25 Classic Kicks

All shoes cover the feet, but some shoes capture the soul — and nothing has grabbed attention or spurred more obsessions than sneakers. Over the 90-plus years that athletic kicks have been on the scene, they have left an indelible mark on pop culture. Years or even decades after a shoe’s release, an iconic style can still set collectors’ hearts racing and keep fans waiting in line for hours. To define the true classics, Footwear News surveyed retailers, bloggers, sneaker-heads, designers and editors to find out which styles changed history, which still send pulses soaring and which hold court on the sneaker scene today. Here are 25 looks that made history.

Click to View a Slideshow of the 25 Kicks>>

Converse Chuck Taylor>>

Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star

The sneaker first marketed as the All-Star has lived up to its name: Some say the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star is the best-selling, most successful shoe in history — so much so, in fact, that the style usually just goes by “Chucks” and is still instantly recognizable. The vulcanized canvas style first appeared in 1917, when Converse created a shoe for the still-emerging basketball market. Available in both high- and low-top versions, the simple silhouette was worn by then-high school player (and eventual pro) Charles Taylor. In 1921, Taylor, in need of a job, approached Converse’s Chicago offices and asked for a sales gig. He also gave the company some priceless pointers: make the shoe more flexible and add a patch for ankle support, he suggested. With Taylor’s changes (and his signature on the patch alongside the star Converse is now known for) the shoe struck a new spark — one that Taylor, a tireless salesman and promoter, fanned into a steady business. By 1966 (shortly before Taylor’s death), Converse controlled the majority of the sneaker market, but hard times and changing fashions led Converse to a bankruptcy filing in 2001. Athletic juggernaut Nike stepped in and bought the brand in 2003, leading the company to a rebound, and today, the unisex Chuck Taylor style is available in every color of the rainbow, in every imaginable fabric and in every size. And its famous fans include designer John Varvatos, whose allegiance to the classic black version led him to a deal with Converse and a line of shoes, many of which take their inspiration from the All-Star.

Puma Clyde>>

Puma Clyde

The low-cut kicks Puma called the Clyde have become one of the most recognizable shoes of all time. Created in 1973 for legendary New York Knicks point guard Walt Frazier, the shoes honored Frazier’s desire for a wider fit, and with their grippy outsole and suede upper, they became the newest thing in basketball shoes. Embroidered on the side was “Clyde,” a nickname other players had given Frazier for his outlandishly sharp outfits and on-court ball steals, both of which put his fellow players in mind of high-style gangster Clyde Barrow. The style made waves off-court as well, becoming the first non-canvas sneaker to emerge from basketball as a legitimate leisure style. Embraced by hip-hop — and those who liked to spray paint the sides of subway cars — the Clyde was also the progenitor of personalized kicks. Fashion-savvy Clyde wearers were known for customizing their pairs by coloring in the wide band of leather that served as the Puma logo and matching up new laces. Puma, like other athletic brands, would later create a design-your-own program that built on what the Clyde wearers had started. But fans of the low-profile style will still have to break out the markers if they can’t find the right color combo among the many Puma offerings: The Clyde isn’t currently on the customize-your-own menu.

Adidas Stan Smith>>

Adidas Stan Smith

In 1965, Adidas introduced a tennis shoe designed for top player Robert Haillet. But in 1971, with Haillet’s star waning, the German company approached American phenom Stan Smith to see if he would consider putting his name on an Adidas model. Soon after, the Haillet style was rechristened the “Stan Smith” and a sneaker-world icon was born. In addition to its all-leather upper and grass-court outsole, the new shoe kept another feature from the Haillet: It didn’t apply the brand’s three-stripe trademark, relying on a perfed call out instead. That original perforated design, which provided ventilation in addition to subtle branding, has become maybe the most recognizable aspect of the Stan Smith, even as Adidas has treated the shoe to new materials and a whole spectrum of new colors. In 1998, the company brought a new version of the classic to the market with the Stan Smith Millennium (part of its reissued icons Millennium series) that preserved the perfed logo while updating the outsole and upper. Of course, there wasn’t any need: The original Stan Smith continues to be a best-seller for the company (to date, more than 30 million pairs have been sold worldwide) with the original white-and-green design still turning heads.

New Balance 990>>

New Balance 990

New Balance ushered in a new era in technical running with 1982’s 990 runner. The shoe had more EVA foam for extra cushioning, used a Vibram outsole for long-distance durability and used the brand’s Encap heel technology for extra stability. And priced at $100, the shoe broke the C-note ceiling and still became the bestselling shoe of the day, proving that serious runners didn’t mind shelling out the dough for top-of-the-line goods. Updates in 1985 (the 995) and 1988 (the 996) enhanced the cushioning. In 1993, the company launched its Absorbz cushioning in the 998 update, and kept tweaking the shoe in 1996 (the 999) and 1998 (the 990) before retooling the sneaker again for the 991, which debuted in 2001 with a new upper and new shape. The series (the 991 and the 993 are both available today) is the cornerstone of the brand, both for runners who love its cushioning, stability and variety of widths, and for sneaker fans who dig its classic silhouette. Consider this: Apple’s Steve Jobs wears them to the point that he is almost an unofficial spokesman — almost enough to make the shoe a classic in and of itself.

Vans Classic Slip-On>>

Vans Classic Slip-On

Major movies have a huge hand in shaping trends, and one 1980s flick managed to create an instant hit in the shoe world — and helped establish the fortunes of one iconic sneaker brand. Orange Country, Calif.-based Vans launched in 1966 with a slip-on style, but in 1977 the company evolved it into a shoe that would transport — and translate — that laid-back California culture to the rest of the world. The Classic Slip-On bears all the hallmarks of a skate style: Vulcanized construction and a low-profile silhouette provide good board feel, the brand’s trademark waffle sole pattern (replacing the earlier siped style) keeps the shoes in contact with the board, and the laceless construction makes it easy to wear. But the style quickly expanded beyond its skate and surf base when BMXers adopted it, and it really hit the big time when actor Sean Penn donned a pair of Vans in a distinctive checkerboard pattern (first released in 1979) for his role as stoner Jeff Spicoli in 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Penn’s turn as the ultimate California surfer-slacker was so memorable that to many, the checker-board version of the Classic Slip-On have another name: Spicolis.

Nike Air Force 1>>

Nike Air Force 1

Is the Air Force 1 the biggest basketball shoe ever? Maybe. Nike’s iconic 1982 high-top basketball style can certainly lay a valid claim to a lot of mosts: most collected, most sold, most versions made. But given its staggering success today (more than 11 million pairs sold each year) the AF1 was initially planned as a one-season one-off by legendary Nike designer Bruce Kilgore, and it was notable at the time for being the first to feature Nike’s Air technology through the entire length of the sole. Luckily for kicks fans, however, retailers pressured the Beaverton, Ore.-based athletic giant to bring back the shoe, which it did in 1984. And it hasn’t looked back since — well, at least not until 2007, when Nike celebrated the style’s silver anniversary with a year of limited-edition releases and special makeups. While some fans (even some of the most devout) accused the company of saturating the market with limited editions, sales have remained strong. Retailers say the classic white-on-white colorway has had a resurgence in the recession era, and the AF1 continues to draw low-profile and high-profile fans (Nelly, Jay-Z, Jerome Bettis and others).

Air Jordan I>>

Air Jordan I

When then-struggling Nike signed rookie phenom Michael Jordan to a shoe contract in 1984 (five years, $2.5 million), the company saw a chance to make its mark on the basketball world. The first salvo in that sneaker battle arrived in 1985: a Peter Moore-designed, black-and-red high-top that immediately created controversy when the NBA disallowed its use (citing the aforementioned red-and-black colorway as being against its uniform policy). But Jordan wore the shoes anyway, and the $5,000 per game Nike reportedly forked over to pay his fines may have been one of the smartest investments it ever made. The Air Jordan became a runaway success, spawning plenty of knockoffs and launching a shoe dynasty that would eventually outlast the career of its namesake — and become a company in its own right with its own athletes. There are said to be more colorups and versions of the Jordan I than any other model in the franchise, and while the 1994 re-release of the shoe was a flop, the 2001 retro version was a near-instant sellout. And the Jordan franchise continues to expand. After the brand came to a crossroads in 2009 with its 23rd shoe — a marker many wondered would end the Air Jordan franchise given the number’s significance in the athlete’s career — it began a new era with the Air Jordan 2009, a series of shoes that, while no longer tied to Michael Jordan’s on-court heroics, continue to showcase the latest in Nike innovation and design.

Saucony Jazz>>

Saucony Jazz

Saucony has made a lot of athletic styles since its founding in 1898, but nothing has resonated quite like the brand’s 1981 flagship running style, the Jazz. At the time, the shoe embodied the best in premium running technology: triangular lugs for better traction, lots of cushioning and the trademark curve with three dots on the side (which, reportedly, represented Pennsylvania’s Saucony river and the boulders in its path). Its popularity with runners as a performance item waned in the 1990s, though, when the company debuted the Grid cushioning system and Arch-lock technologies used now (though the Jazz still has a place in the technical running ProGrid series). But everyday sneaker fans have a fondness for the Jazz’ distinctive outsole, nylon-and-suede upper and many colorways. Today, the silhouette is the centerpiece of Lexington, Mass.-based Saucony’s Originals program. In 2002, it was adapted into a sleeker, lower-to-the-ground model (the Jazz Low Pro), and was previously made into a vegan version of the same low-pro style (1990’s Jazz 3000) and a chunkier silhouette with a beefed up heel (1991’s Jazz 6000). It’s also been remade entirely in duct tape, has collaborated with graphic novel “The Red Star” and served as the canvas for high-profile items from retailers including Solebox in Berlin and New York’s Alife Rivington Club.

Reebok Freestyle>>

Reebok Freestyle

Sneakers aren’t normally designed with women in mind, but the massive success of the aerobics-targeted Freestyle showed the world just how much women could love their kicks. Released in 1982 in response to the growing popularity of aerobics classes (and reportedly because then-Reebok CEO Angel Martinez’ wife complained that nothing on the market worked for her or her classmates), the ankle-supporting, floor-gripping, impact-cushioning style initially caused a frenzy with Jane Fonda-wannabees, but quickly stretched beyond gym wear. With bright colors, funky laces and a leggings/skinny jeans-appropriate silhouette, the Freestyle found famous fans including Brooke Shields and Cybill Shepherd (who wore a pair to the 1985 Emmys). In fact, huge sales (in 1984, for example, the shoe made up more than half the company’s sales) and incredible demand for the ultra-hip high-top boosted Reebok to the top of the athletic market for a brief, shining moment in the style’s 1980s heyday. But years after the shoe cycled out of favor, Reebok re-released the era-defining shoe with parties and fanfare for its 25th anniversary in 2007. All decked out in new colors, the reissued Freestyle (which also appeared in some of the Canton, Mass.-based brand’s artist series, from Basquiat and Rolland Berry) again showed an uncanny sense of timing, coming out just in time to capitalize on the in-again ’80s look.

Keds Champion>>

Keds Champion

The slim, unassuming silhouette of the Keds Champion belies its significance in the sneaker game. Consider this: At its 1916 debut, the canvas Champion was the first rubber-soled shoe, the first vulcanized style (courtesy of a partnership with tire experts Goodyear) and, critically, the first style to be called a “sneaker.” (Keds ad man Henry Nelson McKinney coined the phrase to describe the stealthy movements that were possible due to the newly applied rubber sole.) In its earliest days, the Champion was an on-court favorite for tennis players, but by the 1950s and 1960s, it had become a go-to basic, with Paul Newman, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and the Ramones all photographed in the model. Then the Champion ran into the same problem as many popular styles: Too many varieties were available in too many places, and the iconic blue label had lost much of its cachet. But in the last 10 years, a rebranding campaign starring actress Mischa Barton, and designer collaborations with Lily Pulitzer, Todd Oldham, Nanette Lepore and others, has helped build new buzz around the Champion — and so did pulling back distribution. Keds also has made promoting the original style a focus for this fall, including issuing an eco-friendly version by green label Loomstate and Barneys New York.

K-Swiss Classic>>

K-Swiss Classic

Innovations in tennis footwear, much like basketball, tend to find life outside the lines. Take the K-Swiss Classic, for example. The all-white style made its first appearance in 1966 on the courts of Wimbledon. In addition to the non-marking outsole and all-leather upper — a first for the sport — the shoe featured the five-stripe design that K-Swiss was known for. Wide popularity (and wide distribution) racked up big sales for the Classic, as both male and female shoppers used the shoe’s simple silhouette and colorway as a versatile basic. But by the 2000s, the shoe’s cachet was scuffed, a victim of too many styles in too many places for too little money. Several seasons ago, though, the Westlake Village, Calif.-based brand started to pull back on the style, and instead launched the 2009 Classic this year with a slimmer silhouette and modernized interior and exterior (including new EVA heel cups and footbeds and softer leathers), and redistributed the shoe to higher-end accounts. To advertise the reworked kicks,
K-Swiss made the 2009 Classic the centerpiece of its ad campaign, shot in black and white with some of its top runners and triathletes, as well as faces from the fashion and red-carpet worlds, including longtime brand spokeswoman Anna Kournikova.

Asics Gel-Lyte III>>

Asics Gel-Lyte III

Asics is best known in the U.S. for its serious technical running products, but the sneaker world has embraced the brand as well. Asics’ high-mileage, ultra-plush running shoe from the mid-1990s gets all the love: the Gel-Lyte III. And while the Gel cushioning in the style is the forerunner to what the company uses today, running technology has moved on. But never fear, running fans: Even though the retro style isn’t part of the technical running side of the business anymore, it’s still around for those who didn’t get a chance to buy the shoe in its heyday. The Gel Lyte III has become Asics’ go-to style for special makeups and collaborations — and there’s no shortage of A-game partners, including retailers Patta, Nicekicks.com, Solebox and David Z, which will carry the upcoming limited-edition Ronnie Fleg shoes. The Gel-Lyte III also is enshrined in the “Guinness World Records” — well, sort of. To help celebrate Asics’ 60th anniversary last fall, the brand unveiled an 11-by-15-foot Lite Brite display that used more than 300,000 pegs to capture the shoe’s brightly colored, very 1990s-appropriate contours.

Nike Cortez>>

Nike Cortez

One of Nike’s best-known silhouettes actually started life outside the Swoosh. The shoe that would later be known as the Nike Cortez was initially released in 1972 as the Tiger Corsair, in partnership with Onitsuka Tiger. (It was renamed when Nike’s relationship with Onitsuka Tiger came to an end.) Designed by Nike founder Bill Bowerman, the shoe was built to go the distance (100-plus miles). It featured the running world’s first full-length dual-density midsole and a herringbone-pattern outsole for traction. First offered in leather, the shoe was soon remade in nylon for increased drying speed and decreased weight. The Cortez got a pop-culture plug in 1994, when Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump did all that running in the eponymous movie, and a few seasons later (spurred, perhaps, by Gump’s cross-country journey), Nike re-released the style. In fact, the Cortez has just kept coming ever since. The Cortez was in the first round of styles to be brought back when Nike launched its Vintage program in 1997, re-creating old silhouettes in contemporary materials, and in 2003, it was added to the company’s nascent ID program so fans could design their own colorways. And this year, under the watch of Nike Global Design Director Jessie Leyva, the Cortez got a lightweight update, with a full-length Phylon midsole and a one-piece upper made of the company’s new Flywire material.

Fila F-13>>

Fila F-13

When Fila introduced a new fitness shoe in 1987, it didn’t look far for the name: “F” represented fitness, and “13” stood for the label’s 13th shoe. (The style was similar in look and feel to another straightforwardly named Fila style: The Original Fitness.) But despite the name (or maybe because of it — simplicity is often best), Fila’s F-13 mid-cut shoe became one of the brand’s most iconic styles. At its release date, the weight-cutting, exposed midsole and stability-endowing cupsole were cutting edge. These days, the padded collar, ankle strap and two-part swooping logo are recognized as retro classics. As the brand’s most popular style (in 2006, for example, 2 million pairs were sold worldwide), it has been made over in dozens of materials and colorways and has given rise to several of the brand’s other bestselling and highest-profile kicks, including the vulcanized variation, the Vulc-13, and last season’s popular ladies model, the Melrose. And there is more to come — next is the digital F-13, a patent-leather version with a video game aesthetic.

PF Flyers Bob Cousy>>

PF Flyers Bob Cousy

The innate, often-intimate connection between basketball players and sneaker culture seems completely intuitive now, but if it wasn’t for a Boston Celtics point guard named Bob Cousy, it might have been a different story. Cousy, who started setting the NBA on fire after his 1950 rookie season, worked with Boston-based PF Flyers to create a special shoe just for him. The Bob Cousy, which debuted in 1956, looked like the Chuck Taylors that were the shoe of choice at the time — a canvas upper and a vulcanized sole — but featured basketball-ready additions such as a more structured insole for cushioning and a “gullwing” closure (laces threaded through a second eyelet on the top hole, located on a separate tab) that let the wearer customize the fit. It also had a shout-out for fans: Bob Cousy’s signature appeared on the insole, although the superstar once told FN the signature didn’t look familiar — “I think my agent might have signed this for me.” And while it’s no longer an on-court favorite, the Bob Cousy has found new life as a classic retro style. PF Flyers (now owned by New Balance) has made the shoe one of its major focuses as it aims to attract a newer, hipper customer and more upscale distribution. Made in new colors and materials, the original, signature shoe (no matter whose signature is actually on it) is still breaking new ground.

Air Jordan III>>

Air Jordan III

The third installment in the Jordan franchise was the beginning of a lot of firsts: The 1988 release was the first shoe in the series to be designed by Tinker Hatfield, the first Jordan shoe to have a visible Air unit in the outsole, the first to use the now-iconic “Jumpman” logo (an homage to Michael Jordan’s Slam Dunk contest win the year before) and the first to use the elephant-embossed synthetic leather that set a new standard for fashion in functional shoes. It was also one of the first to heavily involve the Hall of Famer in the design process. (The shoe — a perennial best-seller — was first retroed in 1994, with re-ups in 2001, 2003 and 2007. A 2009 edition in royal blue was released internationally, but not in the States, much to the dismay of American fans.) And there’s one more first the Jordan III can lay claim to: In the advertising world, the Jordan III was the first shoe in the series that Jordan superfan Spike Lee pitched while in his Mars Blackmon persona, asking the oft-quoted: “Is it the shoes?” (Answer, as any fan knows: “Money, it’s gotta be the shoes.”)

Adidas Superstar>>

Adidas Superstar

The Superstar was born out of basketball — the 1969 style was created as a low-top version of the Pro Model — but it found its home in hip-hop and has made waves in pop culture ever since. The rubber toecap that gave the Superstar its singular look was intended as toe protection for b-ballers (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a fan, and, at one point, 75 percent of the NBA had adopted the style), but the support, cushioning and non-marking sole made it a favorite with fans, too. By 1986, the all-leather style was firmly entrenched in the hip-hop game, and rap group Run-DMC gave the style a Top 40 platform with “My Adidas,” an ode to the Superstars they wore on the regular. The kicks came to symbolize Run-DMC, with fans displaying their own pairs, often worn laceless, just like Run and the boys did. (The reportedly $1 million endorsement deal Adidas later signed with Run-DMC was fittingly the first major deal in hip-hop.) But the popularity of the Superstar — whether in the classic black-on-white colorway or the many variations since — has held steady even as hip-hop’s look and sound have evolved. If anything, the shoes have cracked the mainstream: nu-metal band Korn made the style their go-to, and Estelle gave props to Kanye’s shelltoes in last year’s “American Boy” single.

Vans Era>>

Vans Era

As skating grew and developed over the years, so did the shoe market catering to it — and in 1976, the skate world saw the launch of the Vans Era shoe, a simple laceup designed with feedback from skate legends Stacy Peralty, Tony Alva and Jay Adams. The Era took elements from the Vans company’s deck-shoe roots and translated them into a simple, effortless style. Popular in the 1980s with BMXers and always a hit with casual wearers — even those who never get near a board or bike — for its laid-back, streamlined look, the Era has continued to be a best-seller in the Vans line, with versions for men, women and children available in a range of patterns, materials and colors.

Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66>>

Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66

The Mexico City Summer Games of 1968 (perhaps best known stateside for the Black Power salutes of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos) was the launch pad for one of the sneaker world’s most enduring running styles: Onitsuka Tiger’s Mexico 66, which had hit the market two years before the Olympics. (Onitsuka later took on the Asics name.) The style — a lightweight, suede, lace-up racing flat — was the first to use the “tiger stripe” logo that would appear on all subsequent styles and can be seen today in the modified version that Asics uses on all its shoes. The style later incorporated a hook-and-loop closure version known as the Mexico 66 Baja.

Nike Air Max 1>>

Nike Air Max 1

It’s hard to imagine a Nike without Air: The cushioning technology is now found in almost all the company’s footwear, from the Jordan brand to Nike’s Cole Haan dress shoes. But who knows what the future would have held for the now-legendary technology if it hadn’t been for 1987’s Air Max 1, the first Nike shoe to let customers see the Air pocket in the heel. Designed by revered sneaker guru Tinker Hatfield, the Air Max 1 had the biggest Air unit in the heel the company had ever used in a running shoe, making it the premier cushioning shoe in Nike’s line. Initially offered in mesh-and-synthetic suede (a leather-upper version was released the following year), the Air Max 1 was also a revolution in looks, too — the colorful uppers stood apart in the field of neutral gray-and-white competitors. The design was popular enough to spawn an entire Air Max franchise, but sneaker fans still clamored for the original. In 1992, they partially got their wish, when Nike retroed the style in leather with an updated Air Max 90 outsole. Their dream got even closer in 1995, when nylon versions hit shelves. This year, Nike went whole hog and released a limited-edition version of its flagship style in select boutiques and Nike retail stores — and new colorways and material stories come out every season to fill the seemingly unlimited
appetite sneakerheads have for the style.

New Balance 574>>

New Balance 574

It has become one of the brand’s flagship styles, but New Balance’s 574 model was originally created as a takedown. In 1988, the company decided to adapt its super-popular 576 runner and design a more accessible, more affordable version that kept many of the same features. (Very many, in fact — the 574 was made with leftover parts from the 576.) Instantly recognizable, the style was soon one of the brand’s all-time best sellers, especially in the gray colorways that came to characterize the brand. (A sign of just how influential this unassuming gray trainer has become? New Balance has gone after Louis Vuitton for copyright infringement this season, claiming the French luxury retailer released an all-gray runner called the Minstrel that violates its trade dress on the 574.) And while the shoe has been consistently available (but was largely left to its own successful devices), this year, New Balance decided to show its best-loved style some attention with a limited-edition, tiered 574 update program. With more technical materials (Schoeller fabrics, high-end nylons, suedes and metallic leathers) on the uppers and new technology for the interior makeups, the refreshed styles in the Premium 574 collection were released this summer to a handful of A-list locations. (A core program of suede 574s and an ultra-limited, made-in-the-USA 574Clips line are coming out this season.) And while several colorways will be available, New Balance is putting its bets — and its promotional dollars — on the classic gray-on-gray.

Reebok Pump>>

Reebok Pump

Can inflation ever be a good thing? In 1989, it was the only thing when it came to sneakers. The release of Reebok’s Pump shoe started a craze that spread beyond the basketball players it initially targeted and onto the feet of kids and adults across the globe. The original Pump, a high-top, high-tech and high-priced style designed for on-court play, featured a special air cushion in the tongue that inflated to provide extra ankle support when the wearer “pumped” it up using the iconic basketball-shaped button on the tongue. Players Dominique Wilkins and Dee Brown wore signature models in games, but the style soon exploded beyond basketball. Soon Pump shoes (some with C02 cylinders providing the pumping action where the standard model would have been too weighty) were produced for football, track, hockey and tennis (in fact, Michael Chang’s Court Victory Pumps are some of the most iconic of the series). Today, with the 20th anniversary of the style approaching, Reebok has been planning a series of Pump-themed events for fall and will step up the special makeups — after all, while the style has been a popular choice for boutiques, you need to go over the top for a birthday bash.

Pro-Keds Royal>>

Pro-Keds Royal

Pro-Keds was launched in 1949 by then-owner Uniroyal as a men’s athletic brand that built on the Keds name with a focus on basketball. The first shoe to market was the Royal, a canvas silhouette in both high- and low-top versions. With the brand-defining blue-and-red stripes on the midsole, the Royal enjoyed a successful run in its first few decades, including endorsements by power-team-of-the-era the Minneapolis Lakers and their star, George Mikan. It was in the 1970s, though, that Pro-Keds and their Royal sneaker had their moment. Still available in both high-top and low-top versions, the Royal (and its evolutions, the Royal Plus and the Royal Master) came in leather, mesh and suede versions and was worn on-court by major names including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Nate “Tiny” Archibald, which helped propel the style to success on the streets, too. After falling out of the limelight, the line was licensed in 2004 to hip-hop impresario Damon Dash, who tried to increase the brand’s fashion cred, and the Royal took a backseat to new iterations. But with Dash facing his own financial woes and the brand struggling to hit the desired consumer, this spring Keds took Pro-Keds back in-house, and designer Peter Koytroulis has made the line’s heritage looks — chief among them the Royal — a centerpiece of the brand.

Converse Weapon>>

Converse Weapon

Forged in the crucible of the hotly contested 1986 season, the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry made for some amazing games — and some very memorable TV commercials for the shoe they both wore, the Converse Weapon. (Magic and Bird rapping? Pure gold.) The Weapon was one of the most popular technical basketball shoes of the era — some of the game’s top players elected to “Choose Your Weapon,” as the commercials exhorted — and it featured some of the latest cutting-edge technology, including the brand’s Y-Bar stability design. In March of this year, Converse (now owned by Nike and once again interested in the technical basketball market) reissued the Weapon in its original colorways. And this fall, the brand debuted the next evolution of the Weapon: the Converse Weapon EVO, the original silhouette (including the star-chevron logo) updated with the company’s new Converse Balls cushioning, which puts polyurethane balls in the heel for shock absorption. While a variety of colorways will be available nationwide by the end of fall, the company went back to the style’s roots for the release. First up: color blockings honoring the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics, of course.

Air Jordan IV>>

Air Jordan IV

Following the massive success of the Jordan III, the bar was set high for the 1989 Jordan IV. That style featured overmolded mesh on the upper and a new strap closure designed to keep the wearer’s ankle even more stable. Die-hard franchise fan Spike Lee had a special fondness for this edition: Mars Blackmon again went to work pitching the shoe in Lee’s famous “Can/Can’t” commercial. And in his own 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing,” Lee made the Jordan IV — or as character Buggin Out says, “my brand-new white Air Jordan’s I just bought” — a key image. (One of the movie’s more enduring scenes is when Buggin Out cleans the sneaks after they were run over by an errant, gentrifying cyclist.) The 1999 retro of the shoe sold out in hours — one of the fastest sellouts the brand had ever seen and a testament to the shoe’s enduring appeal.

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