We caught up with the tennis player slash human shoe about staying power, sustainability, and a Stan Smith documentary being in the works
Stan Smith turns 74 today. He’s been working with adidas for nearly 50 years, his name emblazoned across the brand’s most famous shoe, and he’s all too happy to acknowledge that someone could walk past him wearing Stan Smiths and they wouldn’t know who he was.
Despite his relative anonymity, the shoe has serious staying power, having undergone a revival during the 2010s perhaps sparked by Phoebe Philo emerging backstage from a Celine show in 2015, then embraced by Marc Jacobs and Raf Simons, who redesigned the shoe. This crossover didn’t affect its unique ubiquity, the shoe worn by everyone from major designers to your mum.
In 2020, the Stan Smith is about to change again – not in design, look or feel, but in the way that it’s made. At the beginning of a new era for the shoe, adidas Originals is overhauling the shoe from the inside, PRIMEGREEN, a series of high-performance recycled materials, a design principle that chimes with adidas’ wider mission to End Plastic Waste. On its site, adidas says “as we continue to address our overall carbon footprint, we’re shifting to use 100% recycled polyester in our products by 2024.”
To mark the release of the two news iterations of the Stan Smith, we caught up with the former tennis player and human shoe to talk about his legacy, a possible new documentary on his life, and how it feels to see the Stan Smiths moving into the future.
It’s your birthday. How are you celebrating?
Stan Smith: Well, we’re actually going to play some golf on Monday. And then have dinner with another couple. We’re gonna be sitting outdoors at a restaurant, which is going to be a little cold, probably, But anyway, that’s what we’re doing.
For many people, 2020 has been reflective and nostalgic – have you had time to think both about your legacy and the future?
Stan Smith: It’s been an unusual year, and it has been a time to reflect upon what we’ve done in our lives. I found out that I really appreciate the friends that I have. In fact, one of my friends, Dennis Ralston just passed away two days ago, he was a Davis cup captain, he was my coach. He was a really good friend, he went to the same university, and he just passed away. So the last year, in general, I’ve been trying to stay in contact with friends.
Then it’s been fun to see what we’re doing with the shoe. And to see that we’re using these high performance recycled materials. So that’s very exciting to see that the shoe is going to help lead the way for adidas, as far as their whole philosophy goes. Not just with the Stan Smith but with the philosophy of all the products that are going to be made.
“You see the preppy kids wearing the shoes, you see the inner city kids wearing the shoe, the musicians, the hip hop artists – so many different types of groups of people” – Stan Smith
Your name is everywhere around the world, all over people’s feet. How does that feel?
Stan Smith: You know, many people have no idea who I am. But they do know the name of the shoe. And it’s fine. It’s great to see a girl and her mother wearing the same shoe because most girls would never be caught dead with anything their mother’s wearing. It’s almost like old songs of The Beach Boys. I enjoyed The Beach Boys growing up, and my daughter actually is a Beach Boys fan, which I didn’t realise until about a year ago, that she liked that same music, even though it’s generationally different. And this shoe kind of bridges the gap of generations. My favourite gift is to give the baby shoe to a couple who are having a baby. Then I see people even older than me wearing the shoe. So it’s covered the gamut as far as age, gender, and ethnicity goes. You see the preppy kids wearing the shoes, you see the inner city kids wearing the shoe, the musicians, the hip hop artists – so many different types of groups of people that have kind of gravitated towards a shoe for some reason. It’s really interesting.
In 2020, how have you been keeping busy?
Stan Smith: I tried my hand in the kitchen as well – one particular recipe, this tomato sauce for spaghetti. So I’ve enjoyed that a little bit. Our tennis academy (Smith Stearns) closed down in March and then April, and we reopened on May 1. And it’s actually gone better than it’s ever gone. And it’s amazing, because for kids that have been doing online studying.. well the summer went well because people want to get outside and play. And we’ve been very fortunate with any infections. Tennis is pretty good, the distance between baselines is 78 feet. So that’s a pretty big distance. And as long as you’re careful I really don’t believe that the virus can be on the ball, whether it’s a tennis ball or a golf ball. So I don’t think that’s an issue. If you’re careful it’s a great sport to do during this time. I’ve been playing a little bit of golf as well.
And then I’ve actually been pretty busy, I’m looking at possibly doing a documentary – working on that a little bit. And I’ve spent a little time with my family when one daughter was here for five weeks.
“Many people have no idea who I am. But they do know the name of the shoe” – Stan Smith
Can you tell us a little bit about the documentary? Who’s directing? When’s it going to come out?
Stan Smith: We chose the director. And he’s in the process of doing the sizzle, which they’ll send out to various companies, Netflix or Amazon you know. I haven’t seen it yet, I think it’s almost ready to go out. When it goes out and it’s purchased by one of those companies, I’ll let you know about it. Then they’ll probably come here and do some more filming and investigating of all this material. It’s really done around the book (Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m A Shoe). They saw the book, really liked it, and they wanted to do something around my career, but obviously the shoe is a big part of my life, so they’re gonna put an emphasis on the shoe as well as on my life. That’s a project that could be fun.
Finally, do you wear Stan Smiths every day?
Stan Smith: Pretty much. Why would I wear something else?