In recent years, the category of “stylish footwear” has grown rather…expansive. We’ve seen everything from ugly-chic runners to slinky sock-sneakers to cartoonish water shoes get deemed en vogue. (Also, the mule! And Crocs!) However, one particuar style has remained a fashion outsider: the barefoot shoe, and in particular Vibram’s FiveFingers shoe, the haunting biomorphic silhouette sure to rattle your brain.
Now, enter two extremely cool Japanese labels: designer Takahiro Miyashita and forward-thinking footwear brand Suicoke. The duo has just released their take on the FiveFingers—but will that co-sign be enough to elevate the freaky shoe into the leagues of cool-dude sneakers?
First, some backstory on the perplexing footwear design itself. In the mid-2000s, the Italian footwear company Vibram introduced the FiveFingers shoe, intending to solely appeal to boaters, kayakers, and other nautical types. The “five-fingered” sole was meant to provide an improved grip on slippery surfaces while still giving the sensation of being semi-barefoot. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the barely-there shoes caught on with runners and fitness enthusiasts, as “barefoot running” started to expand in popularity. The general public was repulsed mainly by the wild design—and to be fair, plenty of runners still wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole. Today, the FiveFingers shoe is worn by those extreme outdoorsy types, the ones who probably own multiple hydration packs and a kaleidoscope of carabiners—not precisely the fashion diehard.
This particular FiveFingers collaboration isn’t a total outlier—it’s at least the third time that a fashion label has attempted to co-sign the bizarre design within a year. Last fall, Balenciaga released the “Toe” shoe, a nearly $1,300 riff on the style. Then Vibram itself gave the shoe a ninja-goth neoprene makeover in the “V-NEOP” design. And this past spring, Suicoke teamed up with Japanese label Midorikawa for a creepy and terrifying version, complete with painted nails, that looked more like a character from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters than desirable footwear. However, this iteration from The Soloist and Suicoke is perhaps the most palatable design to date. It’s got a monochromatic blend of blacks with a silhouette that has been tweaked—and given the addition of laces—to look slightly more like an actual sneaker than the original’s extreme toe-hugging shape.
The world of men’s shoes is undoubtedly as wild as it has ever been, but even by those standards, the Vibram FiveFingers is still pretty damn absurd. Yet, if fashion has taught us one thing, it is that nothing is off-limits. In 2010, The New York Times Magazine wondered if the design “could quite possibly be the new Crocs.” Well, 11 years later, and Crocs are certifiably cool, co-signed by too many streetwear designers and famous musicians to list here. Even Vibram’s signature soles have managed to become an immovable part of red-hot sneaker design. As for the FiveFingers…only time will tell. When it comes to this era of footwear, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected. One can only imagine that Vibram is keeping its fingers—or, better yet, its toes—crossed that the FiveFingers will finally get its moment in the sneaker sun.