It is incredibly difficult to find a simple classic pair of sneakers. Options increase if you are willing to sport a heavily branded pair from a company using sweatshop labor; but what if you are looking for something without a logo and produced by quality labor? Your options narrow significantly.
For those true sneaker aficionados, the Common Projects Achilles are one option. Featuring a logo-less silhouette similar to the Adidas Stan Smith, however, their pricing ($380 and ever rising) makes them a no go for all but sneakerheads. There is good news, however – the German Army trainer.
Two German brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, founded a small shoe factory in the 1920’s in their home town of Herzogenaurach, Germany. Up until 1936, the company remained stagnant, selling only to small stores in Germany. However, during the Berlin Summer Olympics of 1936, which the United States attended after much controversy, the companie’s popularity rose after Jesse Owens, a four time gold medalist at the games, wore their spikes. The shoe company stayed popular until 1943, when the brothers separated into two separate companies.
Brother Adolf, known as “Adi” founded the Adidas Shoe Company, and Brother Rudolf launched his company Rudo, now known as “Puma”. While both claim to have rights to the original design, neither have market exclusivity and both produce the shoe to this day (Adidas, the Samba and Puma, the Roma).
Where the widespread use of the shoe came into play, however, was their implementation into the soldier’s non-combat uniform of the German military during the 1970’s, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the shoe was primarily judged less for its aesthetic merits, the shoe was eventually revived as a German household name given its extreme level of comfort during training and running as well as their incredible construction.
The shoe features an all leather body, generally in a two tone variant of patent leather and either a roughout or suede, depending on the season intended for wear. Its solid construction comes from its all-leather sole, which uses a binding rather than a glue, reducing the fatigue on the leather seen in other traditional leather sneakers.
Prior to their implementation in the world of high fashion, they were seen in a singular colorway: a milk white traditional leather and a heather grey roughout suede. Because they were created to clothe the entirety of the German Army, they are abundantly available throughout Germany for next to nothing. A fair estimate of the final cost for a pair, including shipping (called proxying), is around $100. Although several sellers on eBay and www.grailed.com, a menswear specific site, have prices between $70 and $90, in all ranges of sizing, though anything above a 12 is increasingly rare.
While the white colorway remains one of the bestselling variants of the shoe, they have quickly exploded in options under the guidance of a singular designer. After his departure from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp Belgium and a tour with designer Jean Paul Gaultier, Mr. Martin Margiela started the now famous brand Maison Martin Margiela. The revival of the German army trainer started with Margiela’s line “Replica,” produced every season since its start in 1994.
This capsule collection of around thirty pieces per season plays on existing products; keeping them exactly as they were found, using similar materials and construction to recreate these items as close to the original as possible. The purpose of the collection was the notion of timelessness, relying on the idea that these particular pieces have stood the test of time and have just as much relevance in today’s fashion as well as tomorrow’s.
The first implementation of the German army trainer was simply to create a faithful recreation of the original shoe. However, in recent years it has spanned to include some incredibly odd variations including a Jackson Pollock paint splatter version, a green snakeskin version and a version done entirely of neoprene. While Margiela’s variations offer far more color options, spanning all through the color spectrum, the price ranges for a pair sits in the $400-$600 range.
However, the best value on Margiela’s sneakers come from the secondhand market – shoes in A+ condition can be had for as low as $200 on eBay, with some of the more distinct color variants (excluding those heavily sought by collectors) can be had for well under $500.
While other designers – Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme, and later Raf Simons for Dior Homme, among many other small designers – have attempted to create shoes with the same silhouette, they have not found the same success as Margiela.
Ladies, do not fret. Both the original German designed shoes, as well as the Margiela remakes, can be found in women’s sizing, usually by taking your current size and subtracting two, and purchasing that size in men’s.
And men, these shoes run a tad bit narrow – I would not suggest blindly buying if you are anything wider than an E in boots.
While new styles of shoes pop up on the market every season, there is something about a pair of shoes that have been around forever and have stood the test of time. German army trainers may have been at their peak of popularity in the 1940’s, but today they are just as stylish. So next time you are looking for a pair of shoes that are classic, and likely made with more ethical labor, check out a pair of German army trainers.