Many have heard of the legendary Adidas Stan Smith sneaker.
But fewer are aware that the shoe, first introduced in 1963 and recently hailed as one of the most important sneakers in the world, takes its name from former No. 1 tennis player Stan Smith.
To boot, a lot of the trendsetters bopping around in Stan Smiths today probably weren’t even born by the time Smith had retired from tennis in 1985.
The shoe’s recent popularity is somewhat surprising, considering the sneaker hadn’t sold particularly well in previous decades: Adidas even pulled Stan Smiths off the shelves in 2012.
It was reintroduced to much fanfare in 2014, with an aggressive social media campaign targeting celebrities. For the stunt, Adidas sent A-listers shoes with their portrait on the tongue, instead of the usual drawing of Smith, according to an interview Smith did for the book “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture.”
From there, the shoe’s popularity just exploded. Supermodel Gisele Bündchen wore them (and nothing else) on the cover of Vogue, and they started appearing everywhere from the red carpet to the runway at Alexander Wang’s spring/summer 2015 show. Cementing the shoe’s cultural influence, song lyric annotation portal Genius.com lists approximately 350 Stan Smith mentions.
Since its 2014 re-release, collaborators have come out of the woodwork to put their spin on the shoe. High profile brands like RAF Simons, White Mountaineering, Wings + Horns, and Fragment Designs Kazuki Kuraishi have all designed a version of the sneaker in partnership with Adidas.
Singer Pharrell released his own line of hand-painted Stan Smiths, which sold out almost immediately.
And Footwear News named it “Shoe of the Year” for its “widespread popularity” during the same year the shoe returned to stores. According to an Adidas spokesperson, the company sold more Stan Smiths in 2014 than in 2010 to 2013 combined.
Going back to the year it was born, 1963, the shoe was a revelation for the sport of tennis — but it wasn’t called the Stan Smith.
It first appeared as the “Halliet,” after French tennis player Robert Halliet. The Halliet caught on because it was constructed out of leather and offered a lot more support; most tennis shoes at that time were made of canvas.
When Smith became No. 1 in 1972, Adidas tapped him to co-brand the shoe, as Halliet wasn’t too well-known outside of France and had recently retired. For a while, the shoe was confusingly named after both players: Smith’s portrait adorned the tongue, while Halliet’s name was written across the sole from 1973 to 1978.
After 1978, the shoe was renamed the Adidas Stan Smith, as we know it today.
What’s changed since ’78? In addition to the original green and white shoe, Adidas also sells versions with red and navy substituting for the green. Additionally, there’s a variety of materials to choose from, including suede and knit, as well as colourful models with artwork and those designer collaborations we mentioned earlier.
What hasn’t changed is the reason this shoe has endured and sold over 40 million pairs since its inception: Its simple lines and low profile are timeless, explaining in part its perennial popularity.
If you ask Smith, however, he’d just say its the shoe’s “simple design” and “clean white colour” that have made it such a permanent fixture on and off the court. “It’s fun to see people from all walks of life coming back to the shoe,” Smith said in the book.