The supremacy of the white sneaker
Tennis star Stan Smith on why the green and white Adidas shoe inspires new designs and pop culture influencers
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I remember when my daughter was 13, she came home one day and said dad you are famous! She said Jay Z has you in a song. I said, who is Jay Z?” ex-tennis player and forever champion Stan Smith, tells us on his visit to India to promote the best-selling Adidas shoe he endorses. He refers to the lyrics of the rapper’s hit single ‘Jigga That Nigga’: “Lampin in the Hamptons, the weekends man/The Stan Smith Adidas and the Campus”. That was 17 years ago, and although Smith may not have been aware of the hip hop star’s influence, the song contributed in making the American sportsman the sneaker icon that he is today.
Looking relaxed, dressed from top to toe in Adidas athleisure, Smith sits around at the brand’s Khar outlet in Mumbai. The signature green and white of the shoe is the colour theme in the windows—also decked with tennis balls.
Flanked by a sketch of his face, which also adorns the tongue of the shoe, larger than life on the wall of the store, he takes us through the life and times of the legendary shoe. In 1971, Smith was the no. 1 tennis player in the world and wore canvas shoes to the court. Adidas approached him to endorse the first ever leather tennis shoe. Smith agreed and the simple white shoe with a green accent got his name. “Then it was considered a high-tech shoe. As a player it gave you more support and lasted longer, and the sole was quite good for different surfaces,” he tells us.
It is 2016, his daughter is now 30, but the Stan Smith name is more popular than ever before. The minimalistic, classic design of the sneaker with perforated holes on the sides is available in men’s, women’s and kids’ sizes and is the one thing the world has agreed to love in the last one year of the sneaker revival. Smith has won 39 singles titles and 61 doubles titles in his time, but people wearing his shoe today know nothing about him; many weren’t even born when the player retired in 1985.
The tennis sneaker is now loved in the music industry, Hollywood and fashion. From fashion designer Phoebe Philo and actor Anne Hathaway to model Kate Moss and singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams, it has received the stamp of approval from diverse influencers. “Fifteen years ago Usher came out in People magazine and said he owns my shoes in 20 different colours. So there has always been a base of interest in it but the relaunch made it even more popular,” says Smith.
Smith is talking about how Adidas pulled all the shoes off the shelves in 2012 and then re-introduced them with a successful social media campaign two years later. As part of this it gave 100 influencers around the world a custom pair each with their own sketch on the tongue. Ellen DeGeneres Instagram image of the shoe received over 112,000 likes. “It has been almost 3 years, and I have been to Tokyo, London, Paris, Dubai and now India and it’s very popular with people of all ages.” According to him, the reason for its stupendous success is: “Besides the comfort factor, the shoe doesn’t have any bells and whistles, and you can wear it with anything including dresses, jeans or even a tuxedo. You can also wear it to work, and it doesn’t clash with anything.”
For 50 years now, the classic look of the shoe may have remained exactly the same, but its plain design lends itself to many interpretations, further adding to its street cred. It is no wonder that Pharrell Williams, designer Raf Simons and singer Rita Ora have collaborated with the brand to come up with their own best-selling versions of the Stan Smith shoe. “It is unbelievable, some of the things Adidas has come out with, including a snakeskin option,” adds Smith.
For Smith’s India visit, the company roped in designers Rahul Mishra, Namrata Joshipura, and Aneeth Arora to give the Stan Smith show their own design twist: with gold stripes and crystals, Joshipura gave hers a glam twist, while Arora kept it pretty with delicate crochet flowers using the prime knit mesh version of the Stan Smith as a base.
Mishra, a big fan of the design, says he didn’t want to change anything about it. He used the knit shoe and retained its sporty feel while expressing himself by referring to his new Spring/Summer collection as inspiration. “We are known for our monochrome looks, but the green of the shoe was our cue to try something colourful. I integrated my style of embroidery in a forest theme on the sneaker. I think this has turned out to be a perfect hybrid between fashion and comfort,” he says. These were showcased recently in Mumbai and adding to the list of the celebrity endorsers of the shoe was actor Ranveer Singh. Sporting a red Stan Smith, he welcomed Smith to Mumbai and taught him some Bollywood moves, too.
Smith says his personal favourite is the one he designed himself—a black cracked leather pair with a green accent at the back made using the tennis ball material.
“There have probably been 200 different styles and someone said I should have all of them. But I don’t, I only have 40-50 and that’s good enough,” he adds, responding to how many shoes he owns.