Stan Smith remembers the moment his sneaker became an “it” shoe.
“My daughter came home and said, ‘Dad, you’re famous,’” he told Footwear News. “‘Jay-Z just wrote a song with your name in it.’”
That was back in 2001, when the court sneaker was a hot item in urban circles. This year, the Adidas Stan Smith had another major comeback, finding its way onto the feet of everyone from millennial hipsters to the glittering fashionati. That widespread popularity, as well as a series of high-profile collaborations, have earned it the first FN Achievement Award for Shoe of the Year.
“Since making its way from the tennis court to the streets, the Stan Smith has grown to become the best-selling shoe of all time [for our company], with more than 40 million pairs sold worldwide [over its lifetime],” said Arthur Hoeld, GM for Adidas Originals.
Launched in 1972, the low-top sneaker was the first leather tennis shoe on the market. During development, it was originally named after French tennis player Robert Haillet, but Adidas rechristened it following Haillet’s retirement, choosing then-tennis pro Smith as the new face. (Smith had just won major titles, including the 1968 U.S. Open and 1970 Australian Open.)
“We had a relationship then with the Association of Tennis Professionals, so a lot of players started wearing the shoe,” Smith said. “I remember losing to a guy wearing my shoe, and I didn’t think it was right.”
Over the years, the tennis sneaker has seen its share of hardships. In 2012, Adidas pulled it off shelves but continued to monitor the market for a resurrection. “We tried to anticipate the right timing by predicting a re-emergence of the clean-shoe-silhouette trend,” Hoeld said.
That moment came the following year, when Adidas initiated a relaunch that focused on collaborations with top stores and designers.
French retailer Colette was one of the first to partner with Adidas on a number of exclusive Stan Smiths. It initially introduced 10 hand-painted styles by singer Pharrell Williams, which eventually carried over into his own collection for Adidas. Colette also offered a 100-pair run of a blue polka-dot version, which Smith signed at the store’s Paris location in June.
“Stan Smiths have seen a resurgence beyond the realm of hip-hop and have penetrated the menswear market,” said Matthew Henson, fashion editor at Complex and stylist to rapper A$AP Rocky. “There is minimal logo. It’s a low-profile, slim silhouette, and [it] works well with suiting as well as any casual outfit.”
Designer Raf Simons has also put his own spin on the Stan Smith, replacing the shoe’s signature three stripes with a perforated “R.” The partnership, which began this past fall, continues for spring ’15 with new colorways such as cherry red and pale pink.
“With the increased focus and hype around the Adidas Stan Smith this year, it was great [that Raf and Adidas were] able to give the customer a spin on the classic,” said John Wong, a men’s buyer at online retailer East Dane. “And the customer appreciates that Raf didn’t make any huge changes to the design.”
The Stan Smith also owes much of its shining status to celebrity endorsements from top influencers such as Kanye West and Céline’s Phoebe Philo. As a result, the shoe has become decidedly unisex, appearing in dozens of women’s fashion magazines, including a Vogue Paris editorial featuring a nude Gisele Bündchen wearing only the shoes.
“A lot of women have come up to me to tell me they love wearing the shoe. I don’t even think of it as being a shoe for men anymore,” said Smith. “I sent the photograph [of Gisele] to my male friends and a few of them got back saying, ‘What shoe?’”
Looking ahead, Hoeld said Adidas will continue to innovate with new collaborations for the Stan Smith and enjoy this latest success — something its namesake never imagined.
“It was a five-year agreement to start with, and it just continued to go,” said Smith. “I never thought the shoe would still be around today — not in my wildest dreams.”