British model Poppy Delevingne wears a pair of Feiyue in June. Photo: VCG
Chinese actress Yang Mi wears a pair of Warrior brand sneakers in 2016. Photo: IC
While lace-up sneakers as retro icons are not new in fashion circles, the fact that common old-fashioned Chinese sneakers are becoming some of the world's best-known celebrities top choice of footwear is rather unusual.
From models taking to the catwalk during Paris Men's Fashion Week Spring Summer 2018 to British actor and model Poppy Delevingne and US designer Rachel Roy, more and more overseas fashion icons have been seen wearing Chinese Feiyue (Flying Forward) - the classic blue-and-red striped sneakers that originated in Shanghai. Seen as outdated and unfashionable by Chinese, the shoes cost around 40 yuan ($6) on the brand's mainland site, but overseas that price rises to $65 on Feiyue's official foreign market site.
In or out?
Dubbed by US fashion site InStyle as "a beloved streetwear staple" and Arab e-commerce site Souq as "cult items," the sneakers first came to public attention outside of China in 2008, when Hollywood star Orlando Bloom wore Feiyue's classic line of sneakers when he was filming New York, I Love You.
The 54-year-old Shanghai-produced sneakers favored by Chinese martial arts practitioners and the working class have long been valued for their light and durable design rather than their look until recent years when it suddenly became a globally popular shoe wear.
The shoe's success overseas should be credited to French businessman Patrice Bastian. In 2006, he registered his own company in France and began selling versions of the sneakers made from higher quality materials. This is also why, for many overseas buyers today, Feiyue is recognized more as a French brand than a Chinese one.
However, the relationship between the Chinese and French companies is not entirely friendly. According to a report by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post in February, the two companies are locked in a legal dispute concerning the legitimate use of the Feiyue trademark.
The Chinese brand has benefited from increased exposure overseas. Foreign celebrities' increasing passion for the shoes seems to have rekindled interest in the brand among young Chinese.
"I never imagined that the ugly running shoe that I once disliked so much would one day become fashionable," Su Jin, a 26-year-old Beijing-based fashion lover, told the Global Times.
"But now that it has become the newest street fashion, I recently bought several Feiyue shoes, both classic and new ones, to give them a try. And guess what? They really go well with everything from sportswear to jackets," she said.
"The only issue has been that sometimes my mom thinks I'm wearing my dirty old sneakers and asks me to take them off."
Feiyue is not the only Chinese brand to gain success overseas, the country's 70-year-old sneaker brand Warrior is also making waves.
Its classic red-striped model, once a must-have for mainland school students taking PE and athletes during the 1980s and 1990s, was recently spotted being worn by Chinese pop icons such as Yang Mi and Wang Yibo and Danish model Caroline Brasch Nielsen who was photographed wearing a pair of white-and-red Warriors while walking down the street.
Chinese singer, actor and former EXO member Kris Wu was also seen wearing a pair of white-and-red Warriors during a 2016 press event while clad in a black sports outfit.
When Céline debuted a Warrior look-a-like at its 2017 Spring/Summer Collection this year, the move sparked discussion online among Chinese fashion lovers about whether it is worthwhile to spend 420 euros ($489) to buy the Céline versions when you could spend a few dozen yuan on a pair of Warriors and be just as fashionable.
"My first impression is that they [the Céline sneakers] look exactly the same as Warrior shoes," commented Sina Weibo user Joeyacap.
"But I will go with Warrior, they look better."
According to an SCMP report on October 13, Warrior recently launched refined editions of its two classic sneaker models. The launch campaign for this WOS33 (Warrior Ordinary Streetwear 33) brand sneakers was shot by Los Angeles-based photographer Emanuele D'Angelo.
The relaunch, apparently the brand's new move to tap into the overseas market, was also reported by overseas fashion news outlets such as WWD and Hypebeast.
While the shoes are priced at 70 yuan on mainland sites, the refined models are retailing for 70 euros overseas WOS33.
"However expensive or trendy Warrior may appear to the fashion lovers now, to me they will always be the same old pair of shoes I used to wear for a soccer match after class and now wear after work," said 24-year-old Guangzhou-based office worker surnamed Zhang. "They are humble yet irreplaceable."