There's been an intriguing development on the autumn/winter 2016 catwalks. Minimal shoes – particularly trainers – have worked their way into high fashion. Coach and Philipp Plein both featured white designs at their AW16 shows, while trends like normcore and sports-luxe have long popularised minimal trainers.
Nowadays, these shoes are not only accepted but admired in the workplace – and are even seen at elite functions. It’s clear that the evening dress code has changed, as stars like Kristen Stewart demonstrate by wearing athletic footwear to walk the red carpet. Minimal trainers work because they’re effortless and understated. Yet they're also laced with a fashionable history that's worthy of exploration.
Icon in training
Trainers have always been so much more than just sports footwear. Since the very first moment they were worn off the pitch as casual wear, they've held a firm association with youth culture. In the 1950s, teens in the US congregated in diners, decked out in baseball jackets and gleaming sneakers. Later, in the 90s, laid-back hi-tops were as much a part of grunge expression as flannel shirts, long hair and a romantic sense of apathy.
Trainers have been a constant throughout modern fashion’s evolution. The strong visual statement they make is of a wayward, nonconformist attitude. These are minimal shoes with much to say, riling against the constraints of convention and dismissing anything too formal or done-up.
The rise of minimal dressing
Minimalism is epitomised by simple, clean lines. In design, it expresses a stripped-back aesthetic – imagine buildings with muted palettes and a harmonious interaction with their natural surroundings. Minimalism is impactful without being brash or ostentatious – it whispers style. And this sleek, streamlined architectural approach translates into clothing, too. Céline and Calvin Klein are long-reigning champions of minimal shoes and clothes for both men and women. Think crisp shift dresses unencumbered by embellishments, well-tailored trousers with classic tees and, of course, beautifully simple footwear.
Minimalism is also integral to Scandi style. Brands like By Malene Birger, Cecilie Copenhagen and Acne Studios revel in pared-back colour schemes, rich homespun fabrics and unfussy silhouettes. And this also goes for the shoes. Trainers from By Malene Birger include two-tonal designs (black and slightly blacker) with thick, orthopedic-esque white soles. Meanwhile, at Lanvin, the classic tennis sneaker appears perfectly formed and in a variety of outfit-enhancing tonal variations.
Viva la Velcro
For many of us as children, Velcro shoes were met with disdain – easy-to-use fasteners indicated you were too small for grown-up shoes. But how things have changed – now, minimal trainers with Velcro straps are actively sought out for their understated aesthetic. They transform footwear into small works of art that are mini-shrines to low-key style. Marni and Michael Kors have created exquisite examples, while the scuba-boot Christopher Kane shoes in shades of grey with thick Velcro straps are not to be missed.
Back To The Future’s Marty McFly really was ahead of his time – retro-style hi-tops with smooth lines are suddenly emblems of modern style. These minimal trainers for men can be seen at Damir Doma and Maison Margiela. They are the urbanite’s shoe of choice and look best paired with tapered trousers and a structured shirt buttoned all the way up.
The women’s versions are equally covetable. Opening Ceremony takes hi-tops even higher with a buckle strap, while Philippe Model has created minimal shoes with such a perfect heel curve that they look like enlarged Barbie trainers. But for the pièce de résistance, look to Giuseppe Zanotti Design shoes. Mid-top designs feature zips, serrated-edge soles and enough chunkiness to power an entire 90s girl-band reunion.
White is the colour of purity, which means it’s also the shade of all the best minimal shoes. Common Projects, Puma, Valentino and Saint Laurent trainers have all sampled the blank-canvas look. Without adornment or the distraction of colours, the simple design of the trainer can truly breathe. Hi-tops, plimsolls and slip-ons radiate a heavenly quality in pristine ivory. And the key here is pristine. These are not trainers to be worn in, scuffed and battered. These shoes don’t go in for the wear and tear of their more colourful counterparts – the aim is to keep them immaculately clean.
And they can be teamed with just about anything – long flowing skirts, trapeze culottes or pinstriped co-ord suits. Street-style regular Pernille Teisbaek has paired her white trainers with a ribbed sweater dress. Maverick actor and singer Jared Leto wears his with a lilac Givenchy tuxedo. And as for model-of-the-moment Camille Rowe? A slip dress and sunglasses.
Athletic footwear has long been synonymous with youth culture, maintaining a nonchalant allure that radiates from its sheer simplicity. Yet it's the recent meteoric rise of minimal trainers into the realm of high fashion that will cement these as the shoe of our generation.