July 2, 2016 by Ville Raivio
Lanvin has a claim for being the oldest fashion house still up and running. The story goes that one Jeanne Lanvin, a skilful milliner from Paris, founded the house bearing her name in 1889. The same story credits the founding idea to the clothing Lanvin designed and made for her daughter, and in time attracted the attention of the finer set of Paris. This story ends in 1958 when Lanvin’s daughter died, and the ownership of the fashion house has been bounced from one investor to another since. Lanvin is still in the business of fashion, but this side does not interest me — much more interesting are the sneakers that they offer. Unlike most street or casual or leisure shoes, Lanvin’s are made from premium leathers and finished to a high degree.
Lanvin sneakers were designed by the company’s current head menswear designer, Lucas Ossendrijver, as part of their autumn and winter collections in 2006. Originally for men, the sneakers with their large toe caps were later offered for women as well, and received plenty of press visibility after one Michelle Obama was seen wearing a pair. The rest, I guess, is dryly called history. If the reader hasn’t been following news on clothing, it’s best to note that so-called quality sneakers have become more prominent in the 2000s. While the older pairs were quickly made in China or other far-flung destinations from cheap-ass leathers, with polyester linings and glued stiffeners, the finer models of today hopefully have full- or at least top-grain leather uppers with leather lining, European make, leathery stiffeners and stricter finishing. These, of course, come with a heftier price tag.
As far as design goes, Lanvin’s sneakers — with their fat rubber soles, flat toes, low profile, big laces, metal eyelets and big tongues — are related to Adidas Superstars, which are related to Converse All-Stars, which are related to Keds, which are related to the very first sneaker, the Plimsoll, designed and made by The Liverpool Rubber Company all the way in the 1830s. If time and traditions have more weight than anything else in clothing, the soft Plimsoll is more classic than most shoe types born later on. Just about the only older design is the opera pump, but those are not seen too often. In essence, the Lanvin sneaker is a copy of the Plimsoll, just without the shaft and in place of canvas uppers there is fine leather, and “the right” logo. The fashion house has its sneakers made in Italy, Spain and Portugal from an endless array of colour and material combinations. Now on to the details.
The sneakers’ main design point is the contrast toe cap, differing in colour or texture from the rest of the pair. Patent leather is the house’s go-to choice, but I must note that nearly all patent hides are made from third- or fourth-grade leather that’s just covered with a plastic layer to hide the weaknesses. In time, the plastic will crack. The sneaker cap has a folded edge and hidden stiches, which make it very clean-looking. Still, after walking the shoe has bent on the top of the cap instead of behind it, leaving an ugly crease. The smooth cap leather looks lively, nice and high-grade. The rubber soles are truly fat, with a height of 2.8 cm, a boon in case of rainy days or muddy streets. They have a Lanvin logo at the middle and ribbed grip surfaces at the bottom and sides. A loose contrast stitching attaches the sole unit to the uppers. One’d think that all this rubber guarantees a smooth, nice walk but I feel the sneakers are so-and-so as far as comfort goes. The metal eyelets are nondescript apart from the top ones that have a small Lanvin logo.
The calfskin uppers are smooth, nice and, apart from the embossing, have but a small grain. The leather lining is smooth and pleasant. After bending, the upper leather returns quickly to its original last shape. Writing of lasts, the sneakers have a nicely close fitting around the instep, but the ball of the foot is wide. The sides have very little curves. The toe is elangated and up-close looks comically wide. Luckily this effect disappears when viewed upright. A high point worthy of praise is the heelcup: few lasts, in dressy shoes or leisure pairs, have such a wonderfully close fit all around the heel. The tongue has a foam padding for comfort, but seems to be made from thinner, poorer leather than the upper. Stronger foam lines the ankle sides, again for comfort. Two grommets allow some air to circulate from the inner waist side. While the upper stitching is looser than I’d like, it is straight and has a nice contrast colour. The piping leather around the ankle is made from the same constrast stuff as the toe cap. The shoelaces are flat, waxed and very wide.
The full sockliner is made from leather and seems to have no foam insert under the heel. A nasty surprise awaits under the liner: the insole is made from fiberboard. Traditional dressy shoes have a nice, thick leather insole that takes the shape of the wearer’s foot, but I guess fiberboard is still better than a hot, sweaty plastic version. Lanvin sneakers cost a bit less or more than 400 euros in Europe. The model has the most high-quality materials, finishing and design I’ve found so far among sneakers, but I still won’t recommend them at full price. Four hundred will buy a fully handmade welted shoe from Hungary, far more durable and better-made in all respects. From sales, yes, I would say the Lanvin sneaker is a good find. What remains to be seen is how the rubber soles and leathers will age and last. This is the sneaker I will compare all others to.