50 years after Stan Smith’s Wimbledon title, shoe line a feat

Not that he’s judging, but Stan Smith is checking your shoes.

Force of habit.

“When I walk, I generally look more at people’s feet than their faces just to see what they’re wearing,” said Smith, 75, who sat under a canopy in the back yard of the stately three-story home he rents all two of Weeks in Wimbledon one of the houses closest to the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.

It’s hard to blame him for his foot fixation. Over the past 50 years, Adidas has sold more than 100 million Stan Smith tennis shoes which are now a fashion statement and not something competitive players would wear on court.

Smith, a one-time standout at Pasadena High and USC, made the Guinness World Record for most pairs sold — about 22 million — in 1988, and that number rose in the 1990s when Adidas released the Stan Smith II and the Stan Smith released 80s in retro style.

The most common are straightforward, with pure white leather and a hint of green on the back.

Smith, who estimates he owns around 150 pairs, wears his everywhere – except at the Royal Box at Center Court, where they’re still considered a bit casual.

“I’ve been lobbying for quite a while, but they won’t let me do that,” he said. “I have some black ones. They have some that have a pointy toe, that’s a patent leather, but I haven’t tried that.”

This year in particular, Smith has received a number of upscale invitations. It’s the 50th anniversary of his Wimbledon men’s singles title and he and his wife Marjory will sit together with the Royals for the men’s singles final on Sunday.

In fact, there will be more Smiths in Center Court on Sunday than in an old London telephone book. This includes the four children and their spouses, as well as 10 of the 16 grandchildren. They will be there to celebrate Stan’s anniversary and then visit Adidas headquarters in Germany, the company that gave him a lifetime contract.

Stan Smith of the United States returns the ball to Ilie Nastase of Romania during a Wimbledon match in 1972.

Stan Smith of the United States returns the ball to Ilie Nastase of Romania during a Wimbledon match in 1972. Smith won that men’s singles title 50 years ago.

(Associated Press)

The first generations of the shoe that became the Stan Smith brand were actually named after French player Robert Haillet. This was in the early 1960s, and these Adidas had the same look – leather upper with three dotted lines of perforations and a flexible rubber sole. At that time, most athletic shoes were made of canvas. The Haillet also had the reinforced back to protect the Achilles tendon.

In 1971, with Haillet close to retirement, Adidas wanted to build a stronger presence in the United States and a footwear campaign around an American player. They targeted Smith, who was at the top of the leaderboard at the time.

What followed were several iterations of the shoe, including Haillet’s name on the side and Smith’s face on the tongue, as well as Smith’s name on the side and Haillet on the back.

“Gradually, it became better known for my name,” Smith said. “About four or five years later, they took his name off the shoe entirely.”

It wasn’t uncommon to create shoes around sports stars. Converse named canvas high tops after Chuck Taylor and badminton shoes after Jack Purcell. Adidas would name tennis shoes after Rod Laver, Ilie Nastase and Boris Becker.

But the Stan Smiths were really stuck. For decades they were the staple until sales slacked off in the early 2000s, prompting Adidas to withdraw them from the market in 2011. The company bought back all the inventory it could so people couldn’t find the shoe. Adidas told Smith the plan was to bring the shoe back after two years, but he didn’t have much faith in that ruse.

“They didn’t really have a concrete plan from our point of view,” he said. “We left the meeting thinking, ‘Well, it’s been 40 years. It was a good run.’ ”

In fact, the company stayed true to their word and re-released the shoe on January 15, 2014. As part of the marketing strategy, they gave each of 100 influencers a pair of shoes, with a twist – her Image on the tongue instead of Smith’s. That helped spread the word.

Stan Smith's shoes in 2022.

Stan Smith’s 2022 shoes with a classic style.

(Sam Farmer/Los Angeles Times)

The company had fashion designer Stella McCartney and singer Pharrell Williams design the shoe. There were all kinds of Stan Smiths – covered in graffiti, with leopard spots, Kermit the Frog shoes and those with shiny silver tongues and gold lames toe caps.

“The most unusual ones I’ve seen look like high tops with a zipper around the bottom,” Smith said. “You can zip off the high top and it’s a regular low-top shoe.”

Among his favorites in his collection are a cardinal-and-gold version — he has the USC fight song as a ringtone — and one made from cracked black leather with tennis ball material on the back.

In 2019, while seated in the royal box, Smith presented Kate Middleton with a tiny pair of his shoes for Prince Louis, who was then one year old. The tabloids got a picture of it and the picture went viral.

Smith has attended every Wimbledon but one since 1965, either as a player or as a guest of honour. For the past 25 years, he and his business partner, Gary Niebur, have entertained clients at the home adjacent to the practice sites.

“I’m talking about the tournament, the games they’re going to watch, we’re taking some photos,” Smith said. “We watch tennis and then come back for tea. It’s a lovely English garden atmosphere and we occasionally get a few balls off the pitches over the fence.”

A recent visitor, a business manager, told Smith he had 400 pairs of his shoes at home.

You’d think a guy would get an ego blow because of that.

Smith’s wife keeps him in check.

“I gave an interview once and said, ‘Probably 95% of the people in the world have no idea who I am,'” he said. “And my wife came over and said, ‘Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world have no idea who you are.’

“Thank you sweet.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-07-08/stan-smith-tennis-shoes-wimbledon-champion-50-years-ago 50 years after Stan Smith’s Wimbledon title, shoe line a feat

Emma Bowman

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