High-end sneakers may be as ubiquitous as selvedge denim these days, but more variety means it’s even harder for the cream to rise to the top. Designers like Gucci and have long embraced the sportier side of footwear, while other labels have only recently joined the party. Meanwhile, brands like Common Projects have been making the case for luxury sneakers for a decade, and have earned a special sort of street cred. Before you pull the trigger on yet another pair, here’s a primer on some of the hottest purveyors of high-end kicks.Article No.
Origins: Founded 2015 in Los Angeles
Price range: $180-$300
The look: L.A. is having a bit of a style renaissance, and new-kids-on-the-sneaker-block Article No. are part of the wave. Founded by Ant de Padovani, Michael Jonte, and brothers Joshua and Jacob Willis (also the guys behind menswear brand Second/Layer), Article No. blends fine sculptural influences with a futuristic sportiness to create aggressively athletic shoes that’ll make even the most jaded Rick Owens fan’s eyes widen just a tad. More minimal guys will find solace in pared-down models that offer contrast pops on the heel and toebox.
Origins: Founded 2009 in Amsterdam
Price range: $200-$250
The look: Filling Pieces is known for the hiking-inspired Mountain Cut mid-top with D-ring eyelets and speed hooks, but designer Guillaume Philibert has also developed a following for his high-tongued styles that offer an offbeat, minimal appeal. Laser-etched uppers contrast with more subdued materials like quilted leather, while special (and limited-edition) make-ups for stores like Mr. Porter and Ronnie Fieg’s Kith shops add to the label’s growing appeal.
Origins: Founded 2003 in Tokyo
Price range: $280-$410
The look: Legendary Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto’s collaborative line with Adidas, Y-3, was making forward-thinking sportswear a full decade before “athleisure” was a marketing buzzword and “goth ninja” became the go-to descriptor of all things dark, designer, and drapey. Yamamoto’s Qasa silhouette has become an integral part of Adidas’ newfound fashion relevance, and when an early sketch was turned into the more democratically priced Adidas Tubular models, his design prowess trickled to the masses.
Origins: Founded 2010 in Stockholm
Price range: $300-$495
The look: Swedish sneaker company Spalwart makes a bunch of different shapes, but by far it’s most popular is the track-inspired Marathon Trail. Think of it as the suave European counterpart to the ratty runners commonly associated with fuddy-duddy dads everywhere. The comfort is still there, but there’s a bunch more going on in the style department.
Origins: Founded 1974 in Tuscany
Price range: $150-$300
The look: The easiest way to describe Aprix’s sneakers is like an elevated take on skate shoes. The brand’s most known shoe is a low-top with two blocks of color, which are usually in a corduroy fabric. The details are small here, but they stand out. And if you’re looking for a start in the designer sneaker space, this is a good place to go.
Origins: Founded 2005 in New York
Price range: $400-$700
The look: Common Projects are undoubtedly patient zero for the current minimal-luxury-sneakers craze. The Achilles has become a holy grail for recovering Jordan-fiends as much as it has for aspiring fashion nerds. Its cross-cultural appeal predated the muddled “mix everything together” world of modern menswear, and it looks good with just about everything. While people are currently foaming at the mouth for a pair of suede Common Projects Chelsea boots, the undeniable appeal of the straightforward and sexy Achilles is fast proving that the shoe has achieved that covetable “timeless” status.
Origins: Founded 1988 in Paris
Price range: $470-$1,200
The look: Maison Margiela’s designer footwear legacy has remained relatively untouched. Its most prominent product is an upscale reinterpretation of a standard-issue German army trainer sneaker, done up in white leather with suede accents and a gum sole. It’s also been reinterpreted in numerous colorways and treatments, ranging from meticulous paint splatters to iridescent metallic leather and intricate basket-weave materials. The high-top Margiela Future, with its gigantic leather strap and covered eyelets, has gained a cult following of its own, especially when custom furry pairs of the kicks were made for Kanye West for his Yeezus tour.
Origins: Founded 2000 in Venice
Price range: $525-$620
The look: Husband and wife Francesca and Alessandro Gallo founded this sneaker brand on a common passion for sneakers and art. With fans like Off-White designer Virgil Abloh, GGDB has found itself in a welcome position of newfound relevance. Its flagship products are Italian-made sneakers with the breaking-in done for you. It makes sense if you think about how guys are willing to fork over oodles of cash for perfectly distressed denim. Why not splurge on designer kicks that already feel like your favorite pair? At least if you scuff them further, they won’t look any worse for wear.
Origins: Founded 1919 in San Sebastián, Spain
Price range: $525-$1,175
The look: Balenciaga’s two signature sneakers are the hiking boot-like Arena, with D-ring eyelets all the way to the top, and the Pleated High-Top, with its telltale horizontal panels on the upper. Both shoes are modern statement pieces and have achieved their cult status via a combination of key celebrity co-signs and the simple fact that they look damn cool, which makes them something sneakerheads of all sorts could appreciate. Post-Alexander Wang, Balenciaga has received attention for its low-top, neoprene-infused trainers and mixed-material sneakers, too.
Origins: Founded 1889 in Paris
Price range: $490-$700
The look: Lanvin’s signature cap-toe sneaker combines the elegance of a formal shoe with the comfort and simple style of a low-top trainer, and it boasts a considerably thicker sole than its competitors for an even more distinctive look. Lanvin also offers slip-on, mid-tops, and sportier high-tops, but it still pushes its trademark low-top hard each season.
Origins: Founded in 1895 by Italian brothers, based in Paris
Price range: $1,000-$4,000
The look: Berluti’s most known quality is its insane leathers. Many of them are colored—reds, greens, and blues, in addition to blacks and browns—and they have a sort of marbled appearance that makes them impossible to replicate. The sneakers rival designer dress shoes in terms of both sophistication and wearability. If you have the money to burn, these are virtually impossible to compete with.
Origins: Founded 2000 in Tokyo
Price range: $575-$1,200
The look: Designer Hiroki Nakamura has built a future-rustic world of hard-wearing goods and footwear that looks like the combination of New Age naturalism and modern manufacturing. The FBT, with a moccasin-like upper that rests on a comfortable EVA midsole, is the brand’s most popular silhouette. (It takes its name from the British band Fun Boy Three. Singer Terry Hall wore a pair of moccasins on one of their album covers, and Nakamura took note.) Other sneakers from the brand feel like handmade homages to existing sneakers: the Foley pays respects to the Stan Smith, while the Skagway and Prima owe their existence to the Chuck Taylor. Of course, the cost of admission is much higher, but that’s the price you pay when you want to the same obscure Japanese wardrobe as guys like Eric Clapton and John Mayer.
Origins: Founded in 2005 in Australia, based in New York City
Price range: $500-$600
The look: Feit’s sneakers are understated. That is, of course, until you get a closer look at them. The shoes are made with high-quality leather (often using just a single piece for the upper), which is hand-stitched. They’re worn as shoes, but they’re basically little pieces of art. They might look like sneakers, but they wear more like high-quality boots.
Origins: Founded in 2012 in Italy
Price range: $
The look: Off-White and its maker, Virgil Abloh, have been grinding away for quite a time. By now, his designs are ubiquitous; they’re a hardcore riff on traditional high-fashion. He elevates streetwear by breaking down the “serious” parts of a sneaker. The brand is known for its satirical construction, with normally hidden labels and tags on full display.
Origins: Founded 2010 in Tokyo
Price range: $695-$1,050
The look: Hender Scheme is the brainchild of Ryo Kashiwazaki, a leather artisan who sought to juxtapose classic Japanese “shokunin” craftsmanship with some of his favorite sneaker silhouettes. His line of “Manual Industrial Products,” also known as the “Homage” line, could be regarded as trompe l’oeil leatherwork. Working from silhouettes like the Vans Era, Nike Air Force 1, and Adidas Superstar, each shoe is meticulously reinterpreted by hand, sans logos, out of a natural, vegetable-tanned leather that will get darker over time. The resulting product simultaneously has the appeal of raw denim, hyped sneakers, and benchmade shoes. Kashiwazaki’s also expanded the MIP line to include silhouettes like the Air Jordan IV and the Nike Presto, and he makes his own line of original designs that are equally impressive.
Origins: Founded in 1921 in Italy
Price range: $600-$1,500
The look: The Gucci sneaker look is hard to mistake for anything else. It has the kind of standard Italian high-fashion take, with bold pops of color or design, coupled with recurring motifs that are as widely recognized as the brand name. Gucci doesn’t skimp out on styles, either. Although the embellished low-tops are a classic, the brand has also made waves with its chunky sneakers.
Origins: Founded in 2014, based in New York and crafted in Italy
Price range: $248-368
The look: Koio makes a completely minimalist sneaker, and it does it well. The brand is known for its two main sneaker constructions—a low-top and a high-top—many of which come in completely tonal designs, or have just a contrasting bottom. The shoes are made with Italian leather by German designers who are based in New York City. You’re really getting the best perspectives (and access) possible.
Origins: Founded in 1992 in the U.K.
Price range: $600-800
The look: Thick, bold soles are the name of the game for Alexander McQueen-style sneakers. Even though that construction is popular right now, a true McQueen silhouette is unmistakable. It helps that it’s really the only part of the shoe that’s bold; the rest of it is kept to a solid base color, minimal detailing, and only small pops of color.
Origins: Founded in 1913 in Italy
Price range: $500-$800
The look: Prada’s sneakers are a blend of total minimalism—like a tonal white sneaker—and a mix of highly technical constructions. Straight up, some of Prada’s most notable sneakers look like water shoes. But either one you go for looks truly purposeful, which makes them an interesting shoe to incorporate.