By: Derek Nelson
Photos by: Amy Huang
They’re everywhere, and it’s time to get rid of them.
You know what I’m talking about — those white leather sneakers with green heel tabs and three perforated stripes on the side. They’re the ones only your dad used to wear, that now appear in every corner of campus, from a White-Gravenor classroom on a Tuesday morning to the line at Epicurean on a Friday night. Never in my life have I seen a shoe so universally adopted by both men and women; even the UGG trend that gripped our middle school years fell short of attracting a significant male market. The adidas Stan Smith has now been worn by so many people — David, Kanye, and Karlie alike — that you should consider retiring them to the back of your closet.
At least this fad has respectable beginnings. Originally branded as the “Robert Haillet,” the sneakers hit the market as adidas’s first tennis shoes in 1963, and the name was changed to “Stan Smith” in 1971 when Haillet retired and Smith was the number one tennis player in the world. By the 1980s, the shoes were selling well and gaining in popularity, but had not yet reached the ultra-fame they see today. There are a myriad of possible explanations for what put them on the map again, but Stan Smith’s emergence on the high fashion scene is evident as early as 2004, when Marc Jacobs wore them on the runway. Phoebe Philo, creative director of Céline, perhaps began their association with clean, minimalist fashion during her several runway trips in the shoe, but it wasn’t until 2013 when Gisele posed for French Vogue in nothing but a pair of Stans that the shoe began its ascent to commercial ubiquity. In January 2014 adidas reissued the sneaker, and due in part to its price (only $75!), popularity, and key partnerships with Raf Simons and Pharrell to release special edition versions, the company has been outperforming competitor Nike over the past year.
This association with casual and minimalist elegance has allowed Stan Smiths to reach the summit they see today, but it has also been their downfall. You can’t turn around without seeing someone in a pair, so they’ve become boring. Basic. Pedestrian. No person who values his or her individual style wants to look like everyone else, so you’ll need to find something to replace them. The white tennis sneaker is here to stay, but being the nonconformist you are, you’re going to have to leave the Stan Smiths behind. Here are a few recommendations you might want to consider:
Named after their designer and Canadian world champion badminton player from the 1930s, Jack Purcell’s shoe brings all the clean lines and retro appeal of the Stan Smith, without their relative abundance. Converse bought the company in the 1970s and now makes both a leather and canvas version, though I prefer the classic canvas. At only $65, they’re the cheapest of the bunch, and they’ve been rocked by Hollywood and style legends James Dean and Steve McQueen, so you’ll be in good company.
Tretorn is a Swedish company founded in 1891, and its Nylite sneakers first came to market in 1967. These shoes were worn by Swedish tennis icon Björn Borg, and while you may not have his physique, you can certainly cop his style, for only $70. In my opinion, these have the best silhouette of any of the sneakers mentioned here, and their relative rarity in the States means you won’t have to run into someone else wearing them.
Sambas were first developed by adidas in the late 1940s, and were released in 1950 for soccer players who found it hard to train in icy conditions when the ground was frozen. Today, they are still worn as a popular indoor soccer shoe, and rank behind Stan Smiths as adidas’s second-best-selling shoe of all time. For soccer, the most common version is black with white stripes, but the white version makes more of a fashion statement for wearing them casually. This leather version will only cost you $70, a pretty fair price for a sneaker of their caliber.
Common Projects is by far the youngest and probably the coolest brand in this selection, but be weary of breaking the bank if you want a pair, because they’ll set you back $415. The company began in 2004 when former V magazine art director Peter Poopat joined with Italian brand consultant Flavio Girolami to make these sneakers out of high-quality Italian Nappa leather. They’re simple and beautiful — a true work of art — hand-stitched and completely blank except for the style number and size stamped in gold near the heel. It can be argued that Common Projects’s entrance to the fashion scene are a large reason for the recent success of Stan Smiths; if someone in a magazine is shown wearing white sneakers, they’re likely Achilles Lows. Most people just can’t afford the price tag.
Wait what? Didn’t I just tell you to throw your Stan Smiths away? While this is true of your classic leather sneakers, you can still get away with wearing a pair of these. An upgrade on the original design, the Stan Smith Primeknit features a flexible, breathable, woven upper that makes it stand out from its older brother. Still featuring the contrasting heel tab, there are no noticeable words or branding anywhere but the tongue on this shoe, giving it an even more minimalist vibe. They’re slightly more expensive at $110, but people won’t even notice you’re wearing adidas sneakers; just please buy the red or navy version instead of the original green. I’m getting sick of that color.