An Icon Of Rebellion: The Converse One Star
The Converse One Star has developed a tough rep over the years. Establishing a strong countercultural following, the sneaker has a raw energy that resonates with its idealistic young wearers. Its honest simplicity stood out when the footwear industry was engaged in a technological arms race, and rebellious rockers and skaters on the fringe took it into the fold. It’s also worth noting that decades before all of this, the fledgling basketball shoe went through its own adolescence, attempting to carve out a place among a changing game. From sporting icon to cultural outsider, the One Star has had an exciting life.
The Converse Rubber Shoe Company began producing footwear in 1909. As the first brand to produce shoes specifically for the emerging sport of basketball, it didn’t take long for the Converse brand to become a part of the sport’s DNA. Their early canvas hi-tops could be seen on professional ballers and amateur dribblers wherever the game was played. The All-Star had become the go-to court shoe by the time the first professional basketball league was established in the mid-20s.
For the following decades hi-cut canvas Converse styles ruled the game and as a new leisure culture emerged from the ashes of war, more people than ever were getting involved. As the sport evolved, players eventually began chopping the tops off their shoes, preferring the freedom of movement it allowed. Converse took note, and delivered their first low-cut All Star Ox (Oxford Cut) in 1957.
By the late 60s there were other brands to compete with in the basketball arena. PUMA and adidas offered premium options such as leather and suede. The canvas shoe had a new partner on the court, so in keeping with the times Converse developed their All Star Leather – utilising a new cut-away star branding to show off the layered construction of the technologically advanced design. The familiar chevron branding didn’t accompany the star at this point, instead the star sat between a pair of parallel stripes, which slanted downward towards the heel from the laces. Converse produced several versions of low-cut leather and suede sneakers over the next few years, even experimenting with a tennis model.
The 1974 catalogue version of Converse’s Suede Leather All Star marked the first appearance of what we’ve come to know as the One Star. The vulcanised rubber sole construction had been perfected over decades of production, which meant the One Star was the top of the range ball shoe when it released. Unfortunately, new developments in sole technology meant that the One Star’s days at the top were numbered.
Less than two years after its introduction, the technologically superior Pro Leather had shunned the One Star into obsolescence with a new, more responsive cup sole. But even as the years obscured the memory of the old-world basketball shoe in the West, fashionable Americana tribes in Japan began to buy up One Stars wherever they could find them. The refined suede silhouette resonated with a group of young people who embraced the rugged athletic element of the hugely popular Ivy movement, mimicking the minute details of late-60s American college style. While the vintage sellers of Japan snuck away with the suede sneakers, Converse were undergoing a rebrand on home soil. Shortly after the Pro Leather nudged the One Star out of the limelight, Converse introduced the chevron element to the branding, pointing forward to indicate the transition into a new era.
The early-90s was an innovative time, particularly in the footwear world. The early years introduced some of today’s most iconic sneakers – consumers were won over by advanced technology, manufacturing and materials. Of course, the Newtonian law of fashion kicked into gear at this point, and as brightly coloured, teched out footwear swept across the planet – a rebellion was bubbling up within the grunge movement and the burgeoning skate scene.
The folk at Converse had noticed the snap-back and digging back into their archives they re-discovered the perfect shoe for the new wave of rebellion – in 1993 the Converse One Star made a comeback. The shoe was marketed out of sight of the mainstream, hitting print in mags like Thrasher, and it didn’t take long for the scene kids to catch on. A low price point and hard-wearing build, combined with flex and boardfeel appealed to skaters everywhere. Spike Jonze had been involved with advertising the shoe and as part owner of Girl Skateboards introduced the One Star to – among others – team rider Guy Mariano. When Girl’s seminal video Mouse dropped in ’96, Mariano’s tech onslaught had skate rats mesmerised as they rewound and paused to study his feet – the image of Mariano’s black sneaker, with its contrasting white star, was burned into their memories.
At the same time, the grunge scene had birthed a new anti-fashion style that was characterised by plaid shirts, ripped jeans and unkempt hairdos. A simple sneaker fit perfectly with the aesthetic of the movement whose ultimate personification, Kurt Cobain, guided the scene in a well-worn pair of One Stars. After Cobain’s untimely passing in 1994 his go-to shoe was immortalise with his memory as the standard shoe for the grunge style.
After its brief sporting career and a close call with oblivion, the One Star had now cemented itself as an alternative fashion icon. Those not taken by the chunky, padded skate brands of the late-90s continued to roll with the Star, while the rave scene discovered the euphoria of self expression, until the sun came up and their dance proof One Stars carried them home.
As the new millennium ticked over and Y2K faded into the background the One Star stood tall. Pants slimmed and celebrity endorsed sneakers became a necessity for any brand. Converse teamed up with Courtney Love in 2008 to pay tribute to her late husband’s memory. They created a collection around Kurt Cobain’s journals – which had been published in 2002 – and proved that the grunge star’s influence burned as brightly as ever. A revival of the style began shortly after the commemorative Kurt Cobain collection arrived and grew into a massive chunk of the fashion world – with social media stars reimagining the 90s aesthetic for today’s lifestyle.
In Japan the shoe had reached icon status thanks to the freedom given to the regional licensee and the buying power of the world’s second largest consumer market. Japanese designers like Number (n)ine had their turn at re-imagining the One Star, elevating it to new levels in the eyes of the supremely fashionable. Contemporary designers including Fragment’s Hiroshi Fujiwara are keeping the street scene hyped on the One Star.
As a skate shoe, the One Star has stayed strong – while videos like Supreme’s Cherry stay on replay, the sneaker receives all the attention it did when the VHS of Mouse released twenty years earlier. A huge contingent of skaters has stuck to the unadulterated ride offered by a vulcanised sole while Covnerse’s pro team – under the CONS offshoot – have kept the image strong. Veterans like Rune Glifberg, Kenny Anderson and Don Nguyen; innovators like Pontus Alv and Sammy Baca; and young guns like Sean Pablo and Sage Elsesser have pushed the star to the forefront of the sport. In 2015 the One Star was officially welcomed into the CONS family with its first skate specific rebuild. The addition of Lunarlon cushioning, new rubber and a gusseted tongue took the vintage style to new levels of comfort and durability.
The counter-cultural Converse has earned its spot as the icon of effortless style. As relevant now as it ever was, the One Star can still teach us a thing or two about getting back to basics. In an age when your shoes can talk to your mobile phone, the need to disconnect from the mayhem burns brightly – the One Star is the solution, as it was and as it will be for decades to come.