The best thing about Frieze Art Fair, or any international art show for that matter, is the potential for superlative people-watching. Forget the crazy installation pieces by artists with single syllable names and Old Masters selling for the annual GDP of a small nation; when it comes to stealth-wealth dressing, no environment is better for spotting the kind of art-adjacent people who holiday in Gstaad, wear EB Meyrowitz buffalo-horn spectacles and own at least 10 pairs of Loro Piana’s shuffling-around-a-gallery-friendly Summer Walk loafers.
Identifiable by their white rubber soles and snout-like moccasin uppers, most commonly crafted from pastel-hued suedes, these loafers are redolent of a specific type of understated “I don’t really give a damn but totally do” style. Art-world daddy Larry Gagosian wears caiman leather Summer Walks (the shoes cost upwards of £4,000) almost exclusively, and actor Jeremy Strong wore a pair in his guise as media scion Kendall Roy in the third season of HBO’s Succession.
A number of brands are following in Loro Piana’s footsteps, producing understated stealth-wealth slippers designed with low-key living in mind. Valentino and Prada recently unveiled easy-wearing branded mules, while Gucci and Balenciaga have both invested heavily in shearling-lined (and coated) dress slippers.
The reason for the wider shift towards extra-comfortable footwear is probably because we all acquiesced to the tyranny of the house slipper during the pandemic, and it’s a habit many of us are finding difficult to break. Alternatively, it could simply be due to the rise of Instagram and TikTok, platforms where classic smart shoes don’t hold nearly as much currency as schlumpy slippers, mules and sneakers cooked up by hype-y designers.
Consider Crocs. The comfort-focused rubber shoes once worn solely by doctors and sous-chefs is currently enjoying a moment on the feet of men from the upper echelons of the music industry. At the Grammy Awards earlier this month, producer Questlove turned up wearing a pair of swirly Salehe Bembury-designed Crocs, while Justin Bieber, accompanied by his Saint Laurent-clad wife Hailey Bieber, wore ginormous steel-toe versions from Balenciaga’s spring/summer collection.
The ascent of Birkenstock, arguably the world’s premier out-of-home-slipper manufacturer, is also testament to the growth of the trend. The German brand was acquired by LVMH private equity fund L Catterton last year in a deal that valued the company at €4bn, and it has since collaborated with a range of luxury brands. The Jil Sander collaboration featured low-key sandals-cum-mules crafted from the finest suedes; the Manolo Blahnik tie-up consisted of velvet-clad takes on Birkenstock’s classic Boston sandal, complete with bejewelled detailing; and the brand’s collaboration with Dior features mules embroidered with Monsieur Dior’s favourite lily of the valley flower, priced from £2,000 a pair.
And then, of course, there’s the return of Uggs. By way of some clever collaborations — most notably with Supreme’s new creative director Tremaine Emory and Liberian-American designer Telfar Clemens — the California brand that made its name shoeing the feet of bargain-hunting Bicester Village shoppers now occupies a spot in the fashion canon. The Denim Tears collaboration Uggs, produced by Emory, cost more than £400 per pair.
The most intriguing thing about the shift towards comfort footwear is that previously, if a celebrity turned up on a red carpet looking as if they hadn’t left the house, we might have turned up our noses, but now souped-up slippers look vexatiously stylish, somehow knowing in their off-kilter, high-meets-low élan.
So stealth-wealth slippers it is then, but which are the best, and how should you be wearing them? For those looking to emulate Gagosian and his well-shod art-world chums, Loro Piana’s Summer Walks are arguably your best bet. Team with some tonal chinos and a roomy knitted polo (ideally also from LP) for peak art-world master-of-the-universe vibes.
For those of you who prefer the heel-liberation provided by a mule, get in line for a pair from the aforementioned partnership between Dior and Birkenstock — syrupy sports-infused tailoring in shades of grey will work best with these.
And for a more affordable entry into the hybrid slipper trend, look no further than Russell & Bromley, where the British brand has recently unveiled its take on the classic Summer Walk style. Yours, complete with natty tassel, for £225.
Failing that, you could simply opt for a pair of classic Birkenstocks. Though we draw the line at Crocs.
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