How to wear trainers: Part 2. Quality

Friday, October 6th 2017
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In recent years, as premium trainers/sneakers have increasingly popular, readers have asked for my view on when they might be appropriate, and when they are, what they should buy.

I covered that last point in the first part of this series, ‘1: Design’

I will cover the style of wearing those sneakers next week in part 3, ‘Style’

Today, however, I will focus on something that is just as important to Permanent Style readers as anything aesthetic: quality.

I’ve done my own research and investigation into this area, but in order to add an insider's view, I talked to Adam Lewenhaupt of Swedish brand CQP (above) when he was in London last week.

(He was doing a trunk show at Trunk Clothiers, offering made to order versions of the sneakers.)

Adam has more than his fair share of experience here, having worked with several different factories on his shoes, seen every aspect of the production, and worked on dozens of prototypes.

He also has his own, firm views on what choices should be made as far as quality is concerned.

Permanent Style: Adam, everyone will be aware that there isn’t as much to a sneaker as a dress show when it comes to quality - but there are some important points, right? Which do you think are the most fundamental?

Adam Lewenhaupt: Well, if we start from the ground up, the first thing is the sole.

This can be glued on or stitched on - that’s something a consumer can see pretty easily.

Much cheaper shoes, such as Converse, tend to be glued. In general this is less robust and long-lasting than stitching, but it does depend on how well the gluing (and stitching) is done.

PS: Are there different qualities of the sole itself?

AL: Yes, but that’s not something you can see easily, and many brands use the same soles. We and Common Projects use a very similar sole, for example, that is more hard wearing than others.

Perhaps a more important point is what goes inside the sole.

As you will know from dress shoes, there is a bed in there, usually filled with foam on a sneaker. But high-quality makes will also use a shank - a long piece of metal or plastic that runs along the middle of the shoe.

Again, its role is the same as with a dress shoe - to give stability and support.

If you don’t have a shank, a sneaker is not going to be comfortable over long distances, or if you wear it all day, for instance.

PS: Can a consumer tell if a sneaker has a shank?

AL: Usually, yes. If you try to pick up a shoe and bend it or twist it, a shank will stop you being able to do that. Whereas a soft plimsoll or something will just fold up [as pictured below].

PS: Do designer sneakers usually have a shank?

AL: It varies. I know, for example, that the Saint Laurent SL01 sneaker, which is a similarly clean, simple tennis shoe, doesn’t.

But then other brands that are made in the same factory as us in Portugal - Lanvin, Givenchy - do.

PS: Why don’t they? Is it just a question of cost saving, or of priorities?

AL: Well none of us know why they make certain decisions, but in general designer brands tend to prioritise look and design over performance. And the shank is not cheap.

Designer sneakers will often have very high-grade materials - great leather, for example. But they don’t necessarily care how they wear over long periods, or how long they last.

PS: To a certain extent I guess it’s a case of how they intend them to be used. If all you’re meant to do is lounge around in them, longevity is less of an issue.

AL: Absolutely. I know a lot of your readers would think that’s wrong, and it’s not what we want out of our sneakers, but people can buy and sell what they want - it’s just a question of being informed enough to make a discerning choice.

If comfort were your priority over all else, you might even choose Ecco or someone similar.

PS: If designer brands often use premium materials, are athletic shoes the opposite, in that their materials are usually pretty cheap?

AL: Yes, that’s an interesting way to put it. Their product is the opposite way round.

So a shoe from a sports brand will often have cheap leather or suede, alongside various synthetic materials, but is engineered for performance.

In that market sneakers are very cheap, but I think consumers don’t expect the shoes to age well - as we would hope with our leathers - and they’re pretty happy to buy a new pair every year, whereas we’d hope ours would last for more like five years.

Another important point about sports shoes is what activity they're designed for.

An actual running shoe is often not a very comfortable thing to walk in for long periods. Whereas most vintage-looking sports shoes today are really designed for leisure wear, rather than running.

PS: Going back to that point about how long your trainers last, is there anything that can be done to re-sole or repair shoes?

AL: Well, in theory we can resole shoes by sending them back to the factory. But it would be too expensive - it wouldn’t be worth it.

One thing we can do is replace the linings on the shoe, particularly inside the heel. That’s often the first thing to go.

PS: Is there anything else we should cover as regards quality?

AL: Another area that’s important to us, but hard to communicate to customers, is consistency.

So, we use a certain factory in Portugal, but I know I could use another one that would charge half the price - with similar looking materials but from cheaper tanneries, similar looking soles from another source and at first glance similar quality elsewhere - but less consistency.

The lines of stitching would not always be straight, there might be a loose stitch inside the shoe which only becomes evident after weeks of wear. We would end up having to return more to the factory.

Partly this is just a hassle for us, and increases the cost of doing business. And partly it’s about quality again, but very subtle things that not everyone would notice or care about.

PS: There’s also a mix there of things the consumer can see, and things he can’t.

So I guess overall he can assess: the stitching/glue, the shank, the quality of the leather perhaps, and the precision of the work.

And for the rest it’s a question of trusting the brand, for which I guess the returns policy and general customer service could be a proxy.

AL: Yes. Always interesting to see how a brand or salesman responds to questions - it suggests how you will be treated further down the line if you have issues.

Read the first post in this series, on the style of trainers to wear with smarter clothing, here.

The last, on style of clothing to wear with those trainers, is coming soon.

I am wearing:

Photography: James Munro

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Johnnydevore

Love the outfit you’re wearing, Simon.

Dan

Sorry for going off topic but couldn’t find the old post on the jacket you had made for your wife (as the only near appropriate post). I was wondering if you, or your wife, knew of any “Graham Browne” type dressmakers for making bespoke tailored dresses (the office style you’d normally see with a jacket over them rather than cocktail dresses) from suiting style fabric? No big design statements but just made to fit properly, pattern matching fabric etc rather than just a basic off the shelf pattern

Dan

Many thanks. Wasn’t sure if tailors did “dress suits” (as in suits with a dress rather than trousers not black tie) via a dressmaker, just get a trouser maker to make the dress or simply don’t offer that option.

Anonymous

Try Gormley and Gamble on Savile Row.

Matt

Dan,

Des Merrion posted some pictures of a ladies tweed suit (jacket and skirt) on his twitter feed a coupe of days ago.

His ‘semi-bespoke’ offering costs roughly the same as many Graham Browne-type London tailors, so he may be worth considering if this is something you’re after.

craig murphy

Pop in and see Richard Anderson on Savile Row. They have an extremely talented team there.

Philip

Dan

My wife has used Katherine Maylin with good results. She’s had a couple of made to measure business suits made and also a bespoke dress.

SB

“there isn’t as much to a sneaker as a dress show”?

Anonymous

I must agree dress shows are a real nightmare haha

Gus

Apart from the slightly different last shape, a visible model number and the place of manufacture (let’s park that), I can’t see the difference between CP and CQP?

And for a relatively new brand, pricing is fairly similar too which doesn’t quite add up.

Any insight here, Simon?

Gus

Thanks, that’s interesting. In terms of colours, their range looks great but their last is not quite as versatile as CP.

Competition is always healthy and very much encouraged but CP nailed this part of the casual/formal trainer market with their white Achilles. And to echo what you said previously, I can’t see many CP customers changing their allegiance to the CQP white Racquet. I may well be wrong though!

Agreed, on the CP pricing, it’s getting a little ridiculous. But, new entrants such as CQP are partly responsible for that.

anonymous

I’d rule out any sneaker with a metal shank.

Simon, I’d be curious to hear your experiences with dress shoes and metal shanks. I have found many dress shoes have moved away from metal shanks b/c of the increased hassle with metal detectors at airports. Such a meaningful percentage of customers are frequent business travelers, my impression is many makers made adjustments after increased security became the norm.

Michael

In my experience, Alden shoes always set off detectors in airports; none of my bespoke shoes do.

BespokeNYC

I find it varies by brand. Vass and Alden shoes nearly always set them off, EG and AS are usually OK. Never had any issues with CP. To be honest I find it hard to imagine traditional bootmakers adjusting their manufacturing techniques to suit the whims of airport security, but perhaps there are other benefits to non-metal shanks?

Laurent

Don’t forget that a shank is not necessarily made from metal. They can be plastic, wood, or even leather, such as on some bespoke shoes.
Regarding the airport security issue, it can also depend on the nails used to build the heel (if it is not a readymade block). This is also a reason why some bespoke shoes set off the detectors.
Finally, Simon, it seems that you forgot “become” in your introduction: “have increasingly popular”.
Laurent

Michael

Any chance you know, and can share, the cloth of Adam’s jacket?

David

Simon,
It’s nice to see you wearing proper shoes whilst interviewing this gentleman but surely, the answer to your headline question – how to wear trainers? – is easy.
It is – when participating in sport!
For other moments we have more elegant solutions.
Regards,
David

Scott

Bless you!

Anon

I like the idea of CQP but still stay with CP. Although I don’t really like the model number on the side, they have nailed the last shape which means you can wear them with anything (i’m one of those people who will give some readers heartburn — I wear CPs with tailoring all the time). Other brands, CQP included, are too chunky at the front and they end up looking a bit like Adidas Stan smiths. That said, if there are developments in CQPs models over time I’d be more than happy to try — everything else about this brand seems very encouraging.

Separaretly, PS has returned to form recently. Well done.

joshgtv

This is all well and good but Adam looks like a child playing dress-ups. He’d look infinitely more stylish wearing nicer jeans and a pair of decent shoes. Suede bluchers perhaps? Brogues?
Sneakers are great with t-shirts and shorts but with tailoring? Perhaps we should try wearing sneakers with a dinner suit next?

BespokeNYC

Perhaps for the benefit of everybody’s blood pressure, we could just agree that, for some, trainers will always be strictly for casual / sports wear. For many others, however, there exists an interesting crossover territory, in which casual pieces can work with tailoring to create a more relaxed contemporary look. (Sport coat and jeans are a good example of this.) Clearly there are many (many!) ways this can be done badly but the point of these articles is to discuss what guidelines might exist. (Something sorely lacking elsewhere.)

If you fall into the former camp, fair enough, I respect your dedication, but restating your objection to the entire principle doesn’t add much to the debate. I’m sure many at the time thought the Duke of Windsor or Beau Brummel’s outfits were outrageous but – despite the name of this blog – style does evolve (albeit much more slowly than the fashion industry would have us believe!)

joshgtv

Fair point mate. Well said.

Will

Simon, do you know what model shoe Adam is wearing? Many thanks

Anonymous

Thanks. Will keep an eye out

NK

Loving this series of articles, Simon. I’m a huge fan of CPs myself and while I haven’t really worn them with anything more formal than chinos or linen trousers, I’m constantly on the lookout for more style inspirations.
Had a question about colour. What are your top colour picks for classic, versatile trainers? White seems an obvious choice. I also have cream suede CPs which seem to go well with lots of things. Would you consider something darker in colour?

ANM

As with ALL shoes:

1. Get them professionally shined, at least initially.

2. Invest in some inner soles…believe it or not, I get some charcoal activated ones at a “dollar” store for – $1, and swap out as they wear. (this also works for my boat/driver casual shoes..).helps immensely on reducing internal wear and tear..

3. I have not tried this, but I may actually see if “trees” can help them last/age well…

None the less, they are ultimately disposable, and have never even attempted to try to get them resoled, (even ones with what appears to be a “Goodyear” welt, has anyone taken them to a local cobbler with success?) etc..

ANM

Simon,

Thanks for the reply..

1. The type of trainers I get professionally shined, polished and waxed (not sure if that is the order!) are the smooth leather “fashion” trainers that are making a splash now…true athletic shoes that may be suede, canvas of nylon, I do nothing additional to them. I am just following an old line about the first thing you do with leather shoes is give them some proper treatment…The people I have done this with (although they have a vested interest) have agreed..

2. Not sure if we are communicating about the inserts effectively. I simply put them in, and make no alterations to the existing interior of the shoe. The inserts add an small layer of padding to my pure athletic shoes, and help immeasurably with shoes I do not wear socks with – drivers, and boat shoes. I find that they do flatten out every 3 months or so, and I replace them..Sometimes, they also “melt” into the shoe itself, and so again better to replace them before they become too affixed.

I cannot say that inserts help with the lining that is NOT the bottom of the interior (keep your toenails trimmed?)…I started using them when I found that the sole of the inside (particularly in shoes I do not wear socks with) would start to come unglued, and involve a ritual in re-positioning the interior every time I took them off/put them on. And this was with premium branded ones…I weight 70Kg., so it is not as if I am extremely hard on my foot wear…

3. The tree issue is a different one…the construction of trainers is so different from dress shoes, it does call into question the need. That is why I was wondering about it.

The biggest challenge I see, is that synthetic soles (which are the largest factor in shoe shape) simply are not subject to the warping, etc., that leather soles are…However, It may be worth a go, just to see long term if it keeps them looking good..

Funny thing, I think we are all in agreement, these are disposable shoes, and are not/cannot be re-soled etc.

A couple years ago, I dug up a pair of Adidas “Stan Smith” from when I was in undergraduate school. I used them inside, on a squash court exclusively. I put them on eBay, and sold them for over $100..

Apparently there is a market in Japan and Silicon Valley for used original ones (made in France, as were mine). It is a “thing” to be wearing original Stan Smiths, although why someone would want to wear a pair of shoes that are both older than you, and not from a family member is beyond me…

Perhaps there is market in the UK for old dress shoes warn by members of the House of Lords circa 1950 or 60…

Calum

Hi Simon

I’m interested to know if you’ve come across Crown Shoes in Northampton?

I believe that they specialise in handmade trainers, with full leather insoles, sidewall stitching etc.

On first glance the price point is roughly in the region of CP’s so could be an interesting hand-made alternative

I’m based near Northampton and have been meaning to pay the factory shop a visit, but curious if you’ve had some exposure to them before?

Alexander

Hi Simon,
what are some other trainers makers you would recommend? Do you know anything about JC Lutz quality, durability?
Thank you