Holiday gift guide 2021

This time last year yours truly wrote a Christmas Gift Guide and he is trying to make a tradition of it with a sequel focusing on one particular article of men’s wardrobe – sneakers. Yep, that’s right, trainers that have become ubiquitous in every context and among every age group.

Why sneakers, you may ask. Isn’t that je ne sais quoi… flagrantly pedestrian? Also, isn’t writing Christmas gift guide an unabashed way of announcing to your loved ones ‘these are what I’d like to see under my Christmas tree this year’? If you are like me, it is likely you have come to accept the hard truth: it’s difficult to gift you anything. You are fussy. You know things like the difference between a Neapolitan and English construction (we’re not talking about civil engineering kind, you philistine) and care about different kinds of shirt collar (in fact, a shirtmaker doesn’t deserve your attention lest it produces neck sizes in quarter-inch increments). Various apparently random things (non-selvedge denim, belt on top of double pleats) make you upset. Your loved ones have long since discovered the risks of buying you a style-related gift. And yes, you’ve blurted out strained responses that fails to conceal disappointment (“Oh, socks that’s not knee-high?” “But it’s brogues, not a classic oxford . . . are you sure this was meant for me?”).

Common Projects Achilles Low Perforated

But I digress… back to sneakers. I grew up polishing my dad’s Church’s for spare change on Sundays and always thought that’s just what guys wear. Applying Saphir Médaille d’Or cream and buffing my George Cleverleys with horse hair brush is something I still occasionally do on lazy Sunday afternoons, although I can’t remember the last time I actually sported them. My “oxfords, not brogues”, bourgeois, reactionary preconception of men’s shoes has finally succumbed to the new post-office, remote-work reality I live in – a world of sneakers where every other shoe plays a supporting role. When Mick Jagger married Bianca Macías in 1971 wearing trainers with his Tommy Nutter suit, he made a real statement. High and low culture used to not mix well often. It does all the time now in the age of cashmere hoodie paired with svelt denims where high style survives only at the margins.

Yours truly can’t be given up on being gifted… Sincere and diligent efforts to present him with a stylish item makes him feel loved and understood. But please accept that certain things are nearly certain to fail. Buying shirts, trousers or jackets is too ambitious. This stylish fool suffers the torture of the damned trying to pick out exactly the right fit – slightly tight on the shoulders yet generous around the torso. Presuming to know this fit is to mock his sartorial passions. A beautifully woven beanie (by beautiful I mean tightly) is by contrast a sure thing, as it is easy to mix and match with various other gifted accessories. The sartorially inclined has a lot of beanies, but never enough. Ditto socks. Men who are excessively interested in clothes come to realise that the different hues of nice cashmere blend socks one needs exceed the number of colours in Pantone chart.

And this is where sneakers come in. Getting the right size is easy (akin to shopping briefs for her) and it doesn’t risk pushing your sartorial agenda. So without further a do, here’s a wish list of what my true love should send to me this Christmas.

1. Common Projects, Achilles Low

Probably too common now, it’s lofty price tag notwithstanding, but it’s blend of minimalist styling with luxe materials still make them a gifting favorite.  I gifted a couple of pairs – perforated suede in pink and patent leather in tan (full disclosure – to women).

2. Adidas X White Mountaineering 

This is a contemporary edit to Generation X nostalgia sneakers. They are the sneakers my generation love because we wore them growing up. This White Mountaineering collaboration pushes Adidas cap toes, Sambas and Stan Smiths; canvas Vans to the next level. 

White Mountaineering Adidas Super Star Slip-ons

3. Onitsuka Tigers (and its various ilk from Japan, including Moonstar)

Onitsuka Tigers is modern heritage take on the Japanese ASICS Tiger brand. It’s what I would call new classics, which were not around in the 1980s but feature old-school styling. A slightly more obscure Moonstar is my own favourites. This Japanese maker supposedly fires each pair of sneakers in a kiln, giving the sole a uniquely flexible and highly durable finish. They are a relative of Converse All Stars but of higher quality with better detailing. Look for Studio Nicholson’s collaboration with Moonstar, in purple merino.

Moonstar Fine Vulcanized

4. New Balance 990s

The big, clunky, foam-soled, in faux-suede, are admittedly a genre in their own right — the grand-daddy of all dad shoes. They are a big “furhgeddaboudit” to the whole idea of style, and maybe there is something to be said for that. For years, Steve Jobs wore grey 991s (with Issey Miyake mock turtleneck) at Apple Keynote addresses, practically serving as New Balance spokesperson. Although I won’t do it to myself… I’m begrudgingly charmed by the laid back aesthetic.

Men’s 990s Classic Sneaker

5. Goral, The Mellor II

It’s also this page’s holiday tradition to list an object of desire… one I don’t own, would recommend to anyone and invite being gifted…  There’s a new made-to-order attitude that’s less about stuffy sartorial legacies and more about conscious consumption. After decades of manufacturing for other brands, the fourth generation of the Goral family have launched their own line of handcrafted men’s sneakers and shoes.  A pair of Goral shoes is made from scratch and on your feet within ten days of a click. This pared back update to their classic trainer The Mellor apparently involves 200 stages during production. It’s sublime and I’ve had my eyes on them for some time.

Calfskin White – The Mellor II

6. SAYE, M 89’s

For their latest additions to its range of vegan, bio-based trainers, Spanish streetwear brand SAYE has been experimenting with plant-based leathers made from waste fruit and cactus nappa.  The shoes also boast bamboo lining and rubber soles, while the insole is made from materials offcuts sourced from the automotive industry. SAYE’s claim is that they plant 2 trees for each pair of sneakers sold. Modelo ’89 Vegan Hi Garnet is as worthy of a look as their journey toward a 100% vegan company.

7. Armando Cabral and Santoni

Which bring me to the last couple listings – “nice” or semi-formal sneakers that, in their desperation, the brands and department stores that once sold men proper shoes now push on us. It looks particularly adult in burnished brown or navy leather, evoking Berluti and try pathetically to simulate “real shoes” and often have price tags to match. But if your are a closeted reactionary who needs gateway casuals on the way to footwear freedom, this is what you want for Christmas.  Go for traditional African heritage meets modern design and bespoke craftsmanship from Guinea-Bissau born Armando Cabral or new-ish line of minimalist sneakers from otherwise over-the-top and embellished Santoni.

Naturally, we are all good and rational persons who recognize the consumerist absurdity of giving holiday gifts. The folly of it all. The pointless ritual of purchase, concealment, adornment, and surprise. The silly yet cruel competition of who will out-gift whom, whether by money spent (the amateur’s yardstick) or by delight inspired (the true measure of a gift). Then again, the pointlessness is the point. I could give you this lovely little thing any day of the year, sure, but why not we all indulge in the ritual of the holidays? This year, as in all years, I urge you to give gifts that are either tremendously functional or adds to form of your giftee’s living — anything less is a missed opportunity.

So for those heeding this holiday seasonal advice, I urge you a little care… Christmas morning with me need not be marred by near-misses and disenchanted looks. Go for sneakers. All the same, I recommend keeping your receipts.

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