Of all the considerations when shopping for a pair of sneakers, versatility is perhaps the most important. The adaptability of a shoe dictates the amount of action it will see and when it comes to your outfit, less tends to equal more.
Let’s face it, a well-made pair of sleek, minimalist sneakers is always going to trump trend-baiting beetle crushers in terms of bang-to-buck ratio. Not to mention the effect on your long-term style credentials. Because while maximalism may be enjoying a surge in mainstream popularity, once it’s dead, it’ll be these modest staples gleefully kicking their way through the ashes.
Simple sneakers are the “trend” that never died. Eternally stylish, effortlessly adaptable and one of the irrefutable must-have styles on any self-respecting, modern gent’s shoe rack.
Here we delve into the minutiae of these bona-fide contemporary classics. From what to buy, to the reasons why you simply can’t be without a pair.
Why Go Minimal?
The best way to ensure old photos can be looked back on in years to come without you cringing in horror is to steer clear of short-lived trends. Instead, aim to clad yourself in the exact opposite. Timeless essentials. Articles of clothing and footwear that look as good today as they did 50 years ago, and will continue to do so another half-century down the line.
Minimalist sneakers fall firmly inside this category. They’re clean, uncluttered and can be legitimately worn past the age of 35 without alluding to a midlife crisis.
Then there’s ease of styling. Simplicity of design allows pared-back kicks to slot seamlessly into the bottom of almost any outfit. There’s even a case to be made for wearing them with tailoring, provided the setting is informal enough.
The Best Minimal Sneaker Brands
From Novesta’s laid-back canvas designs to the artisanal Italian wares offered by Common Projects, these are the best brands to shop when it comes to minimalist sneakers.
Paris-based J.C.Lutz specialises in high-quality sneakers that are made as ethically as possible. Its made-to-order business model is world’s apart from the mass-produced, environmentally-damaging production methods of its competitors, and allows the brand to offer truly customisable kicks.
The great thing about J.C.Lutz is that you get to design the final shoe, so you can go as minimal as you desire. Choose to accent a clean white upper with a heel colour or subtle contrast stitching, or leave it as a completely blank canvas. You can even add your name or initials to the sole, making your shoe a lot more personal than the cookie-cutter alternatives on the market.
Once you’ve created your perfect sneaker, the design is sent to a family-run atelier in the La Marche region of Italy where it is 100% handmade by master shoemakers using the finest calf leather and suede. For those with exacting standards and a clear idea of what they want, J.C.Lutz is for you.
Key Model: Achilles Low
Not everyone gets the fuss that has enveloped New York-Italian brand Common Projects since it first hit the market back in 2004. We assure you, though, it is justified.
At first glance, the label’s renowned Achilles Low is just another minimalist sneaker. Upon further inspection, however, it’s obvious that CP has essentially reinvented the wheel. The Achilles is the ultimate – the benchmark for all other stripped-back kicks to live up to, and so far none have even come close. Check out the slightly sportier B-ball model, too, for a different take on the label’s trademark simplicity.
Key Model: Low 1
The Common Projects Achilles Low is all well and good, but it’s a simple fact of life that not everyone has £300 to spend on a pair of shoes.
This is where Oliver Cabell comes in. The independent brand’s direct-to-consumer approach offers a means to get luxurious, handmade sneakers, minus any nasty markups. The result is a sleeker shoe rack and fatter wallet. What’s not to like about that?
Key Model: Series 1
Although British sneaker stalwarts Uniform Standard offer a fine selection of smart colourways, we can’t help but drift towards their white offering. Everything is hand-made and built to the highest quality standards with the best materials. When you wear the Series 1 this quality shines through.
Solid leather, robust sole, that snug full Italian leather lining and waxed finish cotton laces. They even come in a 100% recycled cotton shoe bag and 100% recycled and recyclable kraft card drawer shoebox. Time to start treating your sneakers like the rest of your shoe rack.
Key Model: Marathon Trail Low
At its core, minimalist footwear is typified by a lack of aesthetic detail. However, Luxury footwear label Spalwart manages to tread the line between eye-catching and OTT to masterful effect. Still, what else would you expect from the Swedes?
Bar a simple canvas pump that gained huge popularity with denimheads in Japan, the brand is probably best known for its Marathon Trail Low silhouette. This shoe is a retro runner for those who like their sneakers understated, with more than a hint of wabi-sabi. Perfect with athletic shorts in the summer, or cuffed chinos during cooler spells.
Key Model: Chuck Taylor All Star 70
It’s impossible to overstate the impact Converse’s All Star sneaker has had on the world of footwear. The most popular and recognisable silhouette on the face of the earth, its century-plus history puts most other sports brands to shame.
All of this from a shoe that’s about as technologically advanced as a wooden spoon. But therein lies the All Star’s beauty: sneakers don’t get simpler than this. It does everything it needs to, nothing it doesn’t and looks great in the process.
Key Model: Stan Smith
In any conversation regarding the most iconic sneaker designs of all time, Adidas’ Stan Smith is bound to come up early on. This crisp, white tennis shoe has been a common sight on streets, courts and even the front row of fashion weeks for a very long time now.
It is arguably the definitive white leather sneaker, having sparked countless imitations. Still, in terms of looks, value for money and timeless appeal, it is so far yet to be matched.
Key Model: Star Master
Straight out of Slovakia, heritage footwear label Novesta has been doing its thing for not far off a century. And by “thing” we mean crafting some of the sturdiest canvas shoes money can buy.
Characterised by its oversized eyelets and heavily treaded rubber sole, the label’s Star Master shoe is undoubtedly the main attraction. But for something a little more aerodynamic, the brand’s Marathon Model is another great minimalist option.
Key Model: Cortez
Oregonian sportswear brand Nike is hardly the unsung hero of the footwear world. In fact, the very concept of sneaker culture comes as a direct result of its work.
While it may all be about technical fabrics and state-of-the-art production methods today, the company has its roots in simple design. Take the Cortez, for example – it’s a classic example of a retro running shoe that’s beautifully uncluttered and bearing nothing of the unnecessary.
Key Model: G2
There are few things the French can’t make more stylish. Turns out tennis shoes are no exception.
Spring Court has been kitting out athletes and style aficionados alike for the best part of 100 years. In that time its designs haven’t changed much. But then again, why should they? This is minimalism at its finest – a clean white canvas interrupted only by a tasteful glint of colour courtesy of that iconic tricolour flag to the tongue.
Key Model: Mirfield
As far as Northamptonshire shoemaking heritage goes, it’s hard to imagine a better-established name than Church’s. The historic company is known for making the finest dress shoes on the planet. However, having been purchased by Prada in the 1990s, it’s since turned its attention to contemporary styles, too.
That’s good news for lovers of luxurious trainers. Church’s age-old manufacturing techniques and trademark attention to detail have resulted in a jaw-dropping array of stripped-back sneakers. The Mirfield, for example, is undeniable proof that you really can teach an old dog new tricks.
Key Model: Clean 90
While it’s true that Axel Arigato’s footwear offering has diversified a lot over the years, luxurious, minimalist leather kicks are still very much the brand’s bread and butter. Bulky, OTT designs like the Marathon Runner and the Catfish have gained traction, but it’s the understated classics like the Clean 90 and the Platform Sneaker that underpin it all.
The whole concept behind the label is to serve up luxury sneakers at affordable prices. Granted, there are certainly cheaper shoes out there, but with this level of quality and attention to detail? Not so much.
Key Model: LT 01
In a world dominated by big, chunky sneakers, Amsterdam’s ETQ is standing its ground and flying the flag for minimalist design. The shoes are clean and simple, and a lack of much in the way of visible branding means the build quality and materials can take centre stage. The brand’s hero model is the LT 01 – a timeless silhouette that doesn’t have to shout to make itself heard – and the colour palette is restrained and versatile across the board.