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High Fashion Sneakers are Out: How Performance Footwear Took Over the Mainstream Market

From Luxury Dominance to Performance Revolution.

At one point, it seemed like luxury brands reigned supreme in the mainstream sneaker market, with designers such as Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen and Givenchy presenting their own distinctive takes on the casual silhouette. Although their offerings continue, visible on the runway and online, sportswear labels are disrupting the fashion landscape with more affordable yet equally stylish options.

The last few years have seen a cultural shift, with many consumers favouring performance and early ’00s-inspired designs. According to StockX’s ‘Big Facts’ report, released at the beginning of 2024, some of the fastest-growing sneakers in 2023 on the resale platform were the Nike Zoom Vomero 5Asics Gel-1130 and New Balance 530—all Y2K running styles. But if StockX’s numbers aren’t convincing enough, look no further than PAUSE’s street style coverage for evidence of this uptick. 

PHOTO CREDIT: @PAUSEOnline@modehunter

The rise of gorpcore, a sartorial movement inspired by technical outdoor gear and apparel, drove the popularity of trail runners such as the Salomon XT-6 ADV and the On Cloudwander. In an age where fashion trends are short-lived TikTok aesthetics, gorpcore has remained a constant. First coined in 2017 by The Cut, the moniker was championed by the likes of Frank Ocean and A$AP Rocky, propelling it into the mainstream. Beyond celebrity influence, COVID-19 played a pivotal role in driving consumer interest towards healthier lifestyles and nature-focused activities, fueling the demand for off-road trainers over luxury sneakers even more. BOF’s latest ‘The State of Fashion’ report predicts that this industry theme is “likely to accelerate even further in 2024.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Before gorpcore gained momentum, there was normcore. The 2010s trend emphasised blending in rather than standing out, defined by a muted colour palette and an absence of branding or prints. Coinciding with the emergence of Alexander McQueen’s Oversized Sneaker and Balenciaga’s Triple S, normcore offered simpler, more understated alternatives. Chunky dad shoes, such as the New Balance 990 and the Nike Air Monarch, were a staple of this look, reflecting a desire for comfort and practicality over logomania.

As preferences lean towards technical, performance and retro silhouettes, fashion houses have adapted by teaming up with sportswear giants to maintain a foothold in the ever-evolving market. These collaborations between established designers and newer brands have proved mutually beneficial. According to the ‘Lyst Index’, searches for the Swiss athletic brand On increased by 592% in Q4 2023, with the On x Loewe sneaker emerging as their top trending product. 

PHOTO CREDIT: LOEWE

With the Paris Olympics only months away, the demand for innovative footwear is set to soar even higher. The 2024 Games presents a unique opportunity for performance shoes to showcase their functionality and style on a global stage, potentially solidifying their place in contemporary sneaker culture.

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