Iconic Shoe Brands
More than any other single piece of sports kit or equipment, shoes make the biggest statement about an athlete, defining their specialist skills, and often establishing their influence on popular culture.
In Nike co-founder Phil Knights excellent book ‘Shoe Dog’, which chronicles the early history of the company and the establishment of the brand, we are introduced to the Onitsuka TG-24’s that eventually become one of Nikes most iconic styles, the Cortez.
Introduced as ‘the world’s lightest running shoe’ the Nike Nylon Cortez soon translated its pure athletic heritage into the worlds of fashion, music and film. Seen in 70’s hit TV show ‘Charlie’s Angels’, worn by Elton John on stage in the early 80’s and adopted by LA gangster rappers in the late 80’s, the Cortez then hit the big screen in 1994 with ‘Forrest Gump’.
‘The best gift anyone could ever give me!’ said Forrest, when his soul mate Jennie gave him the shoes that put the ‘Run’ into ‘Run Forrest, run’.
Even more embedded in modern culture is the Nike Air Jordan, a constantly evolving basketball shoe, created in collaboration with superstar of the game, Michael Jordan.
Developed specifically to help basketball players, Jordan in particular, as they take off and land, the visionary designer responsible for almost all of the iconic Air Jordan styles created throughout its evolution is Tinker Hatfield. His relationship with Jordan and his thought processes in design, can be seen in the superb Netflix documentary series ‘Abstract: The Art of Design’.
Rap star Jay-Z’s dedication to his Air Jordans says everything about how Tinker Hatfields designs reached way beyond the basketball court. ’When I come back like Jordan wearing the 4-5 it ain’t to play games with you.’
Nikes great rivals Adidas have also achieved similar cult status with some of their iconic styles, especially with styles rooted in tennis and football (soccer to our US readers).
In the early 70’s when Adidas teamed up with US Open and Wimbledon winner Stan Smith, the soon to be World Number One tennis player, one of the most successful partnerships in sports shoe history was born.
In the late 70’s the name of the tennis shoe that Smith wore was officially changed to the Adidas Stan Smith and sales really began to take off. They were worn by more and more of Smiths opponents, and Stan was quoted as saying ‘I got really annoyed the first time I lost a match against a guy who was wearing my shoes’.
As performance shoe technology developed in the 1980’s, less and less Stan Smiths were being worn by players on court, but this didn’t stop them becoming even more popular off court with over 23 million pairs sold by 1994. Today, Stan Smiths are still very much a treasured part of many hipster wardrobes.
Finally, cast your mind back to the playing career of one of Englands most famous footballers, and one of sport and fashions most recognisable faces. As well as his ‘personal brand’, David Beckham is famed for the unique way that he struck a football, whipping in crosses, hitting defence splitting passes, and bending in unstoppable free kicks.
His outstanding ball striking even gave name to the 2002 box office hit ‘Bend It Like Beckham’.
Along with French superstar Zinadine Zidane, Beckham was synonymous with the Adidas Predator boot, and this year both former players have been invited to collaborate in the design of classic remakes to celebrate 25 years of the Predator ‘pack’.
Whilst the Predator, with its cleats, cannot translate onto the street in the same way that tennis shoes or basketball shoes can, this ground-breaking design has undoubtedly inspired whole generations of young footballers to try and bend it like Beckham.
Shoes are more than just a part of your kit that you put on your feet, they are game-changing, they define us, and they are a statement that we can all make.