Common Projects Achilles Retro: The (Expensive) Standard
The Common Projects Achilles Retro is an (almost) no compromise sneaker for those looking to simply buy the best.
The Common Projects Achilles Retro demands a price for the brand, and very similar alternatives can be had for much less.
|Weight||552 g / 1 lb 3.5 oz|
|Construction||Cemented / Sewn Outsole|
|Country of Origin||Italy|
Common Projects, and their famous Achilles, first started as a brand back in 2004. At the time, there really wasn’t much in the way of plain, well-made sneakers. Sure, you could get the latest Jordan with the best tech, or you could get an affordable pair of white All Stars, but none of them were appropriate for an office. As style began to get more casual, Common Projects founders Prathan Poopat and Flavio Girolami wanted something different.
Originally it started as a side project. They commissioned a few pairs for themselves, but only so they could be comfortable at their 9-5s. However, as people saw them, they started to get bugged to do another run. And they did. First it was 60 pairs per run. Then 600. Soon, they were doing collaborations with big name brands and were the “it” high end sneaker.
Since that inception, though, there have been plenty of people who have followed in their footsteps. Getting an extremely similar looking sneaker is easy, even at a much more affordable price. Instead of lowering their price to match, Common Projects have unashamedly kept themselves at the top of the white sneaker price pyramid.
Are they worth it? Let’s dive in and find out.
When it comes to the upper of the Common Project Achilles Retro, there really isn’t much to it. The vast majority is stark white. I don’t prefer entirely white sneakers, so I went with the “Retro” variant. This adds a colored tab on the heel, and sees the stitching on the ankle cut down to the outsole about half-way down the shoe’s opening.
It’s easy to forget, but when the Common Projects first came out, it pioneered many of the “classic white sneaker” designs that we think of today. The swooping curve out along the lace eyelet panel, the six-eyelet design, the slightly padded collar. Each of these are what most people think of when you have a leather white sneaker pop into your mind, but that was far from standardized in 2003.
It’s undeniable that the original vision for the Common Projects Achilles, and this Retro edition, were stylish. Stylish enough to set the mold everyone else followed.
Details are equally minimal. On this pair you’ll find the aforementioned colored heel tab in red. More importantly, though, are the gold stamped numbers on the heel of the sneaker. These do have a meaning – the style code, size, and color – though mostly they are just for looks. The stitching is also extremely well done.
Inside, the sneaker is mostly unlined, with just the first inch or so of the opening and the insole featuring leather. Otherwise, your sock hits the inside of the white leather upper.
Mid- and Outsole
If you liked the simplicity of the upper, you’re going to love the mid and outsole of the Common Projects Achilles Retro. The entire mid and outsole is made of a single-piece cup outsole. Even what looks to be foxing tape on the toe and heel are actually molded into the original rubber.
Underneath, a wave pattern can be found under foot – though it’s so shallow it likely doesn’t do anything for grip.
The key take away for me is just how well done the stitching is. It isn’t perfect, but it’s probably the best sewn sneaker outsole I’ve ever seen.
When it all comes down to it, there really isn’t all that much to the Common Projects Achilles Retro. It really is just a simple white sneaker. It goes with nearly everything – shorts, chinos, jeans. Heck, I’ve even seen people wear them with a casual suit and not look that bad.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to wear them with a suit myself, and most of my denim is too thick for them, they do work great in every other way. I personally wore them to a large trade show recently and they worked just as well with slacks and a jacket as with a polo and shorts later that day.
We’ll get into the price later, but from a style perspective, they really can’t be beat.
Fit & Comfort
Before I get too into this I want to make a point that the sizing on the Common Projects Achilles has changed over time. When this sneaker first made it big, they fit a bit smaller than they do today. If you’re doing your research, be sure to look for reviews after 2015 or so.
The next thing you need to know is that Common Projects uses European sizing for their sneakers. There are plenty of conversion charts online, but it does add a bit to the confusion.
With all of that out of the way, the Common Projects Achilles fits very narrow for a sneaker – especially in the toe box – but not overly short or long. If you have particularly wide feet, it’s entirely possible that no size will fit you comfortably. If this sounds like you, I’d strongly suggest purchasing from a retailer that offers returns.
I personally took these in a size 46, which converts to my typical sneaker size of 13. Even then, I find them narrower than I would prefer. For comparison, I wear a 13 in Jordan 1s, and a 12.5 in Stan Smiths.
A full list of sizing for every shoe reviewed on this site can be found here.
The Common Projects Achilles isn’t the most comfortable sneaker in the world, but it’s fine for what its purpose is. There isn’t much in the way of “sneaker tech” in the shoe. Other than a thin layer of foam, it’s mostly just the rubber that is giving impact protection.
I wouldn’t want to go for a run in these, but for a day at the office I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
Materials & Construction
The upper of the Common Projects Achilles is made with nappa leather. Most commonly used on the seats of high-end cars, the leather prioritizes supple feel over durability. While some reviewers have knocked this leather for not being veg-tanned, doing so would stiffen up the leather and defeat the whole reason for selecting nappa.
The only other major component of the sneaker is the Margom made outsole. These are an off the shelf part (you can buy them yourself, if you like) but are a good mix between comfort and durability.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a leatherboard heel cap and a fiberboard midsole with a foam padding glued to the bottom of the leather insole. The sneaker also includes a metal shank. As I’ve said 100 times, I prefer fiberglass to metal for security check points, but I understand I’m a bit out of the norm there.
Overall, there is nothing to complain about when it comes to the materials of this sneaker. There were no corners cut.
The Common Projects Achilles is made using a combination of cemented construction and a sewn on outsole. To make a sneaker this way, first the upper is glued to the outsole. Then, the outsole is sewn directly to the upper along the top edge.
This style of construction was very popular several decades ago, but has mostly been replaced by pure cemented construction.
The benefits of making a sneaker this way is that it is incredibly water resistant, and can be resoled – though it isn’t particularly easy. The draw backs are that it won’t be quite as flexible as a modern sneaker, and costs more to make.
I should also add, these are made in Italy. While labor laws in Italy are laxer than most other first world countries, it does still cost more to make than most sneaker factories.
Ease of Care
The nappa leather upper definitely feels nicer, but will make these sneakers a bit harder to take care of. With only a minimal pigment layer on top, rather than the thick plastic coating on most sneakers, stains will set quicker and more permanently compared to what you might be used to. It comes with the territory of using more natural materials.
You’ll also want to condition these sneakers, if possible. Again, something you don’t typically do with sneakers. Any conditioner will do fine, though I personally think that Bick 4 offers the best value. Finally, they will really benefit from shoe trees. Wooden ones are best, but a plastic pair will do 90% of the job for 50% of the price.
As I mentioned above, you can resole these, but it won’t be cheap. Figure on around $150 in most major cities, and you’ll probably only be able to do it once before the upper gives out.
Priced at $447, there is no getting around that these are a pricy sneaker. There are plenty of boots, with twice the leather and manpower in them, that cost that much.
If you really want the Common Projects brand, the good news is that you can find them on sale from time to time. At least if you don’t want the pure white.
My suggestion would be the pair in this review – the Achilles Retro. I personally think it looks better full stop, but these can regularly be found for under $300. The all-blue, grey, black, etc. Achilles can be found at a similar price point.
Common Projects Alternatives
If you’re looking for a Common Projects alternative, there are countless options. For a direct copy, the Gustin White Top Low was clearly designed to look nearly identical. It’s priced at $189. Koio used do the same, though recently they changed up their pattern to stand a bit more on their own. You can find them for $295.
For those who just want a white sneaker, but are OK with details different from the Common Projects, Greats is another choice. A bit chunkier in style, you can find them for $129.
One thing you’ll notice about all of these, though, is that while they look similar, the details are going to be slightly off. The stitching and cutting might not be as clean, or they don’t use the same quality leather.
Of course, it would be impossible to leave out the sneaker that started it all – the Adidas Stan Smith. The Stan Smith comes in so many lines it was a meme a few years back, but you can find a plastic pair for $80 or an all-leather pair for around $150. Cutting those prices in half during a sale is pretty easy.
Are They Worth It?
OK, here is the big question. At $447 – or maybe a more reasonable $300 – are they worth it?
If you’re worried about spending that much on a pair of sneakers – no. They are not. The materials in them are good, but nothing in them justifies the price that they are asking. If this sounds like you, I would personally skip the Common Projects knock-offs and go to the daddy: the Stan Smith in leather. They are good enough for Presidents, so they are probably good enough for you.
However, what if spending that much on a pair of sneakers doesn’t make you lose sleep? Here your goal is probably to make sure you’re not being had. In that case, I think it’s a different story. Sometimes you just want to know what you are getting is a high-quality product, and you’re willing to pay for that luxury. You don’t want to spend 3 hours figuring out the Stan Smith tier list, and you don’t want to wait 15 months for Gustin to deliver your sneakers.
This is where the Common Projects shine. It’s buying a slower iPhone for $400 more than a top-spec Samsung because you know it will work how you want it to. Heck, the gold lettering on the side is kind of green bubble-ish – it let’s everyone know you’re in the club.
I don’t think I’d ever recommend a pair of Common Projects – but I don’t think you’re making the wrong decision if you buy one.