A crisp leather sneaker is footwear’s answer to the perfect plain T-shirt. It’s foundational. A blank canvas. Something you can wear with anything and everything, using it to elevate off-duty looks and bring dressy outfits back down to earth.
Outside of a quality Derby shoe and perhaps a winter boot, there is no piece of footwear more intrinsic to modern men’s style than this simple sneaker. To say it’s an essential is an understatement. Every man should own a pair, and if you don’t then now is as good a time as any to invest.
It’s hard to think of a brand that doesn’t make a leather sneaker of some description these days, but these are those that do it better than the rest, along with our favourite option from each.
Oliver Cabell Low 1
Oliver Cabell’s signature sneaker is clean, simple and eternally stylish. It’s handmade in Italy using the absolute finest of materials and is finished off with a super-durable Margom outsole and calfskin insole.
It’s a great alternative to something like a Common Projects Achilles Low for anyone who wants to spend a fraction less on a shoe that’s every bit as well made.
Crown Northampton Overstone Hi
Northamptonshire, England, has a rich history of shoemaking, and Crown Northamptonshire has been very much a part of that since 1908. Today, this historic family brand takes the same traditional techniques and obsessive attention to detail that the region’s handmade shoes are known for and applies it to contemporary footwear silhouettes as well as the classics.
This high-top model is something of a dress shoe in sneaker’s clothing, with casual (but classy) looks and premium handmade construction.
One of the biggest sneaker trends this year is the return of retro basketball shoes. This leather sneaker from Clae riffs on 80s court styles, reimagining the look with understated detailing and premium materials.
It’s still simple and versatile, but with a little more character than the classic round-toe leather sneakers that have become ubiquitous in menswear over the past decade.
Uniform Standard Series 1
Uniform Standard’s Series 1 is a simple sneaker that lets the craftsmanship and quality of the materials do the talking.
It’s a timeless silhouette that’ll work across your entire wardrobe, happily walking the length and breadth of the smart casual spectrum.
Artisan Lab Essential
Artisan Lab may only have been going since 2019 but it’s already making a splash with its considered, high-quality basics – minimalist leather sneakers included.
The aptly named Essential is the brand’s flagship sneaker, featuring a premium leather upper, handmade Italian construction and a price tag that puts it within reach of those looking for a more affordable alternative to the Achilles Low.
Axel Arigato Dice Lo
This vintage-inspired sneaker from purveyor of premium contemporary footwear Axel Arigato is a timeless option with bags of character. The shape takes its cues from a retro basketball shoe, with soft Italian leather and hits of textured nubuck to the uppers.
It’s a stylish casual option that’ll serve you well as an everyday shoe, but will be more than happy to rub shoulders with tailored pieces should the situation call for it.
ETQ LT 01
The LT 01 is the flagship sneaker in ETQ’s footwear fleet. The Amsterdam brand is known for its high-end minimalist shoes and this stripped-back beauty is the model that started it all.
It’s crafted in Portugal from high-quality Italian leather and available in a palette of classic colours. There’s a rather nice suede version too, just in case you need a bit of texture in your life.
The Mercury sneaker from JAK takes a time-honoured design and builds on it with stitch detailing and premium materials and construction.
It’s a highly wearable shoe that works with anything from jeans to tailored pants and will slot seamlessly into any outfit without stealing the limelight.
Another basketball-inspired design, the ZSP23 from French footwear brand Zespa is a classic white sneaker featuring vibrant pops of colour to the tongue and the heel tab. There are plenty of shades to choose from and we think it’s a great way to breathe some life into otherwise understated looks without overdoing it.
The ‘23’ is in tribute to basketball superstar Michael Jordan and the shoes are made in Italy from full-grain Nappa leather.
Common Projects Achilles Low
Common Projects’ iconic Achilles Low is almost 20 years old now. In that time it has become the definitive premium leather sneaker, reinventing the wheel and spurring countless imitators in the process.
From the uncluttered design to the high-end materials, everything about this shoe screams (whispers?) subtle sophistication, and its legacy can be seen today in the widespread acceptance that sneakers can, in fact, be smart.
Adidas Stan Smith
If Common Projects’ Achilles Low is king of the premium leather sneakers then Adidas’ Stan Smith is king of the affordable ones. This simple tennis shoe is more than just a piece of footwear, it’s a design icon and one of the greatest athletic shoes ever made.
What’s more, it goes with anything and everything, so if you’re looking for a minimalist leather sneaker that won’t break the bank, this is the shoe for you.
Reebok Club C
The Stan Smith is great, but that level of simplicity isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for an affordable leather sneaker with a touch more detail then we’d point you in the direction of the Reebok Club C.
This retro tennis sneaker has become the shoe of choice for edgy urbanites in Europe’s key fashion cities thanks to its throwback looks, reasonable price tag and endless versatility.
French footwear brand Veja’s cruelty-free, eco-friendly sneakers have made it one of the hottest names around. The label specialises in simple leather sneakers, and ones crafted from vegan leather alternatives too.
You don’t have to use animals to get the look of a stylish minimalist leather sneaker and Veja’s vegan V-12 is the proof.