The recent announcement by Sotheby’s that 200 pairs of Louis Vuitton and Nike Air Force 1 sneakers created by late American designer Virgil Abloh fetched a total of $25m literally stopped fashion in its tracks. The most paid for one of the pairs was more than $350,000 during an online auction.The sums dramatically exceed the initial estimates of Sotheby’s, which had started the bidding at $2,000 per pair and had predicted they would sell for between $5,000 and $15,000 each.
In the end, the sneakers, averaged more than $100,000 per shoe. The cheapest sold for $75,000. The brown, white and cream-coloured sneakers featured Nike’s famous swoosh logo with Louis Vuitton’s instantly recognisable monogram and Damier pattern, and were created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Nike Air Force 1, which was launched in 1982.
In the past two decades, New Balance, Nike, Off White, Yeezy, Adidas, Asics, Puma, Converse and Reebok have evolved to become mega-brands that dominate fashion and drive the athleisure boom. The crossover of the casual sport shoe from track to catwalk was accelerated by the pandemic, but the ascent of the sneaker to cultural symbol of our times was well underway pre Covid. Even Debretts, the snooty arbiter of modern manners has decided that trainers are now acceptable for smart casual occasions. Today they are worn by sportspeople, style queens, royalty, rock stars and fashion designers, young and old, rich and poor. Everyone has a pair, including the Pope.
Sneakers have now assumed a status in popular and youth culture that totally overshadows their humble origins. Trainers are an immense business – sales of the footwear were valued at $79bn by statista.com in 2021 and are predicted to rise to $120bn by 2026. Footwear is now the biggest selling category in the online luxury market which is why traditional luxury brands including Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Valentino are all schilling designer trainers for stratospheric prices. The sports shoe is fashion’s most profitable category.