There I was, being influenced by Gen Zers on TikTok, when I stumbled upon a shoe that stopped my scroll. It was an incredible cream-colored Simone Rocha confection with a chunky plastic sole and pearls strung atop floral straps that crisscrossed to cinch at the ankle. And it was a sneaker.
Traversing the digital landscape, my head quite literally spun. As I stared at a $1,000 pastel green and pink Kiko Kostadinov style, I wondered: how do you get a demographic who wouldn’t typically drop money on sneakers to create Reddit threads devoted to dupes? When did vintage Diesel ballet sneakers become a go-to Depop search term? Are hyper-femme sneakers the new heel?
While Simone Rocha manufactured her own sneakers with a decidedly feminine spin, designers like Sandy Liang, Cecilie Bahnsen, and, most recently, Ganni’s Ditte Reffstrup, recently collaborated with pre-existing sneaker brands, the latter of which just debuted at Copenhagen Fashion Week. Bahnsen’s ASICS collab, which features plastic flowers blooming from mesh side panels and silvery embellishments, resell for upwards of $800. Liang’s Salomon’s, complete with anime floral detail, sold out in no less than five minutes. While Ganni x New Balance has yet to hit the interweb, I predict much of the same.
According to a report from Statista, the market for sneakers alone is a $72.7 billion dollar industry with a devoted subculture—but an industry that only started catering to woman in recent years. Hear me out: In 2007, Susan Boyle opened Rime, one of the first female-owned sneaker boutiques in New York City. “It was a total boys club,” Boyle tells ELLE.com. “Back then, when brands did make women’s sneakers, they would just shrink everything and make it pink. Women just wanted what the guys had and vice versa. Now, it’s gone full circle: girls have had all the high tops and the tomboy looks and the basketball sneakers, they want something new.” Part of the appeal of these new girly sneakers is that they go beyond the “shrink it in pink” mentality. They have bells and whistles…and bows and ribbons.
Cecilie Bahnsen’s second collaboration with ASICS is a prime example. “I’ve always been drawn to the juxtaposition between something that is hyper feminine with elements that are more technical and sportive,” she says of her design process. Her sneakers capture the romance of her couture pieces with a contemporary edge. Styled differently, the footwear is the next iteration of balletcore—a trend popularized by brands like Miu Miu. The trend democratizes an aesthetic that was previously guarded behind dance studio doors. Now disseminated, anyone can enjoy a satin pointe shoe or feel like a bona fide ballerina. Applying the trend to sneakers creates a cool crossover: ballet apparel is sportswear, after all.
Creative director and stylist Mellány Sánchez has collected sneakers for the past 15 years. “I think it’s cool how people are styling them: with super-big parachute cargo pants, long cargo skirts, and ripstop jeans,” she says. Similarly, Bahnsen describes looking at the girls in her atelier for creative inspiration, specifically “how they style the collection for everyday wear, often pairing a big poufy dress with denim and trainers.” The designer adds: “It felt like a natural decision to collaborate with ASICS, finding common ground between our two distinct universes. I want our community to feel the same wearing our ASICS sneakers as they would wearing one of our voluminous dresses—simultaneously elevated and effortless.”
This hybridity is not an exception to the moment. Willa Bennett, editor-in-chief of High Snobiety and self-proclaimed sneakerhead, views the new sneaker releases as an inclusive step forward. “The labels of menswear and womenswear have never been more blurred,” she says. “To me, that’s only the beginning of what’s possible. With younger generations, sneakers are more accessible—they’re not just for people with apps and alarms who know when drops are ready. Gatekeeping access to sneakers is dissipating, and that’s really exciting.”
While TikTok brings sneakers even more into the mainstream, the platform has its own tastes. Bottom-up TikTokenomics rely on that eye-catching shoe—designs with a better chance at virality perform better. The positive: social media may very well have guided contemporary aesthetics towards personal pleasure, allowing room for sartorial cross-pollination—an outfit doesn’t need to be coherent or contextual, so long as it’s enjoyable. These sneakers are electric in their defiance of ennui.
“We turn our attention toward hyper-femme footwear because the rest of the outfit is typically anything but,” Sánchez says, “The hyper-femininity is not coming from a bag. It’s not even coming from the nails. Right now, it’s a bow in the hair or a bow on the toe.”
Nicolaia Rips is a writer and editor for HommeGirls. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, Airmail, and Interview.