- Words by Mr Josh Sims
A 67-year-old two-time Grand Slam tennis champion and a kid practising the half-pipe may at first seem to have little in common. Until, perhaps, one looked at their feet. The former could well be wearing the classic tennis shoe named for him by adidas in 1971 - the Stan Smith - and so, more than 40 years and 40 million pairs later, could the kid. And the connection goes deeper still: "When I was playing... I'd secretly go out after [tennis training] and get my skateboard," Mr Smith says.
Mr Stan Smith in action during the 1972 Wimbledon Men's Singles Final
Photo Getty Images
Mr Smith's achievement as a tennis player has arguably been overshadowed by the moniker he lent to the world's first leather tennis sneaker (the design had previously been endorsed by French tennis player Mr Robert Haillet in the 1960s). "Some people think I'm a shoe," says Mr Smith, who now co-owns a tennis academy in South Carolina.
Over the decades, Stan Smiths have benefitted from a periodic sub-cultural appropriation - from the label-obsessed football casuals (read: hooligan fans) of the 1980s to Brit Pop-loving indie kids of the 1990s and box-fresh-and-bling rappers of the 2000s. And they have always been a collectors' favourite in Japan. Mr David Bowie wore them in the 1970s and Jay-Z recommends them for his Hampton packing list, along with one's "Hermès boat shoes", on his 2002 track "Jigga That Nigga".
Still, not even the marketers at adidas could have dreamed how well 2014 has gone for the Stan Smith. Messrs Kanye West and Pharrell Williams have been papped wearing the latest incarnations this year. Ms Gisele Bündchen has been photographed naked but for a pair. And at last month's menswear catwalk shows in London, Milan and Paris, the simple white leather sneakers were popping up on telltale feet.
Mr Pharrell Williams attends the annual Serpentine Galley Summer Party,
London, July 2014
Photo Stuart C Wilson/ Getty Images
"After the explosion of tech sneakers the past few seasons, a number of designers have turned back to the simple timelessness of a classic tennis sneaker - the most obvious point of reference being the adidas Stan Smith, the ultimate in classic tennis cool," explains Mr Sam Lobban, Senior Buyer for MR PORTER. "Raf Simons included these in his SS15 runway show, and we have his first collaborative Stan Smith on site now. In terms of designer interpretations of this style, these were seen at Valentino, Gucci, Common Projects, Ami, and even a platform version from Alexander McQueen, to name a few." All of which will keep the tennis shoe at the forefront of fashion for the foreseeable future, making it a smart investment to buy into now.
But just what is so special about Stan Smiths in particular? "The style is subtly representative of affluence, whether that be through their association with what many see as the golden era of tennis or the fact that their endorsee personifies the ultimate gentleman - and street fashion has always, to some degree, been about aspiration," says Mr Gary Aspden, Stan Smith super-fan and the brand consultant behind the lasting resurgence of adidas Originals. "But the style is also ripe for customisation because it's such a blank canvas." And quite literally: last year artists Messrs Jake and Dinos Chapman were given Stans to hand-paint for a charity auction.
Creative director at Dior, Mr Raf Simons on the runway at Paris Fashion Week, Paris, June 2014
Photo Getty Images
Perhaps the style's endurance can ultimately be attributed to its Bauhausian "less is more" aesthetic. It's one that means it isn't dependent on nostalgia for rediscovery, especially appealing in a sneaker world full of quickly dating, loud graphics, pop colours and techy fabrics.
This has made Stan Smiths something of an Everyman shoe. Track down a box-fresh pair of original French-made Stans if you can - super rare, since production soon went offshore, and still a sacred grail for sneaker heads. Or just wear a beaten-up pair with some rolled khakis - Stans are one of the few white sneakers that genuinely look better with age, as Mr Raf Simons demonstrated when taking a bow following his Christian Dior show last month. When asked about why he collaborated with adidas on the Stan Smith, Mr Simons cited its everlasting appeal as the biggest factor: "As a young man, I was totally obsessed with adidas. For decades, I only wore Stan Smith sneakers. What I find particularly interesting is that adidas sells products that stay the same for many years, such as Stan Smiths." And in these days of sports luxe, when tailoring meets streetwear, you can also rock a box-fresh pair with a suit. Any which way you wear them, the lack of visual clutter works. There's even a democratic quality to the name Stan Smith. Perhaps that's why the creators of American Dad! borrowed it for their lead character.
"The simplicity of their design just makes them so incredibly versatile," says Mr Aspden. "For me they're the ultimate modernist trainer - nothing is there that needn't be. They've been copied and referenced by a host of different fashion designers but these dilutions just don't have the integrity of the original shoe. They truly are the greatest trainers of all time."
Fashion editor Mr Robert Rabensteiner at Paris Fashion Week, Paris, January 2014
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