Thursday, April 13, 2006

Laces on your sneakers? That's so yesterday

By RACHEL R. BRIERE, Lowell Sun Staff

LOWELL, Mass. - Remember when a sneaker came in one style and color? Neither do most of us.

Remember when you tripped over your laces? Now, that may start to ring a bell.

Slip-on sneakers, in all styles and colors, are now stealing the scene.

Sneakers, it seems, have come full circle from the 1950s stark-white Keds to high-top Chuck Taylors to PF Flyers to LA Gear. The shoe that Michael Jordan turned into a legend has morphed into a fashion statement in the 21st century, with no laces no less.

The sporty canvas footwear has spawned a cult following. "Sneakerheads," or those who suffer from a sneaker fetish, are stomping their way onto the fashion scene.

This has had an impact on sneaker manufacturers, who are now creating lines that include street-couture styles. New Balance, which manufactures its shoes in Lawrence, has a casual women's slides called 801. Giovanni's Trends in Lowell is also walking this way.

"We're working to position ourselves as a true sneakerhead store," said manager Greg Harding. "We will carry mostly limited editions that are unique to our area."

Harding said the name given to footwear fanatics is an underground term that has been coming into mainstream lingo within the past couple of years. He could also be considered part of this clan: He owns more than 50 pairs of sneakers.

The popularity of sneakers has created new styles that are not just for running on the treadmill at the local gym anymore. They have infiltrated areas where the casual kick was once a fashion faux pas. CEOs and execs in the office, fashionistas at nightclubs and even some of the Trumpster's Apprentice cast this season have been seen in the boardroom rocking rubber soles.

A few summers ago, Converse "Chuck Taylor" pumps were all the rage, taking the sneaker style to new heights, with kitten and, in some cases, stiletto heels. Recent ads from the high-end department store Lord & Taylor at the Burlington Mall featured $45 "Chuck Taylor Slips" in colors such as natural, chocolate and even pink.

"(Dress sneakers) became trendy with teenagers first. Now, women are picking up on it," said Renee Cormier, fashion spokeswoman for Bob's Stores. "Women don't want to hit 30 and just not dress cute anymore."

At one of the three Bob's in Greater Lowell, you can find a wide variety of sneaker styles, including ballerina flats, Mary-Jane style slip-ons, slides and, of course, Keds. The first so-called sneaker has revamped its product with ads featuring The O.C. "it" girl Mischa Barton in paisley patterns, bold stripes and cherry kissed slip-ons.

"Right now, they are very fashion-oriented. With dressier sneakers, you can get away with wearing them at more places than just the gym or with just warm-up pants," said Cormier.

Harding has also seen an increase in the popularity of women's sneaker styles.

"Last year, women went nuts for Pumas," he said of the brand's slip-on style. He expects a line of Baby Phat kicks for summer that are similar to this style.

The slipper styles that are all over retailers' shelves this spring tend to be more supportive than flip-flops. They are also easier to take on and off and are not as clunky as a pair of Nike Airs. But they still are more for fashion than action.

"They're definitely not for jogs," Cormier said, laughing.

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