The anecdote I’m about to tell you happened a couple of years ago while I was visiting my parents. As we were preparing to go out for dinner, walking towards the car, my dad looked towards my sneakers (I can’t remember which ones I was wearing at the time) and asked in his usual disdainful tone:
“When are you finally going to grow up and buy yourself a proper pair of shoes?”
I initially shrugged this off as yet another conservative byproduct of his rigid communist-era upbringing, but the question stuck with me. For some reason, I felt compelled to consider whether or not sneakers were inherently childish fashion items that you outgrew as you transitioned out of adolescence and into adulthood.
Obviously there’s no right answer to this because it’s purely a matter of personal preference. I’ve never felt the urge to invest in a pair of shoes or a suit because they don’t appeal aesthetically nor did I feel comfortable in the few instances where I’ve found myself wearing them. Flimsy societal expectations aren’t going to force me into ignoring discomfort.
But at the same time, there’s a lot to be said for growing old gracefully. Skatewear, for example, simply doesn’t look dignified on a middle-aged man. Aside from actual tragedies, there are few sights as tragic as the Rolling Stones on a reunion tour: withered geriatrics deluding themselves that their clothes fit them any better than their sagging skin.
I’m not going to stop wearing my Air Max 97s because I simply like them too much, but at the same time I realise that they make me look like a cartoon character (something that can arguably be said for brash fashion in general), which, in my view, is not a great look. Surely there must be some sort of happy compromise?
There is: Common Projects. I may have only discovered the brand a year ago, but in that short time, the Achilles Low has become my favorite piece of footwear.
It’s smart and dignified like a dress shoe, but it doesn’t make me look like a suburban bank clerk. It has a breezy stylishness perfectly suited to a gallery opening, but I could also wear it to a wedding or court appearance. Amazingly enough, my dad has never made a snide remark about them.
When I wear a pair of Achilles Low, I feel like a grown-ass man acting my goddamn age, yet youthful at the same time. But my affection for Common Projects isn’t simply rooted in aesthetics or their suitability to my wants: it’s a matter of principle.
It’s not a brand that creates marketing-driven products. It has never advertised (so says the New York Times) because it doesn’t need to: advertising exists to create imagined value, to imbue a product or a brand with a quality that isn’t really there. It’s a socially-acceptable and highly-lucrative form of deceit used by brands who know, innately, that its products can’t justify themselves.
The people at Common Projects don’t need to deceive consumers because the brand’s products do justify themselves: its popularity has spread despite an absence of flagship stores, and, for a long time, its owners spurned collaborations with other brands. When they do happen, they’re usually special makeups with retailers like Barneys or Tres Bien.
Its rise has been fueled by word of mouth, or blog posts on sites such as this one. There’s no seeding, gifting of products or relying on so-called “influencers.” Instead of coercing, the brand seduces. Emphasis is entirely is on the product. Everything else, from the packaging (a plain white box) to C.P.’s sparse website or seldom-updated Instagram feed, is a vehicle that exists purely to serve the product itself in a practical or informational sense.
The brand’s official site, for example, is barely functional, and I get the impression that its owners treat it as a necessary annoyance that ultimately distracts them from their ultimate priority: footwear. The sheer lack of bullshit is as spectacular as it is refreshing.
Common Projects’ sneakers are crafted from high quality leather in Italy, and although I’m well aware that they’re mass-produced in factories, they have an artisanal feel to them reminiscent of a bygone era. A time when things were made by hand, built to last, when substance mattered, and social media managers or branded content didn’t exist.
The understated subtlety of the brand’s designs is key to its appeal for me: the luxury sneaker market has grown rapidly in the 12 years since C.P. took the lead, and while you have plenty of imitators ranging from Acne Studios to OAMC, the Achilles Low is the undisputed original.
Because it was the first, Common Projects’ designers were able to claim the most minimalistic template as their own. Those that came after had to change certain details, distorting them so they don’t look like C.P. carbon copies, but that ruins the harmony of their designs. This contradicts the whole ethos of minimalism, which demands purity and perfection.
And while there are plenty of luxury sneakers that sit at that sweet spot between shoe and sportswear nowadays, what makes C.P.’s Achilles Low the very greatest, in my view, is its unassuming approach to luxury. Common Projects may make expensive footwear, but its designs don’t scream for attention like Buscemi’s nouveau riche monstrosities.
There’s a blue blooded, distinctly old money kind of quality to the brand: despite being a $400 sneaker, nothing about the Achilles Low shouts ATTENTION, PLEASE, I AM A $400 SNEAKER. To the untrained eye, it’s more or less invisible. But to those that know, behind the high-quality, nondescript design hides a barely-perceptible nod and wink that signifies refined taste.
Above all, I like how the brand’s products present an acceptable face to consumerism. The fetishization of commodities is one of the things that nauseates me most about the modern condition, but Common Projects manages to do capitalism in a measured way that fits with my center-left political leanings.
C.P. doesn’t ruthlessly pursue profit like others brands. Its growth has been slow and steady, achieved by adding the odd new model, expanding the selection of colorways, branching out into a women’s line. What it doesn’t do is aggressively chase down consumers, desperately urging them to buy. In my eyes that’s something that deserves reward.
I have considered the possibility that this might actually be a very subtle but highly-calculated anti-marketing marketing ploy, but even if it is, I honestly don’t care. I’m okay with being quietly manipulated, but brands really need to stop trying to reach my heart by forcefully crawling up my ass.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
- Lead Image: Common Projects / Business Insider