stan Smiths, their outfits punctuated with a sporty flash of white on the bottom.
And among all the early adopters, one group stands out in my memory, and I am almost certain that it was the girls from Céline. The originals. If Phoebe was the queen, these were her ladies-in-waiting, and they were impossible to miss. To see a cluster of 5 women all carrying the IT bag of the moment, wasting no time at the coat check but instead draping their topcoats over their shoulders, wearing full, menswear-style trousers and THE sneakers, clearing a path through the carpeted aisles of fabric vendors… my word. You had to stare.
The shoes were practical, of course – you walk miles and miles every day at one of those shows, and overdressing in a pair of heels will only slow you down. But function aside, Stan Smiths were more about the cool factor… the delight of the design and juxtaposition of the sneaker with just about anything. Tailored, full trousers, a sleek turtleneck, a long dress. Pieces you wouldn’t intuitively wear running shoes with. We all wear sneakers this way now, so it is hard to remember a time when it felt novel. But at the time, it looked new. It was about comfort, yes, but even more so about cool.
My own personal sneaker collection consists of real sneakers for running (I like the Mizuno Wave Riders,) a pair of fashion-y trainers that I wear when I fly, and a small collection of very simple canvas sneakers that are sporty but not athletic. (Supergas, mostly.) When I slip them on to run errands on a Saturday, they just feel weekend-y. A cotton head scarf does the same. It relaxes me just to tie it on my head. The same goes for lacing up the sneakers on a Saturday. Exhale.
But this kind of sneaker has not been in my closet until very, very recently. Even though I marveled at it on the Céline girls so many years ago, I had never owned a pair of leather sneakers until we made our own this summer, a smaller version of a pair that Sid has made for a few seasons. It is not a Stan Smith, and certainly not a Golden Goose (I skipped out on that trend, but man, people are crazy about those!) It is simpler than both of those, made of clean white perforated leather, but it does the same thing. It tones down a sophisticated look and gives you a sense of cool and a bit of youthfulness. A pair of sneakers like this works with a lot of things you probably have in your closet. They can casualize a dress or re-energize the trousers you don’t wear so much anymore. They can even make a pair of jeans feel a little more intentional. I put them on with Fayes and a turtleneck and felt great. For the real Céline look, throw a blazer or topcoat over your shoulders and give yourself a glare in the mirror. You are the queen of chic. And you can hustle anywhere you want.