Signature shoe deals don’t get any more iconic than the adidas Stan Smith. What started as a revolutionary new tennis shoe has now progressed to cult-like fashion status.
This shoe is so popular that when people utter the words “Stan Smith,” they are more likely to be referring to the tennis shoe itself than the person the shoes are named for.
But who is Stan Smith and why are these adidas tennis shoes still so popular? What’s the story behind them?
Who is Stan Smith?
You can think of Stan Smith as the ultimate beneficiary from being in the right place at the right time.
Originally, the adidas Stan Smith tennis shoe was released in 1965 and was first called the adidas Robert Haillet.
Haillet was a French tennis star at the time but he retired in 1971, leaving adidas wondering what to do with the shoe.
They were at a crossroads because after its release, it had become known as the best tennis shoe on the market, so adidas knew they needed an active player to endorse the shoe for the burgeoning world-wide tennis shoe market.
They definitely didn’t want to have to discontinue such a popular shoe when they knew it was poised for greatness.
Coincidentally, that same year, an American player named Stan Smith turned heads when he won the U.S. Open. He would later go on to win Wimbledon and be ranked World No. 1 in 1972.
It was the perfect storm; first Haillet decided to retire while at the same time Stan Smith was climbing up the rankings and adidas needed to replace Haillet ASAP.
After negotiating the contract, Smith signed on to endorse the shoe. Adidas was able to release it to the American tennis market with an American’s name on it and the rest is sneaker history.
Origin of the adidas Stan Smith tennis shoe
Since the 1930s, adidas had found that forming a partnership with famous athletes greatly helped shoe sales.
Most famously, Jesse Owens wore their running shoes during the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. These were the Olympic Games where Hitler had planned to showcase Nazi athlete superiority.
Until 1963, players typically wore canvas tennis shoes.
But adidas wanted to break into the tennis shoe market so they released an innovative leather tennis shoe. The leather gave the shoes more upper support, which helped to prevent sprained ankles and other minor injuries.
To help sell the shoes, adidas would first sign endorsement deals with Robert Haillet and later, Stan Smith. The shoes were called the adidas Robert Haillet from 1965-1973.
After Haillett retired they were still named for Haillet but featured an image of Stan Smith on the tongue.
They would not become fully known as the adidas Stan Smith until 1978 when adidas rebranded the shoe.
Why are Stan Smiths so popular?
Over the years, the adidas Stan Smith has been seen on famous athletes and runways. They’ve also appeared across pop-culture, on celebrities, and they’ve sold millions of pairs.
They are touted as being ridiculously comfortable, made from top-quality materials, and as being a fashion prudent investment.
All of this makes them one of adidas best selling shoes of all time and one of the longest and most lucrative signature shoe deals of all time.
One reason for their popularity is actually two-fold. As we touched on earlier, in the mid to late 70s the Stan Smiths were regarded as the best tennis shoes on the market.
Pair that with the surge in tennis’ popularity across the world after the Open Era began and you had an undeniably large market.
Another reason for their popularity is that even though shoe technology had progressed, the Stan Smiths had become extremely popular as everyday sneakers.
So, in a stroke of marketing genius, adidas decided to discontinue making the shoe for over two years.
This created scarcity and pent-up demand.
When they were re-released a few years later, the increased intrigue was so high that even high-end retail stores like Barneys New York began to carry them but kept them at their relatively low price.
That meant everyone could afford them no matter their fashion status.
To this day, you’ll see celebrities like Pharrell, Ellen Degeneres, Kristen Stewart, and even David Beckham wearing them.
All of this is because of the adidas Stan Smith shoe’s classic, minimalistic design that’s easily matched to any color and fashion.
adidas tennis shoes then & now
In keeping with the relatively few changes to the appearance of the shoe, adidas has not made many performance changes, either.
In the 1970s version, the shoes had less cushioning, a thin tongue, and no inner lining.
Although using leather as the upper material was performance-forward at the time, the adidas Stan Smith would not work in today’s modern game.
Modern shoes have more support, cushioning, and use highly innovative technologies to increase player ability.
Players now have many different options for shoes, based on their playing style, the type of court they’ll be playing on, and what their overall preferences are.
For instance, the adidas Stycon (STability, stYle, and iCON) locks down your midfoot for ultimate support and control during lateral movements.
Or there’s the adidas Solecourt Boost which features premium cushioning and can actually absorb and return the kinetic energy from every step during your match.
Players can also go with a lightweight shoe like the soon to be updated adidas Adizero Ubersonic with its mesh upper that decreases this shoe’s weight.
As far as signature shoe deals go, the adidas Stan Smith is hard to beat. For almost fifty years, it’s kept Stan Smith in the fashion lexicon, on shelves, and continues to put $$$ in adidas’ pocket.
We don’t see them going away any time soon, either.
For more shoe or apparel questions or history, visit the Tennis Express blog.