The On Cloudnova Is the First Great Sneaker of the WFH Era

11 May 2020
Fashion, Sneaker, WFH, Cloudnova, On Running Cloudnova
Images: Courtesy of On Running / Gabe Conte
Inside the cult Swiss running label's first-ever lifestyle shoe

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The outsoles on a typical pair of running shoes from On, the cult Swiss athletics company, look like a cross between the tread on a bulldozer and an uncooked lasagna noodle. That's intentional: the shoes use a proprietary technology dubbed CloudTec, engineered to propel your foot from a soft landing into an explosive takeoff, and it marks them as purpose-built tools—as sneakers go, they're more of a Formula One race car than a daily driver. They’re built for hardcore runners by hardcore runners, designed to eke out every last inch of competitive advantage when you’re training for a marathon or scrambling down a tricky stretch of trail. Which, ironically enough, is also what makes them exactly right for this particular moment in sneaker culture.

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Because technical performance runners have been ascendant in fashion circles for years now: Salomon’s XT-6 trail shoe was GQ's best sneaker of 2019, and you’re as likely to see a gargantuan pair of Hokas on the feet of a SoHo window shopper as you are on the road runner sprinting past them on the pavement. The practicality and high-key techiness are part of the appeal, and On’s shoes—the brainchild of world champion duathlete Olivier Bernhard—are nothing but practical and high-key techy. So when On began plotting a formal move into the lifestyle sneaker market more than a year ago, the brand could have easily followed the path walked by their competitors: re-release an older model in a wavy new colorway, perhaps, or simply shift the marketing around one of their current sneakers to make it feel more everyday-friendly. Instead, On being On, they decided to go another route entirely.

“It just didn’t make sense for us to go back to the archives and reissue something,” says David Allemann, the design guru who co-founded On with Bernhard and Caspar Coppetti back in 2010. “Our brand is always driven by functional experience. If we were going to do this, it had to be relevant—relevant to our times, and relevant for a new lifestyle that’s emerging.”

To do that, On built an entirely new silhouette, the Cloudnova, from the ground up. They started with those springy CloudTec soles and their patented Speedboard, which gives wearers a smooth rolling sensation, but reimagined both for regular life. “When you’re running, it’s pretty much always a forward movement,” Allemann says. “But if this is your everyday shoe, we had to be much more flexible: you might hop on your skateboard, or you’re on a bike, or you’re just walking.” The Cloudnova’s platform is both broader and sleeker to account for that greater range of motion, and to help you feel more stable if you’re spending all day on your feet. Up top, Allemann’s team kept the aesthetics as minimal as possible, with a spongy inner sock lining that hugs and flexes with your foot like a great pair of yoga pants.

The result is a sneaker with all the authentic good looks and advanced technology of the cutting-edge kicks that are dominating the sidewalks right now, but also the comfort and construction necessary to hold up to the rigors of your day-to-day. You can work in them, skate in them, grocery shop in them, and, yeah, maybe even go for a run in them, too. “I definitely ran five miles in them without a problem,” Allemann shrugs.

At a time when our wardrobes are shifting and consolidating in strange and unexpected ways, the idea of a shoe that can really, truly do it all feels more timely than ever. To capitalize on that timeliness, On moved up the release of the Cloudnova by more than a month.

“We felt the new reality that we have right now was asking for a new sneaker,” Allemann says. "Our generation was already living a life where work, home, play, and sports were all fusing together anyhow, and that process is now happening at lightspeed because there are suddenly 4.9 billion people doing everything at home. If you’re on Zoom conferences right now, you probably see some people in the same hoodie for the whole week, because it’s comfortable and functional and they can do everything they need to in it. We want the Cloudnova to be the shoe equivalent of that.”

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If all that sounds worth investigating to you, the On Cloudnova dropped today for $150. The limited release sold out instantly on On's webstore, but you can still pick up a pair at select retailers like Dover Street Market, Bodega, and Shoe Gallery. If sneakerheads take to the Cloudnova the way Allemann expects them to—and wear them at home in all the ways he anticipates—we might be a few regrettable tweets away from calling them the Quarcore 1s.

On Running Cloudnova Men's, $150 at Dover Street Market


Via GQ