By Shu Xie
Sneakerheads take a Stan! Actually, I know you have. And if you have not, I know you will. These shoes may look like a part of nurses’ uniform, but they’re really in keeping with fashion’s worship of sleekness and functionality. Adidas’s once-made-for-tennis shoe, the Stan Smith, is having a massive moment. And we’re not just talking about the white trainers with their unmistakable green heel tab. As I write, there are more than a dozen versions out there, and more to come.
Stan Smith, as we call them today, did not start as Stan Smith. In fact, it went by a less catchy name: Robert Haillet, after the French tennis professional, who made waves mostly in the Davis Cup between 1952 to 1960. Introduced in 1965, it was, according to sports lore, the first tennis shoe. But Robert Haillet decided to retire, and Adidas thought the name for the shoe should too. In 1971, the shoe was re-christened Stan Smith, after the American tennis player, then ranked No.1. The rest, I can’t help but say, is history.
The Stan Smith’s current appeal, I think, is less a nostalgic surge and more a backlash against the surfeit of sneakers heavy with hot tech, detail-mad uppers, and incredible soles. Adidas now calls the Stan Smith “laid-back”, which, interestingly, coincides with the recent emergence of that odd fashion movement termed “normcore”—or, as the New York Times defined it, “mall clothes for people who would not be caught dead in a shopping mall”. Ordinariness, as it turns out, does get to have its day.
The first time I bought myself a Stan Smith, Frankie Goes To Hollywood was telling me to Relax, and I was trying to emulate Morrisey’s normcore of 1984, minus flowers in the back jeans pocket. I remember purchasing the shoe from a basement shop in Lucky Plaza that sold mostly tennis gear. When I wore them, happy with their sleekness and whiteness, my friends thought I was daft to put on something so similar to school shoes. Just like The Smiths, who thought it was “time that the ordinary folk of the world showed their faces”, I was determined that my shoes should illustrate the virtue of austerity.
The Stan Smith proved to be one of the most comfortable shoes I owned, even sans socks. The quality of the leather wasn’t what I am used to now, but it didn’t bother me a bit. I was more concerned with keeping the shoes stark white and crease-free. Fast forward to the present, the shoes are still comfortable although I sense that the overall make has improved somewhat. Today, its appeal has not diminished for me. I wear them not because they’re reminiscent of the past, but because they still appeal to my penchant for simplicity. The Stan Smith is, for the most part, unadorned, not (mis)interpreted and standard issue.
It is easy to underestimate the Stan Smith’s influence on modern footwear. Given the shape’s simplicity and ubiquity, we are likely to take them for granted the way we do with a white tee. Yet, the shoe’s form factor has been adopted by so many brands across high-low price points that the distinctive look has become a lot less associated with the Adidas original. I dare say that every athletic brand today has their take on the Stan Smith. Perhaps that is why, in 2012, Adidas decided to kill the shoe (despite two previous permutations: the Stan Smith 80s and Stan Smith 2 to refresh the icon) before re-introducing them again at the end of last year with a splashy re-launch and a slew of collaborations.
At the higher end, designer labels such as Lanvin, Prada, Hermes, and hot luxury brand of the season Buscemi have continually introduced versions of their own, mostly with the Stan Smith’s white sole, two rows of seven eyelets, and a heel tab (contrast colour optional). Currently, the Saint Laurent Court Classic is perhaps the ultimate tribute: two stitched parallel lines on the sides, instead of Stan Smith’s perforated three, branding on the tongue, and (on some colourways) contrast heel tab. I find the similarity a little disconcerting. But I’m sure fervent consumers of designer kicks won’t care the least.
Two fashion individuals who have visibly elevated the status of the Stan Smith to dizzying heights are Raf Simons and Phoebe Philo. Both of them have taken their bows at the end of their catwalk shows in Stan Smith, Mr Simons’s notably grubby and Ms Philo’s pristine, and under slouchy slacks. There’s deliberate paradox here, I think, considering that both design for storied French fashion houses, and could have chosen more couture-worthy footwear. Yet, they underscore their personal style with trainers that are heritage, every-man shoes. The reverse snobbery clearly works with their brand of minimalism.
Those of you with less common tastes will be delighted to know that the Stan Smith is being “interpreted” by designers who cannot resist tinkering with classics. Mr Simons collaborates with Adidas for the second season in a row, and the result is truly polished. The Japanese, typically, re-think the tactile aspect of the shoe, and the effects generate smiles. Not to be left out are retailers. As this goes online, the word out there is that Colette, Barney’s, and Dover Street Market will be releasing their distinctive take on the Stan Smith.
Despite its current cool factor, the Stan Smith is not ubiquitous on our island, and is available only at the adidas Originals stores, where they offer only the new “vintage” version, and not the classic. I spend an afternoon in Queensway Shopping Centre hoping to find old releases of the shoe, but other than those available at Limited Edition (which are exactly those also available at adidas Originals), nothing else was spotted. Over at the Royal Sporting House’s shruken Stadium in Takashimaya S.C., I came up nought. Then it was over to the adidas Originals flagship in Pacific Plaza. I spent 20 minutes in there, and, while the store was busy, I did not see a single customer pick up a pair of Stan Smith, vintage or not.
The following is by no means a complete list of the many versions that have been released and are to come, but it does show how easy the Stan Smith can be a blank canvas for creative minds to work their magic.
adidas Originals Stan Smith (Vintage)
This is the shoe to have for the purist. Although not quite the original (or the “classic”), they’re just as pristine and lacks in eye-popping branding. The white—“neo white” to be specific—upper is truly stark. The “vintage” is really in the colour of the logo on the tongue as well as the nubuck heel tab. They are weathered so that they look used-till-faded.
adidas Originals Stan Smith Vintage, SGD 139, is available at adidas Orignals stores, 313@Sommerset, Pacific Plaza, and Bugis+
adidas Originals Stan Smith “Reflective”
Designed with a reflective upper provided by 3M, this is the shoe for using under low-light conditions. Not that you’ll be running on the PIE or cycling along the ECP but, you don’t know for sure. The reflective material lends this Stan Smith a futuristic edge. Even the laces are not the usual issue. They, too, appear to be reflective. The heel tab in snake skin finish adds to a whole that’s ideal with one of those suits in hi-tech fabrics.
adidas Originals Stan Smith “Reflective”, SGD 139, is available at adidas Orignals stores, 313@Sommerset, Pacific Plaza, and Bugis+
adidas Originals Stan Smith “Battle Pack” World Cup
The World Cup in Brazil may be over, but they aren’t removing this special edition from the shelves yet. Interestingly, this Stan Smith comes without the perforated three stripes. Maybe it’s because of the business of the repeated hexagonal shapes that decreases in size towards the toe box. And there’s no shortage of details. The heel tab is transparent and there’s a heel pull, which, together with the in-sole and logo on the tongue, is in an unmissable orange.
adidas Originals Stan Smith “Battle Pack” World Cup, SGD 139, is available at adidas Orignals stores, 313@Sommerset, Pacific Plaza, and Bugis+
adidas Originals Stan Smith (Suede)
There’s something playful and, at the same time, rather luxe about the Stan Smith in suede (pigskin). Currently available in three colourways—green, blue, red, reflecting the three basic colours used on the heel tab of the white leather version, this Stan Smith is ideal for those who, for some (leukophobic) reasons, must avoid the pristine.
adidas Originals Stan Smith (Suede), SGD 139, is available at adidas Orignals stores, 313@Sommerset, Pacific Plaza, and Bugis+
adidas Originals Stan Smith “Oil Spill”
Environment-conscious consumers might find the name and idea off-putting, but this special finish on the patent-leather upper is truly quite unusual. The iridescent effect is designed to be akin to what you get when light hits the surface of crude oil, not necessarily from a spill. It’s an ideal shoe to go with a tuxedo, if you’re a rule-breaker kind of gala-event attendee.
adidas Originals Stan Smith “Oil Smith” is currently not available in Singapore
adidas Originals Stan Smith Vulc
Odd as it may seem, this release is really for skateboarding than tennis. The Vulc is, therefore, kitted for stunts such as nosesliding. But unlike the designs on a typical skateboard, the Vulc is simple to the point of plain. Its upper is a single layer of what Adidas calls “Sprintskin”, a lightweight material that offers good support. The outsole—described as “grippy”—is designed specifically for board control.
adidas Originals Stan Smith Vulc is currently not available in Singapore
adidas Originals Stan Smith Primeknit
Launched in limited quantities in Europe only last month, this Stan Smith is probably one of the lightest versions ever to hit the shelves. Despite the early controversy surrounding Adidas’s Primeknit technology, there’s no stopping the German shoe maker from introducing a version in this breathable, sock-like fabric, all styled in the classic colours of the original Stan Smith.
adidas Originals Stan Smith Primeknit is currently not available in Singapore
adidas Originals Stan Smith 2 Mahagony
With this colour and finish of the leather, it’s hard to tell that the Stan Smith is originally a tennis shoe. Released in 2011, this version features a smooth leather upper that has a nicely aged look. The heel tab is in a darker shade of brown, and there is a thin beige outsole beneath the classic white midsole. Not immediately discernible, but you know it’s there. And that makes it special.
adidas Originals Stan Smith 2 Mahagony is not available in Singapore
adidas Originals Stan Smith Mid
Those who like their kicks riding higher up the ankles will appreciate this version conceived by American designer Mark McNairy and Japanese designer Kazuki Kuraishi (also collaborator with adidas Originals for the concept line 84-LAB). There’s a work boot aesthetic about it, particularly the laces that run through the nickle eyelets as well as the upper of aniline leather, which is essentially hide stained with soluble dyes that do not hide the leather’s inherent “grain”. To add individuality to this interpretation, the heel tab on the left reads Stan, while the right, Smith. This mid-cut captures the Japanese flair for taking American footwear classics and making them so attractive for the urban pavement.
adidas Originals Stan Smith Mid, SGD 220, is available at adidas Orignals stores, 313@Sommerset, Pacific Plaza, and Bugis+
Bedwin & The Heartbreakers X Stan Smith
One of three in the current Stan Smith line-up that comes with a heel pull—this one red with the Adidas stripes stretched diagonally across. Japanese design collective with the indie-band-sounding name Bedwin and the Heartbreakers splattered paints of largely primary colours on the white leather upper (heel tab is all-white too). Off-white out-soles and special blue and white insoles allow this version to stand out. On the tongue, you don’t get Mr Smith’s face telling you he endorsed the shoe. Instead, there’s a proud declaration that this version was “designed in Tokyo, built on German heritage…” Just the shoe for those averse to stark white.
Bedwin & The Heartbreakers X Stan Smith, SGD199, is available at adidas Orignals stores, 313@Sommerset, Pacific Plaza, and Bugis+
Y’s X Stan Smith
Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto’s collaboration with Adidas goes back to 2001 for the autumn/winter season. Those limited-edition shoes for women predated Y-3, which debuted in 2003. Y’s, Mr Yamamoto’s first label, paired with Adidas last year to conceive the Y’s Super Position, based on the Superstar shoe. The current design for Stan Smith is similar: grey suede overlays on the upper run alongside the tongue (that has the Y’s logo at the top) and sides in coarse-grain navy canvas on which double zig-zag stitches with over-hanging ends take the place of the trio of perforated lines. The hand-sewn, dress-making feel to these shoes appeals to the artisan in so many of us.
Y’s X Stan Smith, SGD249, is available at Left Foot, Cineleisure Orchard and The Cathay
Neighborhood X Stan Smith
Tokyo-based Neighborhood, motorcycle-attire-turned-street-wear-apparel giant, is known for their clever take on classic clothing. Here, too, they do not attempt to overhaul the Stan Smith. Instead, they’ve given it a colour makeover with an unlikely shade—chocolate. It is the only one in this year’s collaborations that has a brand callout on the toe box: “Adidas No.1 Neighborhood” atop skull and crossbones, followed by the Stan Smith logo. The branding, certainly to the delight of fans, continues at the back on the heel tab, reminding all who look behind you down there that this is a “Customized Project”. Those slavishly sticking to street style know subtlety is not swaggy!
Neighborhood X Stan Smith, SGD 249, is available at Left Foot, Cineleisure Orchard and The Cathay, and Ltd Edition Vault, 313@Sommerset
Mastermind Japan X Stan Smith
Here’s another skull-and-crossbones branding for you. To be fair, Mastermind Japan has been associated with the motif since the brand’s inception, and designer Maasaki Homma (once with Yohji Yamamoto, hence the dominance of black in the line) has successfully built his brand on this symbol we’ve come to associate with poison. For this Adidas collaboration, silver skull and crossbones take the place of Stan Smith’s visage on the tongue, and appear on the heel tab as well. Much of the black leather upper is laser-cut with repeated patterns of micro-Xs, perhaps suggesting crossbones. One small but special detail: black stitching on the forefoot of the white midsole. That alone makes this Stan Smith quite a standout.
Mastermind Japan X Stan Smith is reported to be stocked at Left Foot, but, for reasons unknown, is not for sale
Shigeki Fujishiro X Stan Smith PLAY
And playful it is! Stan Smith’s identifiable perforated three lines are threaded through with rubber bands to form graphic shapes that are different on each side. Japanese product designer Shigeki Fujishiro, more noted for creating furniture than re-imagining sneakers, has added to these clinically white shoes something that is not only tactile, but playable. Just as there are some of us who are inclined to fiddle with our rings, watch straps and other movable parts of our attire, there are those who will love to snap on these strapped configurations. Play on.
Shigeki Fujishiro X Stan Smith PLAY, SGD 249, is available at Left Foot, Cineleisure Orchard and The Cathay
Clot X Stan Smith
Edison Chen’s career in music and film may not have survived that scandal, but his clothing label Clot continues to make waves. Co-partner and designer Kevin Poon’s take on the Stan Smith is Darth-dark with a dash of disco. The nubuck upper and gold leather accents (on tongue and heel tab) reflect Clot’s propensity for pairing unabashed street aesthetics with the garish. The result isn’t as gaudy as you think it might be. A Clot callout in gold at the outer rear, just beneath the heel tab, stamps the side of the shoe like a tattoo on a rump.
Clot X Stan Smith, SGD 245, is available at Left Foot, Cineleisure Orchard and The Cathay
Raf Simons X Stan Smith
For those used to and in love with the fancy and colour-galore boats-as-shoes Adidas produces for Raf Simons, the designer’s take on the Stan Smith may seem bland. Inconsistent, considering his version from last season was more outré: two straps across the top that fastened with buttons underneath and triple stripes running right through the middle, from the tip of the tongue to the base of the toe. Now, it’s back to a more recognisable form factor, which is really not a terrible decision. The appeal of the Stan Smith is how simple it is, not how over-the-top. But for those who like their footwear attention-grabbing, there’s this new colourway: orange, and all-over orange to boot! Setting itself clearly as designer kicks, the recognisable three perforated lines have morphed into a single line in a comprehensible capital R. Ravishing?
Raf Simons X Stan Smith is not yet available in Singapore
Special thanks to A.B. Tan for loan of adidas Originals Stan Smith Classic. Top three photos: Jim Sim