For those deeply immersed in the world of tennis you may remember Stan Smith as the former World No. 1, winner of not one, but two Grand Slam singles championships and having a fruitful tennis career with countless awards and accolades. As for everyone else, you may know him as a shoe.
“My daughter was 13, she came home and said ‘Dad, you’re famous!’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She goes ‘You’re in Jay-Z’s song,’” Smith, born Stanley Roger Smith, recounts.
It was around this time, in the early 2000s, Smith realized that the Adidas Stan Smith tennis trainers he initially endorsed decades ago had evolved beyond his athletic legacy. On a track from 2001’s The Blueprint, rapper Jay-Z refers to the shoes in a line that goes “Lampin’ in the Hamptons / The weekends man, the Stan Smith Adidas and the Campus.” Most people would agree that if the highest paid rapper in the world has mentioned your name in a song, then you’re kind of a big deal.
Smith laughs fondly recalling the memory as he sits hands clasped in his lap and a pair of well-worn Adidas Stan Smiths on his feet. He smiles as he shares the archive of stories he’s collected since partnering with Adidas over 40 years ago. There was the time Usher revealed to People Magazine that he had a pair of Stan Smiths in every colour available or when Hugh Grant turned to Smith at Wimbledon this year and said, “The first time I ever kissed a girl I was wearing your shoe.”
“There are some bizarre stories,” Smith adds.
“You’ll see little babies wearing [the shoe] to men and women of all ages all over the world.”
It’s an early morning chat at the RBC House during the Toronto International Film Festival and the former tennis champ is still lively despite having been there the night before to celebrate the launch of his new coffee table book Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m A Shoe! RBC has been a longstanding sponsor of the annual golf tournament run by Smith’s club in the Atlanta region. A collaboration with the RBC House, an emerging hub for parties and events in Toronto, was a no brainer. The book highlights milestones in Smith’s career as an award-winning athlete as well as the history of the Adidas Stan Smith trainer and how it grew to be one of the most iconic fashion pieces in the world.
“The shoe has become a fashion item. The people who’ve embraced the shoe have been in fashion, music, of course athletes, lifestyle folks and people from all different generations. You’ll see little babies wearing it to men and women of all ages all over the world,” says Smith.
“As I’ve travelled around, people who’ve followed tennis knew my career, but so many people that wear the shoe, particularly millennials and even older, would not necessarily know that I was a tennis player.”
Thus, the motivation for the book’s playful title, which Smith’s says he’d been thinking about for over five years before it was put to paper. Initially, the sneakers were designed as the first tennis shoe made with a white leather upper to adhere to the game’s strict all-white apparel regulations. Along the sides are three rows of vented air holes symbolizing the Adidas 3-stripe insignia while the image of Stan Smith’s face is found printed on the tongue in forest green.
“Like a great song that has survived the ages, the Stan Smith shoe has undergone slight variations, but the melody has stayed the same.”
Throughout the ’70s the shoe’s presence was widely successful in the realm of tennis. However, as told in Smith’s book, it was in 1977 when David Bowie appeared in press photos rocking a cream dress shirt, chinos and a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths on his feet that the trainers began to turn heads in the fashion industry. From collaborations with fashion designers Raf Simons and Pharrell Williams to being worn by the likes of Kanye West, Marc Jacobs and Phoebe Philo (former creative director of Céline) there is no denying the Stan Smith shoe’s popularity among the world’s best dressed. Pharrell Williams contributes his spiel in a foreword at the very beginning of the book where he makes a connection between the sneakers and his relationship with music.
“Like a great song that has survived the ages, the Stan Smith shoe has undergone slight variations, but the melody has stayed the same,” writes Williams.
“There is never any need to tamper with class. Stan Smith, of course, exudes class…”
It is due to this key detail that Williams believes the trainers have managed to become a common denominator in the lives of people hailing from various professions, hobbies, cultures and generations. The Adidas Stan Smith went beyond what most would have predicted and it continues to flow effortlessly with the swing of modern trends.
Smith remembers his time with Adidas and how an initial short-term partnership became a life-long chronicle.
“It was a real honour for me to be involved with a great brand and it’s still one of the great brands in the world. I had no idea that this arrangement and relationship would be going on for all this time . . . The shoe had lasted the test of time . . . It’s been interesting.”
Main article photo © Sadé Powell + Urbanology Magazine
Editor’s note: A previous published version of this article incorrectly stated that the RBC House was launching. It is, in fact, in its second year of operation.