Review by C.J. Bunce
It’s not every day you come across the ultimate book for your barber shop, but this is in the running. Along with a wall listing current local pro and college team scores and a stack of wrinkled sports magazines, a new book about Stan Smith should be on the table if your local haircut joint is like mine. Who would have thought a style of shoe could reach across so many segments of pop culture? Excepting basketball player Chuck Taylor’s association with the Converse All Stars shoe and Doc Martens’ famous boots, the Adidas tennis shoe (not sneaker, not trainer) that Smith put his name on is easily one of the most identifiable athletic shoes of the past five decades. Smith and his shoes, known simply as “Stan Smiths” to most, have had a mutually beneficial relationship, and everything you’d want to know about the professional tennis player and his shoe can be found in the new book Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe, a collection of stories about the athlete who was the world’s #1 tennis player in 1971 and 1972 and a two-time Grand Slam singles champion–and his famous shoe.
It’s said to be the shoe Harrison Ford wore as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner–a pair of Stan Smiths spray-painted black. From The Beatles to hip hop, the unassuming white shoe with green trim and perforated lines instead of stripes has been a preferred accessory across popular music icons. David Bowie and John Lennon made their own statements wearing Smith’s tennis shoe with their otherwise more stylish clothes. They were a regular sight among The Beastie Boys years later, Jay-Z included them in lyrics to one of his songs, and custom Kylie Minogue, Pharrel Williams, and Elton John versions of the shoe sold for big bucks at auction. The shoe went through technology upgrades over time, but it has always remained instantly recognizable. An A to Z section of Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe includes anecdotes from Smith from his trips around the world, history of the shoe from the decision by Smith to endorse the Adidas Haillet–the first leather tennis shoe invented in 1963–with his own name ten years after its creation, to Smith’s current status as mentor, coach, and philanthropist. The hardcover volume with 336 pages of full color photographs feature Smith’s life, newspaper coverage of his key games, pop culture personalities and how they were affected by either Smith or the shoe, and dozens of versions, schematics, and designs that Adidas has introduced to the Stan Smith shoe since 1973.
The book is also a look at a long-lasting advertising idea, an endorsement that created an artifact of sub-culture tapped as a symbol of identity by Baby Boomers to Millennials, eclipsing a wide range of fields of celebrity. The book reflects the art of self-promotion, including commentary from executives from Adidas past and present plus execs at places like PepsiCo, as well as artists and designers influenced by the shoe–the book itself is a promotion for the continuing sales of the shoe. One commenter believes you’ll find more Stan Smiths on the streets of Paris than berets. And it was added to the Guinness Book of World Records as the top-selling “named” shoe when it surpassed 22 million pairs sold. The book interviews one fan who boasts 230 pairs in his home. Former tennis pro Martina Navratilova wears Stan Smiths everywhere today. According to a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, “The magic of the Stan Smith shoe is that it can pass as a normal sneaker but also be used as a dressed-up shoe to a black tie event.” Some people even seek out beaten-up pairs of the shoe because they think they look better.
Other non-shoe artifacts of Smith’s career that readers will see in the book include his sports medals, trophies, and rings, and Smith wearing today his U.S. Army fatigues from when he was drafted in 1970 and tennis outfits he’s saved from his championship years.
Particularly good stories include a reflection by Smith on the famous boycott of the 1973 Wimbledon championships by the world’s best tennis players and accounts from professional athletes in other sports that swear by his shoe. Smith was told outside a New York party with Prince in 2005 that he was “big in the hood,” as a parking attendant ran home to get his own pair of Stan Smiths for Smith to sign. The shoe blurs economic, social, and geographic lines.
A look at the success of celebrity and advertising, for fans of the man, his sport, and his famous shoe, pick up your copy of Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe from Rizzoli Publishing, available here at Amazon.