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Step into the Margaret Howell store along West London's gilded Fulham Road, and the chill is palpable. It's the retail equivalent of collapsing on the sofa after a comically bad day at work; the first illicit drag of a cigarette with a debut pint (just me?). Because, inside, a smattering of Nordic-ish pots and kettles are politely strewn across teak tables. They're flanked by rails of classic, butter soft clothing illuminated by the cosy light of hanging factory lamps. And the floorboards – lovely, polished, original floorboards – give the whole quiet, tranquil space a workshop-like feeling, before everything was assembled in far away lands. For menswearheads, this is heaven: it feels like the work of a craftsman, not an industrialist, and yes, it's all very chill. It's this trademark that has amassed Howell a legion of dedicated fans.
They will no doubt be refreshing browsers this very second. For today, the British designer has released a much anticipated collab with... Japanese sportswear giant Mizuno? Heads were scratched. How would a marriage work between an understated, artisanal designer and a sprawling Osaka corporation? Well, in fact. Very well. Because this isn't the first outing between the two, and the laws of dating and physics are correct: opposites attract. And in this case, they're also attractive to look at in a slight line of technical jackets and a Gore-Tex lined unisex sneaker.
It's the sneaker we're losing our chill over (which I appreciate is a very un-Margaret Howell thing to do). Black, muted and with just the right amount of that neo-Tokyo futurist technical streak (think White Mountaineering, and some of those wonderfully mad Prada trainers), it's the anti-hype hype trainer. It's classic, and clean, and still contemporary. It's what makes a happy union of Howell and Mizuno.
"I love working in collaboration with specialist suppliers," the British designer tells Esquire. "For me, design is a marriage of expertise, of making suitable materials for the function of design whether that's a chair or a piece of clothing." What's more, Howell is a sneakerhead herself: comfortable, clean, sober-ish sneakers, mind. "I wear trainers most of the time because they're lightweight and structured for an active, less formal lifestyle. They've become classics, like denim jeans."
The designer also sees an imminent sea change. "The hype trainer culture will run its exciting ‘trend’," says Howell. "But I think the original, less flamboyant styles will ultimately be the ones that become the classics" – a forecast that bodes well for this sneaker in particular. Because it doesn't look hypey. And after all, Margaret Howell and Mizuno are the caretakers of their own hype. They don't have to siphon the good stuff away from other brands; the chunky, fluoro, fully branded, sold-out-in-seconds stuff. The fans were already there. And right now, they're probably sauntering in-store, picking up a pair and, true to form, feeling very chill about it all.
Available at margarethowell.co.uk now, priced £245
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