Check out the rest of GQ's first annual Fashion Awards, honoring the designers, brands, and trends that made the biggest impact in 2019.
If you expected 2019 to be the year that the sneaker bubble finally popped—well, better luck next decade. Over the past twelve months, the appetite for kicks has grown at exponential levels (by some estimates, the global sneaker market is nearing $100 billion in value), fueled by an onslaught of hype-heavy releases.
Choosing one shoe that encapsulates the entire year is no easy task, especially when all the major players were doing new and exciting things. Nike leaned hard into the world of fashion, putting out major collaborations with the likes of Sacai, Matthew Williams of Alyx, and Cactus Plant Flea Market. Adidas’s skateboarding division popped off in a big way, awarding generational talent Tyshawn Jones his first-ever signature model. New Balance, Asics, Reebok, Puma—they all had collaborations and new releases that got the blogs buzzing, too.
But there was one model that typified the present moment above all others. Which is funny, because the sneaker in question just so happens to be more than half a decade old, and comes from a shoemaker most style fiends already had in rotation.
French outdoor-sports outfitter Salomon launched the S/Lab XT-6 back in 2012 as their latest top-of-the-line trail runner—a performance sneaker built to withstand the harsh conditions of 100-mile ultramarathons through the mountains. Like a lot of technical running shoes, it made a minor splash among its very specific audience, and then was eventually phased out. By the fall of 2016, the XT-6 had already been off the market for a couple of years when an e-mail landed in the inbox of Jean-Philippe Lalonde, Salomon’s special projects manager, then freshly hired to help the brand break into the fashion market. It was a cursory notice from Salomon’s production team about the footwear molds scheduled to be destroyed that month, and the XT-6 was on the list. “I’m like, Whoa! This? They’re destroying this mold? No, not a chance,” recalls Lalonde, who had been searching for a crossover hit in Salomon’s archives and knew he’d stumbled on gold. He began playing around with the design on his computer, and realized the XT-6’s sleek curvature was the perfect canvas for a slew of wild color combinations: fiery reds, icy blues, grayish browns with hints of orange and yellow. “You could see the potential right away,” he says. “I was like, Cool, this shoe has like ten years of life in it or more.”
Fast-forward to the autumn of 2018, and the XT-6 landed in stores for its second go-round—only this time, it was being stocked in more high-end fashion doors like Dover Street Market than crunchy co-ops like REI. Salomon had already begun to make headway in style-minded circles, thanks to collaborations with fashion designers like Boris Bidjan Saberi and a co-sign from Palace Skateboards, but the XT-6 connected on an entirely different level. Suddenly, Rihanna was stepping out in them. So were Pusha T and Dev Hynes. For Guillaume Steinmetz—co-founder of The Broken Arm, the cutting-edge Parisian boutique that began stocking Salomon runners in 2014—the XT-6’s success was a long time coming.
“For me, it was exactly the same sensation as the first time [Nike design legend] Tinker Hatfield decided to open the sole to show the Air,” Steinmetz says of his first encounter with a pair of Salomon runners. “It was something new, and it was something that took time to be completely understood by everybody, but it created a reaction.”
What did the XT-6 unlock that previous Salomons couldn’t? A near-perfect balance of accessible design and practical performance. In an era when labels like Balenciaga and Versace balloon their sneakers to gargantuan sizes in the name of fashion, a clean-lined, purpose-built shoe like the XT-6 felt like a revelation. “It’s the perfect aesthetic to touch everybody,” Steinmetz explains. “[My father] likes them to work in the fields, but also cool kids love them.”
In a market that’s so often driven by hype and exclusivity and the hot new thing, the fact that a seven-year-old sneaker that can take you from a night out in New York to a run through the Alps and back again—a shoe that looks good on dads and rappers alike and is widely available to everyone—was able to cut through all the noise is something worth celebrating. And so we’re doing exactly that. Ladies and gentlemen: the Salomon S/Lab XT-6 LT ADV, your 2019 GQ Sneaker of the Year.
A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2020 issue with the title "Sneaker of the Year: Salomon S/Lab XT-6."
Menswear is now the electric energy source at the center of the fashion universe, so we're honoring the designers, brands, and trends that made the biggest impact in 2019.
Originally Appeared on GQ