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Meet Stan Smith:
An exclusive interview with the man behind Adidas’ best-selling sneaker


 

Few fashion pieces have attained the cult status of Stan Smiths. They’re name-dropped in Lil Wayne and Jay Z tracks, reinterpreted by designers including Raf Simons and Yohji Yamamoto, and worn—proudly—by everyone from teenage mallrats to the celeb set. Gisele Bündchen sported them—and nothing else...save socks—in Vogue Paris’ November 2013 issue, and Pharrell Williams hand-painted, Murakami-style, a collection of the iconic sneaks for charity. But for all their ubiquity, the question remains: Who is Stan Smith, anyway?

 

Maybe you were too swept up in the hype to note the humble portrait on the shoe tongues. Stanley Roger Smith is, in fact, a living, breathing person, not just a marketing construct. In 1971, the Pasadena, California, native was the number one tennis player in the world, prompting German shoe brand Adidas to offer him an endorsement deal. (Full disclosure: The shoe had originally been released in 1965 and was repped by French tennis star Robert Haillet, who had since retired.) In the years that followed, Smith went on to win seven Grand Slam titles, seven Davis Cup championships, and 100 Association of Tennis Professionals tour titles wearing his own shoes, making him one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. history.

So why don’t more people know about him?

Since retiring from the professional tennis circuit in 1985, Smith, now 70, has maintained a low profile outside the sport. He continues to travel the world on behalf of Adidas, is the president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and co-owns the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy, in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife of 43 years, former collegiate tennis player Marjory Gengler. (No slouch herself, she was the captain of Princeton’s undefeated team and a member of the school’s first co-ed graduating class.)

 

For some fresh outfit ideas to pair with your Stans, head to our Instagram.
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“We have four children and 12 grandchildren, so we spend most of our time running around with them,” says Smith, who has a memoir in the works and admits that he wears his Stan Smiths to do “just about everything” but play tennis these days. And thanks to gramps, the whole crew has—literally—been grandfathered into the Adidas family. “The kids didn’t know people wore anything but Adidas until they were 12 or 13 years old,” he says, noting that even the babies wear Stan Smiths. Like the shoe itself, Smith and his family have graduated from athletic wear to more stylish digs. “I wear my blue-suede Stan Smiths a fair amount,” he says. “It’s been amazing to see what Adidas has done. They’ve gone from a high-tech tennis shoe to a fashion shoe.”

 

 

In the years since, Adidas continues to reinvent the Stan Smith. In August, Pharrell Williams released his pastel mesh Tennis Hu, a sleek update of the original. “That was an eye-opener,” says Smith, who hung with the musician while watching Serena Williams play at the Australian Open this year. “I was giving him a little tennis tutorial—we learned a bit from each other.” It’s a give and take that’s become familiar to Smith. "I’ve had great opportunities to meet a lot of interesting people along the way and I’ve learned that people are more alike than different,” he says. “It’s fun to see people of all ages and genders and generations wearing them. We need to be uniting people. And my shoes do that."

 

“We need to be uniting people. And my shoes do that.”
Stan Smith

 

 

Stan Smiths, A Timeline

1965 Adidas releases the white-and-green Robert Haillet (same sneaker, different tennis star).
1971 After Haillet retires, Adidas contracts Smith to endorse Robert Haillets (complete with Haillet’s name on them above a portrait of Smith).
1978 Adidas officially renames the shoes Stan Smiths, with both Smith’s signature and portrait.
1988 Stan Smiths are inducted into the Guinness World Records for pairs sold.
2001 Jay Z name-drops Stan Smiths on The Blueprint album.
2011 Céline designer Phoebe Philo takes a bow in them at the end of her Fall/Winter ready-to-wear show.
2012 Adidas pulls the plug on Stan Smiths, taking them out of production.
2014 The brand reissues the sneaker in a marketing hype storm, sending personalized Stan Smiths to celebrities with their own portrait in place of Smith’s. Raf Simons does a version.
2015 Alexander Wang sends a Stan Smith-inspired ensemble down the runway during his Spring/Summer show.
2017 Pharrell Williams releases the Tennis Hu, an update on the original.

 
Written by Jennifer Fernandez. Illustrations by Hallie Heald.

 

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