Tennis has long been one of the most powerful sports to influence the fashion industry, from the famous Bjorn Borg – Fila days, to the infamous Serena Williams catsuits. Each new generation of players seems to come with an iconic figure or rivalry that catalyzes the next aesthetic revolution. Brands will rush to have their name upon these highly visible, passionate and influential ambassadors, who relish in the spotlight. The sport itself, has traditionally been quite an, ‘exclusive’ activity to take part in, allowing for luxury brands to develop an image of wealth and privilege.
However, as tennis continues to evolve and become a more accessible sport to the masses, one component of the ‘tennis look’ has successfully kept everyone feeling like part of the community. Whether you consider yourself a participant of the sport or not, I bet somewhere in your house you have a pair of tennis inspired shoes. The tennis shoe has become not only some of the most impactful sports shoes ever, but also a must for most fashion brands in their street wear collection.
The beginning of the 1900’s saw a great rise in interest by sports brands to develop a tennis specific shoe. Companies like Adidas started to develop their first tennis shoe in the early ’30s and it was around this time that the iconic tennis look was born. While primarily known in basketball, the classic canvas and vulcanized rubber design of shoes like the Converse All-Star started the tennis shoe heritage. Among these founding shoe members was the Dunlop Volley, a shoe born out of Australia that took these to next level with its leather and vulcanized rubber design.
A little further down the line as we enter the 1960’s, a true star was born, the Adidas Stan Smiths. Anyone who pays even a minimal amount of attention to sneakers has heard of this legend in the shoe game. Fashion brands with all kinds of looks, personalities and visions adopted the design of this icon and still see high sales volumes of ‘Stan Smith’ style products. A heritage of this caliber doesn’t come from just looking good, it also comes from its performance ability. When Adidas released their first version, it brought with it the beginning of a footwear tech war, as brands rushed to compete with the supportive, yet light structure that it offered.
Jump forward to the 1990’s and it was time for Nike to enter the field and boy did they make some noise. Nike were entering at a time when companies such as Fred Perry had planted their feet firmly to the footwear floor. Within only a few years, the likes of John McEnroe and Andre Agassi brought Nike’s bold design to the forefront. Loud colors and high-topped ankles saw Nike tennis shoes being taken off the shelves by anyone who dared to dress brave, irrelevant to whether you played the sport or not. The Nike Air Tech Challenge II acted as the original Nike tennis shoe to barge its way into the tennis fashion space, endorsed by a long-haired Andre Agassi.
Twenty years later and Nike are at it again, this time partnering their tennis family with arguably the most recognized shoe endorsement range on the planet. In 2014, Nike played two of their most powerful ambassador cards and the result was glorious, welcome the Nike Air Zoom Vapor “Air Jordan”. In recent times, brands have moved away from broadly fashionable products and moved more into technologically advantageous products designed to enhance performance, not image. Therefore, putting such a powerful name in Air Jordan on the feet of possibly the most influential tennis player ever was smart. Roger Federer was truly embracing his partnership with Nike at this time and the Nike Air Zoom Vapor “Air Jordan” consolidated the legend status.