The comfortable ease that the slip-on sneaker projects. Shoes: Flesh Imp. Photo: Jim Sim
By Shu Xie
The first cotton-canvas slip-ons bought for me was in my first year of primary school. The giver, my mother, called them “lazy shoes”. When I was curious enough to know why, she told me that only people who are too lazy to tie shoe laces wear them. Whether that was directed at me, I wasn’t sure. Certain, too, I wasn’t if that made sense, but it was lazy shoes for me outside school throughout much of my pre-pubescent years. When I was old enough to think that perhaps what my mother said was baloney, I was informed by a magazine article that, in fact, any footwear that allows one to only slide the feet into them is considered “lazy”. Somehow, I was still not convinced. Why humiliate the shoe when it is the wearer who is lazy?
These days, while shoes such as the loafer can be classified as lazy, they’re known by their better-regarded names even when, in the case of the loafer, one would usually think of an idler. In fact, the moniker has very much lost its ring in an age of even lazier footwear such as Crocs. These days, the cotton slip-ons that so many of us have worn when we were young are elevated to “sneaker” status. If you know your kicks, and I believe you do, cotton-canvas slip-ons—almost synonymous with summers of the West—have been upgraded to “premium” versions. Online and among knowing consumers, they’re “slip-on sneakers”.
However highly perched they may seem, these easy-to-wear shoes have, in the past two years, become increasingly ubiquitous, even when the tennis shoe—defined by Adidas’s Stan Smith—seems more visible than any other casual footwear. If the tennis shoe is the ultimate plain sneaker, than the slip-on—best represented by the skate wear brand Vans—is the country cousin, untethered to urban fabulousness, bare to the point of boring. That, however, wasn’t how things played out.
Slip-on sneakers don’t only come in plain cotton canvas; they’re now attractively patterned too. Shoe: Diemme; jeans: Uniqlo. Photo: Jim Sim
Two years ago, when I revisited the slip-on sneaker and bought a pair of Diemme ‘Garda’ in woven leather (tight ketupat style), I realised that the “lazy shoe” was no longer indolent on the design front. By then, brands such as Kenzo were putting on retail shelves their versions in eye-popping prints. Increasingly, more shoe makers climbed aboard the bandwagon, from Christian Louboutin with full-on studs to Saint Laurent with gaudy leopard spots, illustrating, once again, the bubble-up effect that has washed over luxury fashion.
The slip-on sneaker’s resurgence can be attributed to the persistent presence of Vans’s classic slip-on. And the design has not changed much. Comprising a vamp and tongue as one piece (and usually piped with the same or contrasting fabric near the ankle) and a quarter that goes under, the slip-on sneaker is best characterised by the side elastic inserts slot between the two. These allow the foot to be slipped in easily and also to help secure the shoe. Other details include a usually padded ankle collar, heel counter (or a heel tab, but never two together), and a foxing stripe (a mark of vulcanisation when heat and pressure is applied to bond the upper to the sole). The sole is usually made of rubber and is about 3-cm thick (women’s version can come in platform height). What amazes me is the slip-on sneakers’ ability to escape massive technological advances that have affected almost every athletic shoe. It has not even embraced air soles.
Seen in the MRT train: if even a pair of slip-on sneakers with a strong graphic upper is still too plain, bejewelled turn-up cuffs will do the trick. Photo: Jim Sim
If looks can be deceiving, then the slip-on sneaker is. It may appear comfy on the outside, but when worn, the internals can be annoyingly abrasive. It does not matter if under the vamp, it is lined or not. The main problem, in my experience tracking down the best pair, is in the way the elastic insert is attached to the vamp and quarter. When it is sandwiched between the upper and the lining, you won’t feel anything scratchy (and that still depends on the stitching). If it is stitched directly to the underside of the vamp and is exposed to the skin of the foot, there’s no guarantee you won’t feel anything. This is a problem not exclusive to cheaper shoes. A pair of MSGM slip-ons that I love was hate at first wear; its bite worse than an annoyed, temperamental terrier. While the hitch can be solved by a pair of low socks, or what Muji calls “foot cover”, finding a pair that doesn’t slide underfoot is another charmless challenge.
The Vans Classic Slip-On (or style #48, as it’s known to retailers) has a rather brief history. It was introduced in 1977 although the company was started in 1966. In less than 5 years, a revolutionary checkerboard pattern was introduced and it soon became “iconic”. But it was the 1982 film Fast Time at Ridgemont High that set the shoe on its upward trajectory. In the movie’s trailer, the character Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn, memorably hit himself in the head with a pair of Vans, the checkerboard version, no less, and with the shoe box prominently placed on his lap, allowing the brand message “Off the Wall” to talk to the audience directly. I didn’t know then as I know now: that could be an early form of product place.
The slip-on sneaker has since refused to go into obscurity, lasting till now, even when they may pale next to a pair of Ultra Boost. Their popularity is enhanced when so many other brands are willing to work with Vans to release collaborations. In the end, it requires no styling skills to challenge Rachel Zoe to make a pair work with jeans, chinos, shorts, skirts, dresses, or just swimwear. The SOTD editor and I went shopping recently, and these caught our eyes:
Flesh Imp Laird Black
Flesh Imp, one of Singapore’s better known and oldest streetwear labels, has taken the classic slip-on a notch up by introducing a mock-croc version with a finish that belies, to my surprise, its pocket-friendly price. Unfortunately, the sizes do run a little small.
SGD65, available at Flesh Imp, Orchard Cineleisure
Sperry Top-Sider Striper Chambray Slip-On Navy Palm
This is not exactly new since it was launched last season, but since palm prints are so on-trend, this pair by boat shoe maker Sperry Top-Sider has to be included. What’s also interesting is the cotton chambray upper, so perfect with a shirt (or dress) of similar fabric, minus the print, of course.
SGD89, available at Tangs at Tang Plaza
Supra Cuba Navy Stripe-White
I am not sure if this cotton slip-on by skateboard shoe label Supra is meant to look nautical, but I am attracted to the brushed-on stripes. More appealing, in fact, is the two-in-one. At first look, you see a pair of lace-ups, but then you notice a small discreet loop at the side—above the elastic insert—that allows the laces to be removed so that you’ll get a pair of classic canvas slip-on.
SGD109, available at Bratpack, Mandarin Gallery
In 1990, French shoe label Patrick started a made-in-Japan production line and this pair, the Muret.M, is one of the recent outputs. On the white canvas are quirky drawings of people at leisure that capture a certain joie de vivre. This shoe is, unfortunately, sized for women only.
SGD199, available at Star 360, Wheelock Place
Closed Cotton Slip-On Allover Print
They’re known more for their jeans than their footwear, yet this season’s small drop of slip-ons, to me, just cuts it. Closed, the Italian label now owned by Germans, has incorporated Japanese wave graphics onto this canvas shoe without heady Oriental overtones.
SGD239, available at Robinsons at the Hereen
Spingle Move SPM 179
Hiroshima-based Jap brand Spingle Move is known for incredibly comfortable shoes that only came about after the maker “studied the foot type of the Japanese”. It’s quite safe, then, to say that the shoes will suit generally broader Asian feet. While they make familiar-looking slip-ons, this is the one that caught my fancy. I guess I am attracted to the unusual vulcanised rubber outsole: they say Zaha Hadid to me.
SGD239, available at Star 360, Wheelock Place
Converse Deck Star ’67 Woven Suede
Converse is so associated with the cotton-canvas Chuck Taylor All-Stars that I find it strange holding a pair of rather premium looking woven suede slip-on from the brand in my hand. But shoes don’t perch on palms, so I slip them on. The moulded sock liner does its job beautifully: they’re supremely comfortable.
SGD279, available at Star 360, Wheelock Place
Disney X Master of Arts Mickey Portrait MD 07
Although this is part of the fall 2015 collection, it is still a warm-weather shoe, made more adorable with Mickey’s countenance blown up large over both sides of the leather upper. This Florentine brand is known for their extreme patterns and vivid colour palette, but it’s with Disney’s most loved mouse that they have brought their leather slip-ons down closer to earth.
SGD259, available at Robinsons at the Hereen
Yohji Yamamoto’s partnership with Adidas is never about the straightforward. Even with a shoe as basic as the slip-on sneaker, Y-3 offers one of the rare few that looks technically advanced. The mesh accent is a nice contrast if the neon, computer-generated graphic is not enough. The perforation on the rear of the outsole reminds me of another architect: Tadao Ando.
SGD469, available at Y-3, Mandarin Gallery
Bottega Veneta Blue Cotton Denim
While Bottega Veneta’s slip-on may look the plainest among those featured here, they are appealing because they’re made of a cotton that will never lose its appeal: denim. Here, the denim is rather raw, cut as a one-piece upper, and luxuriously finished on the top edges with leather piping. Those who must have Bottega Veneta’s signature intrecciato woven leather will be glad to know that it appears as an inset within a four-leaf clover shape, located at the centre of the heel counter.
SGD800, available at Bottega Veneta boutiques
Gucci Tian Slip-On Sneaker
Just as you thought the double-G logo-ed Gucci canvas is a distant memory, Alessandro Michele has revived it. The recognisable fabric is, however, not plain as the unadorned original. Here, used on its ‘Tian’ slip-on, the canvas is painted with Oriental fowl, flora and fauna. I find the designs alluring and imagine Zhang Yimou’s costumer to use them if the director would film the lives of the rich, Chinese bourgeoisie rather than the fashion-deprived proletariat.
SGD800, available for men and women at Gucci, Paragon and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Prada Ben-Day Dot-Print
From the side profile, Prada’s slip-on has the elegance of a loafer, making it moderately dressier than the casual others. Befitting the brand’s kooky graphics is the print on the calf-leather upper: arrows and bunnies, delineated from Ben-day dots. It smacks of art, rather than street cred, and it’ll be especially meaningful for those who appreciate the legacy of Benjamin Henry Day, Jr, I reckon.
SGD1,070, available at Prada boutiques
This comes hot on the heels of last year’s crystal-encrusted “Dior Fusion” (shoe that a 21st century empress dowager, I imagine, would certainly wear!) With a name that suggests high spirits, this season’s slip-on sneaker is truly a joyful shoe to behold. The back half of nappa seems to embrace the front half of dark denim, on which crystals flowers are stitched as if strewn.
SGD1,250 (women’s only), available at Dior boutiques
Christian Louboutin Roller-Boat Flat Toile
If someone took a bunch of iced gems—those biscuits topped with sugar swirls that we ate when we were kids—and threw them over a pair of Louboutin slip-ons, this is what you’ll get! Instead of the usual silver, gold or black studs that has made Louboutin footwear so incomprehensibly desirable, coloured points in Crayola colours are now enticing those who can’t get enough of all-over micro-hardware on their shoes. And over on-trend Hawaiian print to boot!
SGD1,700, available at Christian Louboutin, Takashimaya S.C.
All product photos of shoes courtesy of the respective brands