“Some People Think I’m a Shoe”
That’s the name of Stan Smith’s new coffee table book with Adidas. The project celebrates the iconic green and white tennis shoes that have undoubtedly become a staple in closets across the world. And although shopping culture seems to always be focused on the new, these simple shoes are incredible in that they’ve held the interest of consumers without fail for almost 50 years.
But who exactly is the smiling man printed on the tongue of these enduring sneaks? “To be quite honest,” Smith says. “Most people don’t know who I am as a player, especially the millennial group.” Funny then, that his shoes have become a key part of the millennial uniform.
Smith is an American tennis player who battled it out on the courts from the late 60s through to the 80s. Along with two grand slam wins under his belt and some incredible doubles partnering with Bob Lutz, he was, at one point, regarded as the best tennis player in the world.
And now, 50 years after the Adidas Stan Smith shoe first came on the market, Smith is adding author to his repertoire. The athlete celebrated the launch of the new Rizzoli coffee table book Monday night in the midst of the TIFF festivities. From parties to panels, RBC House has been the go-to spot for all things festival-related and they helped make sure the event, which included a musical performance by Dwayne Gretzky, went off without a hitch.
For Smith, it made sense incorporating RBC into the book release. The company has worked with the athlete for many years. “They’ve become part of my family. I know they do so much for athletes,” he says. “I have a lot of respect, and now, a lot of friends at RBC.”
We got to sit down and chat with Smith about the new book, his career and the shoe collab that changed the world.
Why did you decide to create this book?
Well, I did it for two reasons. One was to document the shoe because it’s been one of the best-sellers around the world. The second thing was I wanted to get stories from people–influencers, celebrities, as well as just the average person–who’ve all worn the shoe, and I’ve found that it’s just become part of the fabric of some people’s lives and families. It’s kind of amazing, I’ve talked to people who met wearing the shoes and then seven years later got married in them because they were significant in their lives. Hugh Grant turned around at Wimbledon in the royal box last year and said, ‘First girl I ever kissed I was wearing your shoe’. There are some funny stories out there, I heard a couple last night as a matter of fact.
Originally, I just wanted to feature the shoe itself and then maybe later do a book on my career, but the creative people saw some of the materials that I had. Now, most of the highlights of my career are in the book as well, so it’s pretty much a blend of my career and the shoe.
The design has really transcended from its original purpose as a simple collab into, now, one of the most iconic shoes of all time. How does it feel to be the person behind that?
It’s interesting. When I first wore the shoe it was a high-tech tennis shoe. It was a real honour to be affiliated with Adidas and to be a part of that team. That was 47 years ago and the shoe has gotten a life of its own.
Is it weird to think that a lot of people don’t even associate the shoe with you?
It’s pretty normal. You know, when you think of Chuck Taylor’s–it’s probably the first shoe that had a name on it–I know that Chuck Taylor was a coach who played basketball (probably), but I don’t know much about him. So, it’s pretty normal. Even tennis players today, the young players coming up, some know about tennis history–Roger Federer’s really become a student of the history of the game–but some tennis players don’t know about any of the players from the past. Sometimes I’ll walk past people wearing the shoes and I stop them and I’m like, “How do you keep your shoes so white?” and they’ll look at me like, “What are you talking about?” so sometimes I have fun with that. Normally, I just appreciate that people are wearing the shoe.
Why do you think they have stood the test of time and remained so popular?
Today you get a lot of bells and whistles and products that are here today and gone tomorrow. But this is basic, it’s white, it’s comfortable, it’s a good price point—although Raf Simons put his R on it and now it’s hundreds of more dollars for the same shoe, it’s pretty bizarre–and you can wear them with anything: jeans, a tuxedo, a dress.
Yeah, and it’s all types of people too. Everyone from John Legend to Usher.
Yeah, you got the preppies and then the hip-hop people, the musicians… It’s so diverse, men and women, boys and girls, they cover the bases.
Do you think the book will bring a bit of tennis back into the shoe?
To be quite honest I’m not really too concerned with the sale of the book. I wanted to have this documentation…
Yeah, for myself and for Adidas. I would love to hear more stories from people, though. Pharell [Williams] was terrific to do the forward and he wrote a very nice piece.
He’s been a collaborator in the past too, right?
Yeah, he’s worked with us on a version of the shoe.
Do you have a favourite collab?
Well, the one I actually like the best is this new mesh one. It’s kind of like a grey and purple colouring. It’s very comfortable and super cool. It’s got his logo on the back and my picture on the tongue.
Do you collect all of them?
In the book you’ll see a lot of photographs, I mean every letter has a shoe. And I’d say 20 to 30 of them I’ve never even seen myself before the book. I wish I had a pair of each of them.
Just a whole closet dedicated to Stan Smiths…
Yeah, I mean I do have a closet dedicated to probably 60 or 70 pairs of shoes and there are a lot of those that are in the book and then some others that are more unusual.
So it’s been almost five decades since their launch. Do you think they’ll last another 50 years?
Honestly, that’s that $64,000 dollar question. I mean, who knows exactly what’s going to happen? A lot of other companies have made shoes to look as much like mine as possible because they know they’ve been popular. So they seem to be here, whether they’re here to stay, we’ll have to wait and see.