Have We Reached the Limit of Enormous Sneakers?

This is an edition of the newsletter Show Notes, in which Samuel Hine reports from the front row of the global fashion week circuit. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

As my friend Rachel Tashjian once noted in GQ: “At the risk of putting myself out of a job, the history of fashion is really just the story of stuff getting bigger and then getting smaller.”

She’s right. Historically, the most interesting and complicated things in fashion arise out of this simple paradigm. And at this moment, we are clearly in the midst of inflation.

At least that’s what I was thinking as I watched the livestream of Balenciaga’s pre-fall 2024 show. I was on my way back from Louis Vuitton’s pre-fall show in Hong Kong; the intrepid Steff Yotka held it down in Hancock Park for GQ. (Pinning for a future column: Men’s destination in-between collections—smaller offerings aimed at clients that keep stores stocked at the tail end of main season sales cycles—used to be few and far between. They’re becoming a regular occurrence, and are literally very far apart. I had barely touched down in Hong Kong when Dior Men’s announced their own pre-fall show in the city, to be held in the first quarter of 2024.)

Balenciaga took over tony Windsor Boulevard, a straight shot to the Hollywood sign. The house’s masterfully subversive creative director, Demna, described the collection as a love letter to Los Angeles. So it felt right that the first stanza included a clique of models who looked like athleisure-clad A-listers on their way to snag a Hailey Bieber smoothie. They wore tights and hoodies and clutched phones, coffee cups, and Erewhon grocery bags made of leather. But as I watched the show unfold, I wondered what exactly I was seeing. The models were walking in sneakers so unbelievably massive that I actually wondered if the video feed was generated by AI.

According to Balenciaga, “The 10XL’s shape is based on archetypal gym footwear that has been augmented.”
According to Balenciaga, “The 10XL’s shape is based on archetypal gym footwear that has been augmented.”

But Demna’s worldview isn’t that hard-boiled. The sneakers were real, and you can already pre-order them for $1,490. They’re dubbed the 10XL, and they are the county fair prize hog of sneakers. A pair in size 42 weighs in at just shy of four pounds. (A size 42 pair of Adidas Sambas is .75 pounds.) That’s actually quite light considering the acres of mesh, TPU, and rubber that comprise the silhouette, which is approximately 14” long, 6” tall, and 11” wide. Picture two large watermelons, shaped like a dad sneaker.

According to Yotka, the post-show chatter was all about the Erewhon collab and the perverse LA-core of it all, rather than the monstrous runners. “Somehow shoes being enormous doesn’t feel surprising,” she told me. “I guess we are living in a post MSCHF world.” Indeed, ever since the Big Red Boots ushered in a new era of freaky viral footwear, sheer enormity is not as impressive as it once was, like when Balenciaga first caused a gargantuan-sneaker sensation with the Triple-S franken-shoe in 2017.

But after the show all I could think about was whether the 10XL represents an apogee of actual sneaker design. Yotka reports that the 10XL is over three times the size of the Triple-S. Can sneakers physically get any bigger? Have we reached the extreme outer limit of production and wearability?

I asked Luka Sabbat for his take. The Balenciaga superfan pulled up to the show wearing another pair of gargantuan sneakers, the Cargo, which debuted in the Spring 2024 collection. The 10XL didn’t come out of nowhere—Demna loves extreme silhouettes, and has been gradually swelling sneaker proportions for years now. At the now-infamous “Mud Show” in Paris, Demna unveiled the exaggerated 3XL hiker, followed by the Cargo, which Sabbat describes as “slightly smaller” than the 10XLs.

The relatively svelt Cargos still presented a few challenges as Sabbat navigated the sun-kissed streets of LA. “I had little to no spatial awareness with my feet, so I was hitting so much shit,” he said. He wasn’t tripping, he told me, but walking up and down stairs was challenging because the size of the shoe exceeded the width of the stairs. Sabbat did not try to drive in them. “You forget how big the actual shoe is,” he said, citing their surprising lightness.

Still, Sabbat said they ruled. “Unironically the 10XL is actually one of my favorite things in that collection. It’s just so absurd. Just when you thought the shoes couldn't get bigger, they keep getting bigger. It's like, What's next? It's pushing the brink as to what's actually wearable.”

How close to that brink are we? I asked a movement specialist with experience choreographing fashion shows to analyze the way the models walked in the 10XLs. “She’s doing a great job considering how wide they are,” they said of one model who had a smooth strut. But most of the models had to swing their hips like Olympic race-walkers to avoid banging their feet together. “You need to adjust your natural gait slightly,” said the choreographer. “The ankle looks like it’s compensating. I can imagine they feel like wearing snow shoes. It looks like work, to be honest.” Some models bounced up-and-down aggressively with each step, falling as if they were stepping on and off a small stool.

I sent the runway video to a fashion designer who develops sneakers. They replied with a crying laughing emoji. But they were genuinely impressed with the technical qualities of the 10XL. “I’m sure it’s harder than it looks to make them, especially on the inside,” they said. Likely owing to the manufacturing challenges, the sneakers are only available in three sizes. (“If your size is not available, we recommend sizing down,” says Balenciaga.) I asked the designer if their footwear factories would let him make a sneaker three times as wide as a normal one. He said they might try, but not with confidence.

Stuff gets bigger, and then it gets smaller. Or does it? I asked Sabbat what he thought his buddy Demna would shock us with next. “He's already made the big shoe, so, where do you go?” he replied. “I mean, I guess he could make a super small shoe. The thing is you can't make that small of a shoe.” Yotka scoffed at the notion that we’d reached any limit of hugeness. “I think,” she said, “that we can always go bigger!”

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Originally Appeared on GQ