Stan Smith: Looking Back at an Icon
From the 1970s to the current day, one shoe has been a constant through the decades: the adidas Stan Smith. With its understated looks and versatility, the adidas design has outlasted multiple trends, and graduated from the tennis court, to become a footwear staple and perennial icon. However, despite five decades of ubiquity, many still don’t know the history behind this low profile classic.
As Stan Smith himself puts it, ‘Some people think I’m a shoe!’
FROM NO-NAME TO HALLIET
For such a seemingly simple silhouette, the Stan Smith actually has an oddly convoluted history.
The design traces its roots all the way back to the early 1960s, long before Smith’s name and face ever graced the shoe. As the story goes, Horst Dassler, the son of Three Stripes founder Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler, came up with the idea of producing the first-ever leather tennis shoe around 1963 or 1964. The kicks quickly caught on, becoming the top performance tennis shoe available at the time thanks to their high-quality leather construction.
However, in a bid to further increase the shoe’s popularity, adidas needed some star power behind the silhouette — and they got exactly that by linking up with Robert Haillet. One of the best tennis players in the world at the time, Frenchman Haillet rocked the kicks, had his name added to the upper, and the adidas Robert Haillet was born. The partnership made all the more sense considering that the kicks were crafted in France during the period.
Green-covered foam padding was added to the heel to protect the achilles just a few short years later, and the timeless classic we know and love today got its signature look.
FREOM HAILLET TO SMITH
Fast-forward to 1971 and Halliet was poised for retirement. Horst Dassler worried that the shoe would lose some of its appeal with Halliet away from the court, so he set out to find a new sponsor for the design. Dassler reached out to the former captain of the U.S. Davis Cup squad, Donald Dell — a man who had recently started his own agency with two initial tennis clients: the legendary Arthur Ashe, and the newly minted top-ranked player in the world, Stan Smith. Dell suggested Smith to Dassler, and the Smith x adidas partnership got underway.
After winning the men’s singles titles at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 1971 and 1972, respectively, Smith was officially inked to a Three Stripes contract in 1973 as the world #1 looked to earn some royalties from his name.
Following the signing of Smith, his namesake kicks underwent a bizarre transition throughout the 70s. Though some believe the shoe didn’t become the ‘Stan Smith’ until 1978, Smith’s likeness actually graced the shoe years before.
Sometime around 1974, adidas added the Trefoil to the tongue before moving it to the heel to make way for Smith’s portrait — albeit one that, oddly enough, didn’t feature his usual moustache — and his newfangled signature, which Smith created with the help of a Delta Air Lines flight attendant who called his usual transcription ‘boring’. Smith’s name was also added to the heel to flank the iconic Trefoil.
Throughout all of this, however, Halliet’s name continued to grace the upper, creating a little confusion as to who the silhouette actually belonged to. There was supposedly even a stretch where a Halliet signature appeared on the tongue above Smith’s likeness, further adding to the shoe’s identity crisis. It wasn’t until 1978 that Halliet’s name was fully removed from the shoe and it officially became Stan Smith’s and Smith’s alone.
FROM THE COURT TO THE STREET
As the years wore on, the Stan Smith logically moved away from the court as it was supplanted by newer technology and construction methods. It found a natural home on the streets, however, as its clean looks and timeless aesthetic made it a casual go-to.
Sales numbers throughout the years remain largely unknown, but it’s generally believed that the Stan Smith had sold 22 million pairs by 1988, and as many as 40 million pairs by 2005. The Three Stripes even cashed in on the chunkier trends of the late 90s and early 00s with the introduction of the Stan Smith II in 2000 — opting for new-school adi branding, a reworked silhouette, and a thicker padded tongue. Thankfully, these went by the wayside by 2008 when the folks in Herzo introduced the Stan Smith 80s, returning the kicks to the look they enjoyed throughout some of their most popular years.
DISCONTINUED BEFORE A MAJOR COMEBACK
By 2011, sales had begun to slow a bit and adidas made the decision to stop producing the kicks for a couple of years to desaturate the market. In 2012, the brand ceased production of the Stan Smith, discontinuing the shoe throughout 2012 and 2013.
As Smith himself told ESPN back in 2016, ‘I didn’t like that idea, but they knew exactly what they were doing’.
The Stan Smith wasn’t gone for long. Gisele Bündchen famously wore a pair — and nothing else — in a spread for the November 2013 issue of Vogue Paris, and adi further capitalised on the buzz by hooking up celebs with their own customised versions of the shoe, complete with their own likenesses replacing that of Smith on the tongue. On January 14, 2014, the Stan Smith officially returned to the market, where it’s received tons of love ever since.
Kanye West — who joined adidas in November 2013 after years with Nike — sported the shoe in the Patrick Demarchelier-shot spread for his August 2014 GQ cover story, while adi has churned out countless colabs in the years since the Stan Smith’s return to further bolster its popularity. Retailers like END., Sneakersnstuff, BAIT, and Barneys New York have all taken a crack at the shoe, while designers like Raf Simons and Yohji Yamamoto have further elevated it into the realm of fashion lore. For its part, adi have added both BOOST cushioning and Primeknit construction to the shoe over the years, while Pharrell’s signature Tennis Hu is a modern reimagining of Smith’s archetype.
There are even hundreds of lyrical references to the kicks. As A$AP Rocky put it, ‘Stand-up guy, I’d rather stand out. Raf Simons, Stan Smith edition with my bands out.’
Trends may come and go, but the Stan Smith will always be an icon and a ubiquitous presence across the globe. Thanks to its low profile and clean lines, the shoe transcends the whims of sneakerheads, ensuring that it’ll never go out of style.