For a long time I was never much of a sneaker guy. I’d generally go for pair of of boat shoes, bucks, or boots, depending on the weather, as my go-to casual shoes – the only sneakers I owned were a pair of Converse that were used exclusively for picking up heavy things at the gym. But after seeing more and more sick streetwear outfits I decided shit was gonna have to change. I wanted some sneakers. Specifically, being just that next-level, I wanted some minimal white sneakers.
Naturally, I’d heard of the legendary Common Projects Achilles; for the uninitiated, Achilles, or “CPs” as they are generally known and will henceforth be referred to, are basically the benchmark against which all white sneakers are held. They are famed across the internet’s fashion forums for their sleek silhouette, minimal branding, and above all, their pricetag.
So I was aware of CPs. But I mean, I didn’t even wear sneakers, was I fuck gonna drop £250 on my first pair, right? So, like so many others before me, I started down the internet-fashion rite of passage that is searching for so-called CP alternatives.
For a while I considered getting a pair of Kent Wang’s white sneaks… but I read a couple of reviews and the quality seemed dubious – plus I had to order them from the US. I considered Adidas’s Stan Smiths… but there were those green bits, and I didn’t really like the shape that much. I came across Erik Schedin’s offerings, but they were sold in my size and they were like, not even that much cheaper anyway?
I started toying with the idea that maybe I should just consider the “real thing”. Then I took a trip to London and had the chance to see and try on a pair of CPs in the flesh… and that was it. I’d drunk the Kool-Aid – no longer did I want some white sneakers; I needed these white sneakers.
But that didn’t really change the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to drop £250 on a pair of shoes that can’t even be resoled. So what followed was two months of me checking eBay and various voucher-code websites, several times every day.
It got to the point where I was on the verge of #YOLOing it and buying a pair full-price when lo and behold – a pair turns up on eBay:
£90. “Minor wear. Worn for a month but not much.” Size 45.
My prayers had been answered.
Now, the point of the long-winded foregoing is to impress upon you that what started off as a vague interest quickly became a borderline obsession. And in the course of my two-month search, I am fairly certain that I consumed more or less every available piece of information or discussion on the internet about these shoes. In doing so, I discovered two things:
- Half of the internet fashion community appears to know everything about them: how they size, how they feel, how they age, their overall quality, why they cost what they do and whether they’re worth it… all common knowledge.
- Not a single one of these people had written an actual review – snippets of discussions and brief comparisons with other shoes was the juiciest info I could find.
Well, no more. Be the change you wish to see in the world, right? Right.
To conclude my preamble, I will mention that I’ve now owned these shoes for going on four months, wearing them for somewhere over half of the days in that period. As such, I feel somewhat qualified to discuss how they hold up over extended wear – but perhaps not their longevity over the truly long-term. I do plan to post an update once I’m over a year in to report a bit more on that side of things, but I hope that what follows provides a relatively thorough insight into what any prospective CP owner is getting themselves into by purchasing a pair.
So with that vital background information out of the way, we can proceed with the main event itself – the review.
To lay all my cards on the table from the start, I will make it known that my opinion of these shoes is that they are absolutely fucking beautiful. They are far and away my favourite and most worn pair of shoes, to the extent that I occasionally have to force myself to wear another pair so my other shoes don’t feel completely neglected. As such, I’ll try to lay out the objective facts as accurately as possible, but be aware that my words are coloured by my borderline infatuation.
So as is well-documented pretty much everywhere, the shoes have a very slim, smooth silhouette, from both the top and the side. When paired with slim or skinny jeans, this makes for a very clean look, which I find really attractive. Conversely however, I find that they do get “drowned” rather easily by a wider leg opening – for example, I never like the way my Unbranded UB101s look with them unless I pinroll. This obviously comes down to personal preference though.
The leather is thick, soft and supple. It literally reeks of quality – even after a full day’s wear, that delicious leather smell overrides any foot odour. As the observant among you may have already guessed, I also love the look of it: the finish is almost matte, but with just a little bit of sheen, which I really like. It even sounds great – the different bits of the upper make a lovely leathery sound when they rub against each other. I haven’t felt the need to taste them yet, but four out of my five senses are certainly satisfied.
Something that I’ve not seen mentioned often is the texture of the leather – there is a subtle grain texture throughout which I really like, as it seems to cause the leather to crease in a very attractive, natural-looking way. Contrast this with a pair of smooth, highly-polished dress shoes, where creases can often look very sharp and harsh:
As I would expect for sneakers at this pricepoint, all of the details are on point: the tongue is very thick and soft; the laces are everything laces should be; the infamous gold numbers add a bit of flair to the otherwise minimal design; the outsole looks great; and the stitching doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon.
Comfort and Sizing
Conventional sizing wisdom for CPs is that they run long and narrow, so you are advised to size down one size if you have normal-width feet, and take your regular size for wide feet. I am a measured size 11UK/12US/45EU in a wider width, and indeed after trying on a pair I found the 45s to fit me perfectly. Obviously you should ideally try them on for size before buying, but if this is impossible then use this as a rule of thumb.
Something else I read online before I got my pair was that they’re not particularly comfortable. I have to say that my experience has been completely the opposite – they are by far the most comfortable shoes that I own (to be fair though I don’t own any Nike or New Balance trainers, which are by all accounts the kings of comfort – so maybe my standards are just really low). The leather on the insole and tongue is incredibly soft and thick; walking in these shoes honestly feels like walking on marshmallow. There was also no break-in whatsoever – they were comfortable from day one, and I’ve never had blisters from them, even wearing them sockless.
The one caveat when it comes to comfort is that I have on occasion found them to be a little hot and stuffy, causing my feet to sweat a bit more than in some of my other shoes. This hasn’t caused me any great problems as yet, but then again the most I’ve had to deal with is British “summer”, so it might be something to keep in mind if you’re planning on wearing them in very hot environments.
Ageing and Care
Now as I mentioned, I bought my CPs lightly used, so I never experienced them in “box fresh” condition. But I have certainly worn them far more extensively than their previous owner, so they have aged more with me than they did before I got them.
First, a quick word on how I’ve taken care of them. As much as possible, I put cedar shoe trees in them whenever I’m not wearing them. I also try to avoid wearing them several days in a row, to give them time to recover, but with me loving them probably slightly more than I will my firstborn, that doesn’t always work out. I am yet to wear them in properly intense rain, but I have been caught in the odd shower while wearing them – I tend to just wipe them down afterwards once I get back inside.
Colourwise, my pair are doing pretty well – they’ve got plenty of scuffs, but the overall colour of the leather is still a nice clean white, with no signs of yellowing or discolouration. The outsoles on the other hand have scuffed and darkened quite noticeably, which I like – it means the shoes don’t look overly babied, and provides a contrast between the outsole and upper.
There are quite a few scuffs at this point – some caused by me, others by the previous owner. I’m actually kind of weirdly grateful to the previous owner for scuffing them a little bit, as it made it a bit easier to deal with the first few scuffs that I added – since they were never pristine to begin with, what’s a few added scratches here and there?
Really though, I like the added character the scuffs add to the shoes.
My pair also arrived complete with a few creases, most noticeably some rather deep ones across the toebox. Three months of wear by me has introduced some more creases, but as I mentioned earlier they look really natural and nice to me, and aren’t particularly noticeable.
I should also point out that as yet there is absolutely no sign of the sole separating from the upper – the dreaded gaps around the toe flexion point that plague every pair of Converse on this earth are yet to make an appearance. I’m no expert, but I put this down to the use of stitched rather than glued construction in attaching the sole to the upper.
The sole itself is starting to show some wear around the main points of contact with the ground, but not to an unreasonable degree – I’m sure I’ll get a lot more life out of them yet.
What I wear them with
My personal style is largely inspired by the clean, minimal, monochrome streetwear aesthetic often affectionately referred to as Dressed By The Internet. It could be argued that CPs are almost the posterboy shoe for this look, so I find that they go very well with almost every outfit I wear (in fact my interest in this style was very much catalysed by getting my CPs – but that’s a story for another day). I won’t bother repeating too much of what is said in the linked guide, but most of my go-to outfits are some combination of black or lightwash jeans, plain or minimally patterned monochrome tees, and a bomber or leather jacket. These are a few of my favourite examples:
Now that is not to say that these shoes only work in this relatively narrow style. It just happens to be the style that I enjoy wearing most, and one that CPs are very at home in. It is often said that plain white sneakers can be worn with pretty much any casual outfit, and that’s largely true. This is simply what I like to wear them with.
Where to buy them
So if my ramblings up to this point have successfully indoctrinated you into the Cult of Common Projects, you will naturally be wondering where to buy them.
If you’re rich and/or enamoured enough to buy them at retail, your best option is probably Tres Bien Shop. If you’re outside the EU you get a 20% discount for VAT, and from what I’ve heard TBS orders almost never get hit with customs charges when importing. If you’re in the UK like me, TBS had the best price I could find. For a full list of stores, check out the list of stockists in your country on the Common Projects website.
If you still have some degree of self-control left, you can wait for a sale or promotion. To maximise your chances I recommend signing up for email alerts from the big Common Projects retailers in your country (plus any international ones that interest you), and subscribing to /r/frugalmalefashion, where deals are posted regularly.
The last option, requiring the most patience but least money, is to wait around on Grailed or eBay to find a suitable pair. If you do this I strongly recommend finding a way to determine your size in advance to avoid life-crushing disappointment if after months of waiting you end up with the wrong size.