The casual sneaker is disappearing. By that, the shoe designed for style, enhanced with some comfort features, has been pulled in two directions. On one hand, the casual low-height boot – think a Chelsea or desert style – often fills the everyday role. In the process, its association with dress shoes elevates it above the too-casual-for-the-office sneaker. In the other, athletic shoes you would’ve worn after the job now seem too lightweight and techy. Physically, there’s barely anything there – just mesh and foam, in many cases – and that lack of substance feels almost incongruous when you’re sporting jeans and a tee.
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In between, Adidas’ Stan Smith and Converse have carved out their respective corners, turning into keystones (if not a holy grail) of the casual menswear market. Vans and similar skate shoes, meanwhile, do manage to do double-duty, but often, nothing’s subtle about the padded, puffy, and color-blocked appearance.
Some Background About MOBS
Smaller companies like MOBS seem to be exploring this ever-widening space. Started by Alexandre Benaim, MOBS – meaning Mobility, Optimism, Beauty, and Soul – bridges these extremes with shoes that seem more fashion-leaning on the surface but aren’t just a style item. Although designs vary, outsoles are based on the tire-tread sandals worn by Tanzania’s Maasai tribe, designed to help you discover and explore cityscapes across the globe. Before creating the line, Benaim was reportedly inspired by human migration patterns and sought to create a versatile, comfortable style built to handle the distance of longer journeys.
A few weeks ago, we received a sample of MOBS’ Grid Premier in Bordeaux, a burgundy-based shoe that, in spite of its purplish hue, didn’t come off as a statement shade. Perhaps that’s more of a testament to modern-day menswear, but its reddish-brown mixture gave off limited-edition vibes: Like that collaboration Gosha Rubchinskiy did with Vans featuring pastel uppers and a black sole unit, the less-typical colorway gave a fairly traditional silhouette an accent – not a complete makeover.
In fact, the juxtaposition of the Bordeaux with the white midsole seemed reminiscent of a pair of ‘90s-era Skechers, minus the obscenely puffy and lugged outsoles. Essentially, the bigger-is-better concept (which Skechers has significantly scaled down over the past two decades) gets shaved down to practical, more androgynous levels.
Wearing the Grid Premier: Initial Impressions
But, enough about the appearance – for now. The nearly monotone design makes it a serviceable work shoe, assuming your office is somewhat casual. What sets MOBS apart from ‘90s-era Skechers and many of its contemporaries is the construction. You literally feel it right from the moment you put it on.
Too many sneaker brands promise no break-in time, and while this seems like an asset, it results in a somewhat flimsier, too-soft shoe down the road. Rather, the Grid Premier had a somewhat firm, sturdy feel from the get-go, thanks to the full-grain leather construction. But, rather than go in the opposite direction, they adapted fairly quickly once I got on with my day. After less than two days, the fairly close size had a bit more give and flexibility, without seeming like a mesh shoe with a foam base.
Of course, with sneakers, support’s often the edge that places them over loafers and similar dressed-up casual shoes. The midsole – molded EVA, in this case – gives it a firmer base that takes some getting used to, especially if you spend most of your time in mid-cut lace-ups. While it adds some extra height, the firmer base gives the shoe more body and a stronger foundation that might feel slightly weightier on a traditional athletic shoe. Essentially, in this area, it’s the perfect hybrid: Supportive and responsive, without seeming too spongy.
At the same time, the midsole and outsole should always work together: The former offering support and responsiveness, and the latter supplementing that with a grippy base. Around the city, the tire-tread outsole didn’t feel drastically different – these won’t seem like a pair of hiking boots – but you won’t be slipping around in them, either, which can be the case with some lace-up dress boots. But, unlike with some athletic shoes, the treads are almost flush with the midsole, eliminating that chunky look and feel that comes with a standard lugged outsole.
If you could sum up the Grid Premier, it would be this: It’s like the sneaker you used to have, until roughly 10 years ago, but with a more mature, versatile design. The sturdier construction translates to stronger everyday wear: You can walk around the city in these or do some errands and not feel like you’re wearing fabric-covered sandals that are only truly practical at the gym or whenever you’re training outdoors.
And, unlike that set of Vans or Jordans you sported in high school, the youthful, subculture-based connotations aren’t there: The lack of color-blocking and traditional skate silhouettes essentially ups their flexibility factor. While the color adds a bit of oomph, they’re not the star of the show; pair them with chinos, jeans, and even ultra-skinny pants, and they complement, rather than dominate.