Isabel Marant’s commercial Willow Sneaker rose to popularity in 2012 — all high topped and puffy tongued, like a basketball/skater shoe hybrid with a child’s developmental building block jammed underneath. In March of that same year, fashion journalist Hayley Phelan cited the trend for Fashionista and recalled a time the 2017s have now completely forgotten, writing, “a few seasons ago it would have been unthinkable to wear your running shoes around during fashion week… But this season, every editor and fashion industry insider is running around wearing *gasp* sneakers.”
I did gasp. They were very expensive and ugly. I don’t say that often or lightly but I have a distinct memory of Leandra coming over to my apartment in a pair — I asked her to please leave.
Photo via Man Repeller
“The first time I saw them was in 2011,” Leandra told me in an interview over our interoffice communication system. “I thought they looked a bit like shoes you might find inside a Nintendo game and laughed them off. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about them and that annoying thing happened (which happens every time a trend creeps into the zeitgeist): I began to put on outfits and think, ‘You know what would make this look better? Nintendo sneakers.'”
She, like everyone I spoke with, regardless of aesthetic preference, brought up the wedge sneaker’s magic formula: heel height plus comfort. That was what Isabel Marant intended. The French designer’s inspiration for The Willow and The Bobby (a more subdued version) came from her own teenage years. In September 2012, Marant told Fashionista that she would put pieces of cork into her sneakers to look taller. “Sneakers are so comfortable but at the same time it’s not very elegant. To have a little heel in it makes a difference, it gives you legs.”
Well. Apparently some people hate legs.
The sneaker wedge — a portmanteau missed opportunity if I’ve ever seen one (the snedge) — was among ET Online’s “5 Trends to Stop Wearing Now” in 2015. Men were confused. Moms were indignant and so were educators. “This is a big problem and it needs to be stopped,” said an L.A. principal.
Isabel Wilkinson, T Magazine‘s Senior Online Editor, deemed sneaker wedges summer 2012’s ugliest trend: “I had been told that sneaker wedges were elongating on the leg; with the right skinny jeans, flattering even,” she wrote. “But as I spun in front of the mirror, it was decided: I looked like Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather on his way into the ring. They cut off my calves in the worst possible place and made me look about a foot shorter than I am, despite the internal lift.”
That’s the power of trends, though: they bypass haters on the feet of dedicated fans. Especially when celebrities step in.
Beyoncé wore them. So did Gisele Bündchen. Ciara and Nicki Minaj wore Giuseppe Zanotti “Lorenz” wedge sneakers in their 2013 music video “I’m Out,” and Alicia Keys launched her own wedge sneaker collection with Reebok. Then there were the fashion bloggers who adopted them as new appendages and turned them into content, like Rumi Neely and Chiara Ferragni.
They truly were “everywhere.”
Chiara Ferragni via Fab Fashion Fix
Which means that by 2014, for the fickle industry insiders who catch trends well before the sneeze, the sneaker wedge was out. The New York Times‘s Susan Joy said they’d lost their cool. Isabel Marant wore them less. Of course, you likely know as well as I do that Isabel Marant still sells The Willow and plenty of people still wear them — originals, knockoffs, interpretations or otherwise. In New York City, my eyes average about two pairs a day.
“Five years later, and they appear to be alive and well, especially within New York’s workout community,” Isabel Wilkinson, aforementioned snedge critic, told me over email. “I guess I can understand their appeal if you are otherwise wearing head-to-toe athleisure.” (She has still never worn a pair in her life.)
When I emailed Laura Brown, Editor in Chief of InStyle Magazine, for a comment, she wrote back, “I’M WEARING THEM ON A PLANE BACK FROM PARIS RIGHT NOW.”
“The narrower black Isabel Marant ones,” she clarified. “Not the steroidal ones that everyone ripped off. I wear them to SoulCycle (so, annually), for weekend errands, I even marched in them in D.C. I’d like to delude myself that I am 5 foot 10 even when I’m ‘casual.'”
Whether “out” or “in,” for shoes, that the sneaker wedge could return in full force remains a polarizing suggestion.
Selby Drummond, Vogue’s Accessories Director, refused to acknowledge sneaker wedges as legitimate the first time around and doesn’t see how they could return. “It could be because I entered sixth grade at my fully grown height of 6 foot and haven’t look down since, but in fairness, that particular condition has never stopped me from embracing other height-emphasizing footwear. There is something conceptually off-putting about the way a sneaker wedge undermines the very act of reaching for a sneaker to finish a look.
My colleague Allie recently wore a pair to an ‘OMG-I-Can’t-Believe-You’re-Wearing-That’ party. I think that says it all.”
New York Magazine Style Director, Rebecca Ramsey, said that if she’s going to wear a sneaker, she wears a sneaker.
Photo by Josiah Kamau for BuzzFoto/FilmMagic via Getty Images
Danielle Prescod, BET’s Lifestyle Editor who wore the Isabel Marant Willow in its heyday and once went on a wild chase for a popular Marc By Marc pair, stopped liking wedge sneakers because of their ubiquity. “The only time I’ve used my sneakers again is for a sexy Brukwine dance class, but I think that is the only arena where they are useful at this point.”
“I loved them because I am short. I am always in a heel,” said Cosmopolitan Senior Fashion Market Editor Tiffany Reid, who first wore them in 2011 as a fashion assistant. “They seemed like a good way to wear heels with a sporty outfit. Then I realized they were the least-sexiest shoes you could possibly wear, and that’s not really my look. They worked in the moment, but that’s it.”
Fashion journalist Pandora Sykes is unsure if they will come back. They remind her too much of the time she went to visit her now-husband in Switzerland a few weeks after they met. “I thought totally appropriate ski resort garb was a snow jacket, butt-skimming cut-off Levi’s shorts, opaque tights and wedge trainers. I shudder (and shiver) thinking about myself waiting at that airport.”
“We would put a client in high-heeled Crocs before we used a sneaker wedge,” said celebrity stylists Jill Lincoln and Jordan Johnson, who see the shoe often in L.A. “They are like popcorn Jelly Beans…just a terrible, gross idea; two things that should have never been conjoined!”
I quite like popcorn Jelly Beans. Having learned to identify them by color alone, I will fish them out of bowls with my index finger if ever presented with a selection. I’m always surprised when someone hates the combination, which I guess is how sneaker wedge fans feel about sneaker wedge naysayers. And isn’t that the best part about fashion? If everyone agreed with everyone else about which shoes were cool — if everyone “got it” at once — then what the hell would we have to talk about?
Feature photo by Krista Anna Lewis. Isabel Marant sneakers via The RealReal. Research assistance by Lauren Myers.