Three Of Our Favourite Classic Sneakers

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Three Of Our Favourite Classic Sneakers

Words by Mr Sam Diss

3 October 2016

The history behind iconic trainer styles by Nike, Vans and adidas.

The Oxford English Dictionary attributes the first use of the word “sneakers” or “sneaks” to British prison officers in 1895, who used it to refer to the quiet rubber-soled shoes worn by inmates. Thankfully, things have gotten a little less intense since then.

After 121 years of innovation and shiny, new technological advancement, modern sneakers – made by everyone from Lanvin to Valentino to Mr Kanye West – are lauded for their comfort, durability and style and, given their casual versatility, can act as an entry point for many men into the world of fashion. And although we like to keep abreast of the styles that break new ground (Y-3, anyone?), some of the most loved and best-designed sneakers were created decades ago.

Every so often a pair of sneakers is created that exists away from the idle tide of trends and is immune to the busy hands of laboratorial redesign. Gimmick-less, pristine, devoid of tricky geometric elements or difficult-to-match palettes, a truly classic pair of sneakers will stand the test of time. And, while we can enjoy the refined, contemporary fare offered by high-fashion brands today, there really is nothing quite like owning a piece of history from the likes of Nike, adidas, or Vans.

Here are three classic sneaker styles we particularly like, and the story behind their rise.

In 1965, adidas named the first ever full-leather tennis shoes after the middling French player Mr Robert Haillet but, when he retired, the baton (or racket) passed to the considerably better Mr Stan Smith in 1971. And while Mr Smith signed a contract with the brand in 1973, it wasn’t until five years later that adidas finally changed the name on the tongue from “Haillet” to “Stan Smith”, and an icon was born. Since surpassed on the court by more technical footwear meeting the demands of modern-day athletes, Stan Smiths are now the highest-selling adidas sneakers of all time (in 2014, it was reported that 40 million pairs had been sold). Their versatility and classic styling, their low-profile silhouette and durable sole, the coloured-foam heel-panel introduced as extra Achilles protection and that iconic, vital pop of colour have all helped the shoes become a timeless staple of minimalist cool.

Californian brand Vans introduced this so-called “Style 36” in 1977. What started as a random doodle – a squiggly line on a sheet of paper, drawn by brand founder Mr Paul Van Doren – became an instant hit on the side of the shoes. Originally referred to by Mr Van Doren as the “jazz stripe”, the squiggle soon became the hallmark of the brand, synonymous with the world of skateboarding. Old Skool sneakers have been worn by skate deities like Mr Henry Sanchez and Mr Guy Mariano, and cult figures such as Mr Julien Stranger, but their simple, rugged composition belies their flexibility – they slot seamlessly into civilian wardrobes, too. Perfect for the hardcore and punk-inspired styling of a band like Minor Threat (who also wore the shoes) – Old Skools effortlessly blend nostalgia and modern nuance, and this latest iteration of the design utilises delicate combinations of textiles such as suede and canvas for a slightly more refined feel.

A retro runner born of the incredibly competitive late-1980s jogging market, Air Odysseys have graduated from the harsh world of pavement pounding into an immensely versatile and stylish pair of shoes. First introduced in 1987, the Air Odyssey style features a dual-density foam sole unit to ensure firm, comfortable footing along with cushioned ankle-support and specific straight last design which cuts down on foot pronation (when the foot rolls inward), making it one of the most comfortable designs Mr Phil Knight and his Nike crew have ever produced. Besides their serene feel, the Air Odyssey’s wide silhouette, chunky outsole and boot-inspired double-eyelet lacing juxtapose brilliantly with the luxe materials, making it the perfect off-duty footwear for the discerning man.