The good, the dad and the ugly
The latest footwear trend isn't easy on the eye - and that's the point. What's behind the supermodel-approved trainer fad, asks Meadhbh McGrath
Who would have thought Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, Victoria's Secret models and enthusiastic proponents of the red carpet 'naked dress', would fall in love with the 'dad trainer'?
These are ugly shoes, as anyone with working eyes can attest. Doesn't your dad have a whole heap of them piled up in the back garden shed? And yet, the dad trainer is the biggest news in footwear for 2018.
The return of trainers to fashion's front line has been one of the major shifts in the industry this decade. The 'athleisure' phenomenon kicked off in 2010, when trainers started appearing on the catwalk and on the feet of the most fashionable women.
Since then, sleek, chic styles like Adidas's classic Stan Smith and Gucci's signature red-and-white stripe trainer have become ubiquitous in modern women's wardrobes, and we don't think twice of spotting a pair of box-fresh tennis shoes in the office, at a nightclub or on the front row at a Dior show.
But the likes of Jenner, Hadid and other street-style stars are taking things up a notch, as the ugly trainer stomps its way from the catwalks to the window displays of the trendiest stores and now, on to our high street.
They're the trainers your dad wears to B&Q to pick up some DIY supplies, amplified with a high fashion make-over. An artfully-distressed Frankenstein of a shoe, the designs recall chunky 80s silhouettes and retro colour schemes.
In November, Kendall Jenner stepped out in a pair of Yeezy Wave Runner 700 trainers (which retail for around €250), from her brother-in-law Kanye West's fashion line. Yeezy trainers are always a huge hit - each restock quickly sells out, so stores like Brown Thomas run a lottery system for the exclusive styles.
Forgoing a traditional fashion show, West debuted his new Yeezy collection on his wife, Kim Kardashian. While running errands, she opted for a pair of clumpy Mud Rat 500s, styled with neutral-toned athleisure gear.
Dad trainers are ruling the runways too. Under the guidance of Demna Gvasalia, the Georgian creative director appointed in 2015, French fashion house Balenciaga has enjoyed a revival, becoming one of the industry's most influential tastemakers. The brand has also raised plenty of eyebrows with its car mat skirts, oversized denim jackets and Ikea-inspired tote bags.
"I think it's very interesting, the definition of ugly. I think it's also very interesting to find this line where ugly becomes beautiful or where beautiful becomes ugly. That's a challenge I like. I think that's a part of what fashion stands for and I like that people think my clothes are ugly; I think it's a compliment," Gvasalia has said.
Balenciaga is no stranger to internet outrage, and clever manipulates social media fury with hype bait like a leather version of the paper carrier bag available in stores, a DHL T-shirt or a €3,200 plastic 'blanket bag' similar to those used to carry duvets.
The latest item to inspire such incredulous tweets is the deliberately overwrought Triple S trainer, complete with stacked soles, a weathered, pre-worn look and a €650 price tag.
In spite of the online backlash, the trainers sold out within 30 minutes of their initial release on online retailer Stylebop, according to Vogue. They became the fastest-selling shoes of the year, and are still extremely difficult to track down, fetching nearly twice their price on eBay.
'The Balenciaga Triple S trainer has been a sell out in store and there is already a big waiting list for the next delivery which is due to land in mid-February and is available in three colours: white, black and multi-coloured," says Brown Thomas fashion director Shelly Corkery.
"The reason it's so popular is the triple layer sole makes it the chunkiest trainer that has launched - not only is it super light it is ultra-cool and ultra-modern. Worn with a skinny jean it gives a real cool, modern edge to your look."
The Triple S has become a street style sensation, worn by models like Bella Hadid and Elsa Hosk, as well as fashion week 'It' girls Pernille Teisbaek and Gilda Ambrosio.
For spring 2018, footwear, on the whole, is veering away from barely-there sandals and skyscraper stilettos to something decidedly uglier, whether it's Christopher Kane's bedazzled Crocs, statement-making socks with sandals at Gucci or Northern Irish designer Jonathan Anderson's elf shoes at Loewe.
Other hefty styles include the Prada Cloudburst (€570) and Louis Vuitton's Archlight trainer (€877), which has already been spotted on Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown and Spider-Man: Homecoming actress Laura Harrier. Both women offset the 'ugly' footwear with feminine mini-dresses, and the result is fresh and unexpected.
The current trend for ugly fashion has its roots in normcore, the 2014 anti-fashion phenomenon that had all the street-style stars dressing like Jerry Seinfeld in 'mom jeans' and zip-up fleeces. Since then, fashion has been pushing the look to new extremes, from Birkenstocks to clunky flatforms to pool slides.
It seems to have reached a peak with the dad trainer. Why are people drawn to such ugly shoes? It's certainly a lot of look, and that's the point. In an age of perma-filtered Insta-perfection, this 'ugliness' offers a forceful rebuke that makes us stop in our mind-numbing scroll through our social media feeds. As the industry becomes ever faster, trends enter the mainstream so quickly that we have to reach further and further outside conventional fashion for something different and unique.
Like every other trend, ugly fashion will eventually, inevitably become mainstream. For now, the response from men and more conservative fashion fans may be less than positive, but there's nothing directional fashionistas love more than figuring out how to wear a deliciously horrid piece. Even better, these vaguely orthopaedic-looking shoes are supremely comfortable. Are you up to the challenge?
Whether you think they're fabulously or unforgivably ugly, dad trainers prove that age-old saying: beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.