The Sons of Stan - An In-Depth Look into Modern Minimalist Shoe Options

Buttero Tanino Low (captoe version)
I have to admit I've never been much of a sneakerhead. In fact, my hierarchy of footwear has generally been boots >> goodyear welted shoes > sandals/espadrilles > sneakers. I have a pair of leather Chuck Taylor Highs and Jack Purcell Lows from maybe a decade ago I can't remember the last time I wore and a dying pair of Nike Free running shoes I wear to the hospital every day. I recently started looking for a pair of sneakers to replace my hospital shoes but ended up coming to the conclusion that I'd rather just wear a cheap pair of sneakers to work that wouldn't kill my soul to get blood (or worse) splattered on - it doesn't happen often, but it has happened before.

During that process I also came to the conclusion that I need to upgrade my general sneaker game (outside of work) and that there are some really great options in the style of Adidas' original Stan Smith that cater more to my style; simple options that pair better with traditional/vintage Americana than, say, Yeezy boosts. I've actually got no problem with those styles (in fact, I really like a lot of them), but they just aren't my thing. If you're anything like me, take a look at the list below for some viable options in this classic leather minimal aesthetic.

There are a lot of quick sneaker lists out there, but this should be one of the most detailed, for better or worse, highlighting what I think are the strengths and potential weaknesses of each.

Common Projects Achilles - The "Gold Standard"

Common Projects Achilles Low in White

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Common Projects Achilles, which has become the championed minimalist sneaker of the times, enough so that they've almost become a cliche in some circles. But honestly, who cares? They're clean, balanced, with a graceful shape and excellent materials and detailing, including the signature numbering found near the heel corresponding to the size, model number, and colorway of each pair.

Various 2015 Achilles models at Opumo

There are some potential downsides, however: 1) they're expensive, even on discount - something like $200's on a good day and a bit high at retail at $300-400s 2) they're becoming ubiquitous, sort of like what Canada Goose has become for the down parka market, and 3) they are minimal to the point that they feel a little bit sterile to me. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially since ultraclean minimalism seems to be having its heyday right now. It's also something mirrored in competitors' shoes as well, so there are plenty to choose from, though the Achilles seems to be the bar that everyone is trying to surpass currently.

Common Projects Achilles Low
Common Projects are carried in so many stores that it's hard to list just a few, but I'll try anyway. Some online stores with lower prices and/or that have been known to sell CP's on good discount during certain times in the year (I wouldn't hold your breath on a sale for the whites):

CP on Sale at Ok-Ni
CP at Matchesfashion
CP at Mr. Porter 
CP at Opumo

Epaulet Tennis Trainer - Retro Modern

Epaulet Tennis Trainer Low

Epaulet New York makes a full line of sneakers alongside a lot of other branded and collaboration products - most of which I'd love to own. In particular, these include some great looking GAT styles and, more similarly, what they call their "tennis trainer." On their sneaker page, Epaulet notes that the purpose of the line was to offer a "curated range of minimal trainer patterns in a wide range of leathers and colors." Manufactured in Portugal, the tennis trainer is offered in some great looking leathers such as Portuguese chrome-tanned steerhide and vegetable-tanned horsehide, some of which can appear a bit shiny at times in pictures. I do also wish they were built with some sort of metal eyelets but I'm nitpicking, really.

Epaulet Tennis Trainer in auburn steerhide
Regarding pricing, Epaulet's sneakers tend to sit in the lower middle of the market starting at $195 up to $265 for the premium hides. However, there's a chance some could end up in their sale section, which usually has some pretty deep discounts. At those prices especially they seem pretty stellar in terms of value for money (check out these black bullhide boots, for example. If I didn't just buy one of the sneakers on this list, I'd be taking a good hard look at these...I'm still staring godammit).

Epaulet Sneakers

Rancourt Court Classic Low and Mid - A Practiced Hand

Rancourt Heritage CXL Low
I tend to place more trust in a company that specializes in a specific area. That's not to say companies that make a range of products are inherently bad, but Rancourt, a Made in America company based in Maine, has been specializing in quality footwear since 1967, and that speaks for itself. Their sneaker line, started in 2015, is one of the most pared down among the brands listed here, yet they offer them in a range of shades and two categories of leather uppers - Maine produced "Weston" cowhide and a Heritage line with Horween CXL, all models lined in Horween horsehide casco and built onto a Vibram Strighton sole - a rare break away from the Margom that's become almost universal in this type of shoe. I've also come to really like leather laces on these types of shoes like the ones on the Heritage models.

Rancourt Court Classics
There seem to be two different philosophies behind minimalist sneaker design - those that are clinical and ultraclean and those that lean towards a more natural, organic look while still achieving the same overall silhouette, such as the Heritage Court Classics and others below. Neither is "better" and the two aren't mutually exclusive, though I tend to prefer the feel of the latter.

Rancourt Heritage Court Classics

Rancourt occcasionally has sales, though I've yet to see these sneakers on sale. Pricing starts at $260 to $285, with a $10 premium on base models for the Horween CXL Heritage models, which places them in the middle of the range in this list.

Rancourt Sneakers

Gustin Low and High Top - Wholesale Pricing?

Gustin High Top in Horween CXL #8

Gustin seems to have its hands in just about everything these days - jeans, bags, shirts, leather jackets, etc. That lineup now includes a minimalist sneaker very similar to the Common Projects design in high and low, starting at $149 and up. Made in Italy (supposedly by some of the same hands that make other higher end brands' shoes as well), they feature the same Margom rubber soles used in more expensive brands as well as Tuscan leather for the base models. Gustin also makes some models in Horween Dublin and CXL, which I have to say look fantastic, especially in color #8.

Gustin Natural High Top

Gustin White Low Top
I don't own any Gustin products, and as much as I like those Horween models, I don't think I'll be picking them up. Reasons: 1) there's a lot of lead time built in to Gustin purchases as they're funded completely prior to production and risk is really taken on by the customer - this risk is compounded by what I found to be confusing sizing advice on Gustin's site 2) I've seen more than a few bad quality control and customer service posts around the internet that concern me 3) the CXL model commands as high as a ridiculous $100 upcharge. It's notable that many competitors start at an MSRP a little higher than Gustin, but for all the fanfare regarding passing on the savings to the customer and "true wholesale" pricing, clearly inflated pricing differences from base models really rub me the wrong way. On top of that, the Rancourt CXL is about the same price, and that would be my choice given their track record and experience in addition to some of the other issues listed above. That being said, those are all personal opinions of mine and I actually find the Gustin sneakers to be quite attractive.

Gustin Shoes

Beckett Simonon - New Kid on the Block

(Added 8/27/17)

Beckett Simonon is a relatively young label making waves in both the dress shoe, boot, leather jacket, sneaker world - you name it - as of late (PutThisOn did a recent in piece on their improved dress shoes). Their sneaker offerings are simple and conventional, but if they're anything like their dress shoes, they should compare well with the market in regard to value for money. Definitely worth a look if you've been considering other options like Gustin.

Beckett Simonon

Kent Wang Benchgrade and Handgrade - You Get What You Pay For

Kent Wang Benchgrade Sneaker

Kent Wang Benchgrade Sneaker
I appreciate what Kent Wang does, as his label consistently hits some of the lowest price points for the types of items he sells. His budget "benchgrade" sneaker line, priced at $95, uses cemented soles and leather that I've heard a lot of not-so-great feedback about. I have not seen much in the way of the more expensive off-white $145 "handgrade" line that supposedly uses better quality leather and has stitched soles, but I have read that the leather, though indeed higher quality than the benchgrade, is quite thin and underwhelming in person. I don't love the detail pictures I've seen of the leather up close, and the specifications and origins of the components remain a bit nebulous to me. To be frank, they look cheap to me in a lot of pictures I've come across.

Kent Wang Handgrade Sneaker
Style-wise, they seem to fit the general bill, though that's pretty easy to accomplish for this type of shoe. Still, the general buzz around these sneakers is that you get what you pay for - perhaps even a little less, though your mileage may vary. I actually own some Kent Wang products and think his pocket squares in particular are very nice, but the sneakers I have to take a hard pass on for now.

Kent Wang Sneakers

FEIT Hand Sewn Low and High - Unique Voice (at a Price)

Single piece leather upper, hand-stitched at the heel. Gusseted tongue. Leather wrapped goodyear construction. Buffalo leather footbed. Made entirely without the use of machines in very small batches, FEIT shoes are hand lasted and left on their forms for 10 days, using light steam and humidity to mold the form further.

FEIT Hand Sewn Low - New and Worn

FEIT Hand Sewn Low
The more striking fact is that minimalist sneakers in this style are a relatively uniform bunch and somewhat "blah" almost by nature, and yet here is a version that has the same general lines yet looks like nothing else. Simple, elegant, starkly minimal yet distinctly natural in feel, the brand's Hand Sewn court sneakers would be my first choice if it weren't for the price. They're easily the most expensive things on this list, clocking in at $500-660, and though they're carried by a couple third party merchants, sales for FEIT seem to be few and far between so your chance of snagging them on a deep discount is on the lower side.

FEIT Hand Sewn High
Other potential downfalls: Construction is done in Tuscany as well as Southern China, apparently, which can put some people off. Also of note, the $600-660 models are made with "semi-cordovan" leather, of which all I can say is WTF is semi-cordovan? No, seriously. I can't find any information about it anywhere aside from FEIT's site. Despite these reservations, FEIT's shoes stand out from the rest of this group in design aesthetic and look to be well made. If $600 sneakers is not a big deal to you, these would be one of my strongest picks. I'd love a pair.

*Update 8/27/17 - I've seen a few clearance sales for FEIT at 50% off end of season. This seems like the most sensible time to purchase if you're interested in catching them on discount

FEIT at Mr. Porter
FEIT at Need Supply

Buttero Tanino Low, Mid, and High - The Tuscan Cowboy

Buttero Tanino Low (non captoe version)

Buttero Tanino Mid
Pronounced 'BOO-teh-roh' ("cowboy" in Italian), this Italian brand uses high quality vegetable tanned leathers such as Tuscan calfskin and Italian Vachetta for their uppers along with standard Margom soles and leather insoles. Similar to Epaulet and Rancourt's respective models, Buttero's Tanino has more of a vintage, handworked aesthetic that should age gracefully over time, as opposed to the more clinical sneakers that need to stay crispy and pristine to look their best. In particular, I really like the stitching at the vamp, leather laces, and brass eyelets that give the Tanino a more rustic feel in comparison. There are both captoe models and plain toe, which I prefer slightly, as well as low, mid and high versions.

Buttero Tanino Low (captoe version)

Buttero Tanino High
Buttero prices its sneakers at ~ $390, which is around what Common Projects go for. However, the Tanino is carried by a lot of online retailers for less and can be found on discount below $200, sometimes in the lower $100's.  That's around Kent Wang prices and lower than almost everything on this list, including Gustin's base models. The sites below are historically known to have some of the better sales on Buttero, though stock shifts quite a bit.

Buttero at Barneys Warehouse Suede Tanino High - $139 (can be even cheaper during extra discount sales)
Buttero at Menlook (where I bought my Butteros)
Buttero at Opumo
Buttero at YOOX

Adidas Stan Smith

At the end of the day, you could always just go with the original. First named the "Robert Haillet" in 1965, it was renamed in 1971 for Stan Smith after Haillet retired from tennis. It features three rows of perforations on the sides instead of the familiar Adidas stripes on what has now become a classic silhouette. Over the past few years, the Stan Smith has seen a resurgence in popularity in large part thanks to models like the CP Achilles, etc. While materials and construction can't compete with the higher level brands on this list, the relatively cheap price and ready availability make the original still worthy of consideration.

Stan Smith Triple White
You can find classic design Stan Smith shoes easily at hundreds of stores for around $75 or better with a quick Google search in the classic white upper and colored heel. In late 2015, Adidas also rolled out the "Triple White" version, meaning the upper, the heel and the tongue branding were all whited out. That version has been selling like hot cakes so you might have to look around to find one in your size if you're interested (it's a little more expensive, but still relatively cheap relative to most on this list). More intriguing to me are the Stan Smith x Horween Essex tan leather models also introduced in 2015.

Adidas Stan Smith x Horween

Stan Smith x Horween at Barneys Warehouse
Stan Smith Triple White at ASOS

Wrap Up

Rancourt Navy Court Classic Lows

The shoes discussed here are what I find to be the more common and compelling options in the style, though the list is by no means exhaustive. If you're looking for more choices, check out Zespa, Svensson,  as well as general designers like Lanvin, APC, Our Legacy, and Acne. For other styles not of the Stan Smith bloodline, there are a bevy of classic Nikes (check out J. Crew's collection, which is excellent), GATS (of which Martin Margiela has famously claimed as a signature style, though there are plenty of cheaper options as well), captoe sneakers in the style of Chuck Taylors/Jack Purcells - the list goes on and on.

While putting this list together, I snatched up a pair of Buttero Tanino Lows in testa di moro/dark brown, no captoe version, for $140 shipped from Menlook in Europe, and I couldn't be more pleased with them. For more on that, look for a full review and first impressions coming in the next few days. In the meantime, make sure to note that shoes built on the Margom sole should generally be sized down 1/2 to 1 full size from your Brannock - I went down one full from an 8 US/41 EU to size 40, which fit perfectly.

My Buttero Tanino Lows (also pictured: Jeans - Rag & Bone, Belt -Don't Mourn, Organize! Watch/Strap - Seagull 1963/Shkira Goods)

If you have experience with or own any of the above, if you think I've got it wrong, or if I've missed an option you think should be featured, leave a comment below or drop me a line.

** Unless otherwise noted, photos included remain the property of their respective owners.


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