How Adidas Stan Smith became one of the most iconic sneakers in history.

I guess most of you have heard of Stan Smith’s and probably even own a pair. It isn’t surprising as this shoe can be pulled off effortlessly with almost anything. However it wasn’t designed as a lifestyle sneaker and at the beginning wasn’t even called Stan Smith, who by the way is a real person, not just a model of footwear.

Surprising beginnings of iconic sneaker

Horst Dassler – son of the founder of Adidas –  was responsible for the design of the first ever leather tennis shoe. First samples launched in 1963, but it wasn’t until 1965 when it was officially endorsed. Originally Adidas decided to name this shoe as “Adidas Robert Haillet”, after a french tennis star Robert Haillet. For 8 years Haillet was the face of this bestselling model. 

After his retirement from tennis, Adidas had to find another endorser. As a result they signed with Stan Smith in 1973. By the way this contract is one of the 50 most influential sneaker sponsorships in sports history. However Adidas was indecisive about changing the name of sneaker and until 1978 you could buy “Adidas Robert Haillet” aka Adidas Stan Smith – there was a signature of Haillet and portrait of Stan Smith situated on tongue. Finally in 1978 Adidas officially renamed it the Adidas Stan Smith. 

Ad for vintage Adidas Stan Smith sneakers
Vintage Stan Smith’s; Source:

What is special about Adidas Stan Smith?

Before Stan Smith’s, tennis shoes were made of canvas, so the idea of using only leather was quite controversial. In fact leather provided more support, preventing injuries. Nevertheless, as for today’s standards you probably wouldn’t actually go for this shoe when playing tennis, but back then it seemed comfortable.

Minimalistic design of this shoe is the reason why it still hasn’t fallen out of fashion even 50 years later. Leather upper features perforated stripes that represent the logo of Adidas. If you wonder why they didn’t just go for standard branding design, it was actually because tennis rules in the past didn’t allow stripes on the shoes for some reason. It stays atop a rubber sole that unfortunately doesn’t provide any special cushioning. 

Green foam padding didn’t appear in the original design, as it was added in 1967, whereas the Stan Smith portrait on the tongue was introduced in 1974. Speaking about Smith’s illustration , although it is how many people picture him, it actually lacks his signature moustache.

Initially production took place in Landersheim in north-eastern France. However with increased demand and lower cost of manufacturing in Asia the whole manufacturing process has been moved overseas in the 80’s. 

Ups and downs

With sportswear technology development in the 1980’s Stan Smith’s lost their dominance as a tennis performance shoe. However they didn’t go out of style and thrived as lifestyle sneakers. Upon 1995 sales had broken a whooping 23 millions pairs situating them as one of the best selling sneakers in the history. 

It was only a matter of time for Adidas to design a new iteration of their bestselling model. The turn of the 21st century was a perfect moment for that, namely Adidas Stan Smith 2. Most notable change was a thicker tongue, lacking a Stan Smith portrait. Instead there was a leather patch saying “Adidas Stan Smith”. Green padding on the heel featured just a trefoil logo without the model’s name.

Moving to 2008, the so-called Stan Smith 80’s hit the shelves. It was just a replica of the original model, but with a few retro twists, namely yellowing on outsole and laces, providing a worn out look. Despite that demand for this model started to decrease and one could often find them discounted in stores.

Why are Stan Smith sneakers so popular today?

Iconic moment that brought Stan Smiths back into the spotlight came from a quite unexpected place. In 2011 Phoebe Philo, a creative director of Celine at this time, took her bow at the end of F/W collection wearing Stan Smiths. High fashion geeks amazed by her look stormed the stores to buy themselves a pair. It was a sign for Adidas to focus on Stan Smiths again, however what they did surprised everyone.

Instead of profiting from the popularity of the shoe, Adidas decided to stop the production of this model for two years. The idea was simple, if people can’t instantly buy what they want, they will desire it even more.

Adidas Stan Smith different colorways

And they were right. When sneakers finally were reproduced in 2014 everyone was obsessed with them. To accelerate hype even more Adidas personalised them for celebrities like Pharell Williams who wore them everywhere. 2015 was the time of booming collaborations on this model. Most notably with Pharell Williams, Raf Simons or Yohji Yamamoto. Right now you can find plenty of colorways of this sneaker, even with boost cushioning. Nevertheless the OG version is ahead of the curve, defending itself with iconic design and nostalgia.


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