Few sneakers in the past five years have garnered attention like the Adidas Stan Smiths. What was once a trend has now become subsumed into current fashion, as the de facto versatile shoe to look comfortable, and feel stylish. Think of the Stan Smiths and you’ll probably call ridiculously expensive designer collaborations to mind, like the Raf Simons range, or the Pharrell x Colette exclusive. These revamps of the classic Stan Smiths have demanded widespread coveting, only serving to elevate the cult status of the simple white lace-up.

Celebrities rocking the Stan Smiths
Celebrities rocking the Stan Smiths

While many think that the Stan Smiths tsunami was a recent hit, the sneakers have been an ubiquitous staple for sportsmen and designers since the 80s. Here’s a look back at the hype behind the Adidas Stan Smiths.

They weren’t always known as Stan Smiths

the history of adidas stan smiths
Stan Smith in person | Credit: World Tennis Magazine

The Stan Smiths were first designed in 1963 by Horst Dassler, son of brand founder Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler (hence the brand name Adidas). They were intended for French tennis player, Robert Haillet, and thus named as such. After Haillet retired, Dassler and his son, Horst, decided to appoint a new tennis ambassador for the shoe, settling on the #1 tennis player in the world — American player, Stan Smith. Even though the shoe was being marketed as the Stan Smiths, much of the 70s saw Smith’s face embossed in the upper with “Haillet” above it, creating a comical mismatch.

The original

the history of adidas stan smiths
The original Haillet and the Stan Smiths

Contemporary Stan Smiths are associated with the coloured heel and absence of the signature three stripes, but the first Stan Smiths (or Haillet sneakers) had a more conservative design — full white leather with texture on the outer rim of the sole. In the 90s, the shoes experienced a brief swap from laces to velcro, a style still seen today.

Striding into fashion

Thus begets the question — how did the Stan Smiths go from tennis staple to a fashion must-have? Even before the kelly green and white combination spurred such adoration, the Smiths won a place in the Guinness Book of Records for selling 22 million pairs in 1988 — a proto-hype of sorts, if you will.

the history of adidas stan smiths
Phoebe Philo in Stan Smiths | Credit: Eric Ryan

When it comes to the current love for the Smiths, look to fashion week during the early 00s. It was the shoe of choice for two designers during their curtain call — Phoebe Philo of Chloe and Marc Jacobs. Both paired the classic green-and-white Stan Smiths with head-to-toe black ensembles for their final bow, marking the Smiths as the shoe to wear for those too cool to care. It’s a chic uniform that is worn until this very day, most notably by Philo during her S/S ’15 show. Moving into 2013, an Inez & Vinoodh shoot for French Vogue saw star model Gisele Bündchen posed in the buff, adorned only with a pair of white gym socks and the Stan Smiths. So, the foundation was laid for a takeover throughout the world’s most fashion-forward cities.

A blip in time

The Smiths ubiquitous presence in fashion suffered a slight stasis in 2012, with Adidas making the decision to cease marketing of the shoe. The shoe quickly became a mythical figure that faded out of the limelight, until the announcement that it would be brought back during New York Fashion Week 2014. That was the catalyst that saw the tennis shoe rising to the top of many Best Sneakers of the Year Lists, including being awarded top spot

Social media to the streets

Even before social media influencers were propagating the Stan Smiths in their #ootds, fashion mavericks like Humberto Leon of Kenzo and Sarah Andelman of Colette were flooding their Instagram feeds with customised editions of the Stan Smiths.

Kermit the Frog puts his stamp on the sneakers
Kermit the Frog puts his stamp on the sneakers

Even popular culture couldn’t resist hopping on the bandwagon. The Stan Smiths has been reworked by the Star Wars franchise, Kermit the Frog, Betty Boop, and even a rainbow-heeled rendition in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. Add high-end designer collaborations into the matrix, and it became evident that the Stan Smiths were a winning favourite in sneakerdom.

the history of adidas stan smiths
Raf Simon’s much-coveted Smiths

In 2016 alone, the sneaker has been reworked by Raf Simons, Supreme, Yohji Yamamoto, Pharrell, Rita Ora and more, each time garnering greater attention. Adidas’ own design interventions also invited a sense of exclusivity to the shoe. It’s added style points for you if you own one with a cork sole, in suede, stingray leather, or with colour wheels and beyond.

Lasting power

Hype is always characterised by a meteoric rise and a timely disappearance, but the Stan Smiths have managed to become fixed in contemporary fashion. Whether one credits great marketing or endorsements, the Smith’s power ultimately lies in the simplicity of the shoe’s design. It meshes well with nearly any every day outfit, and even though fashion is characterised by its ability to break barriers, popularity steals the pedestal because of versatility.

Beatrice Bowers
Features Editor
Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.