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

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

Force of habit.

“When I walk, I usually look at people’s feet more than their faces, just to see what they’re wearing,” said Smith, 75, sitting under a canopy in the backyard of the stately three-story home. Every two weeks at Wimbledon he rents the house closest to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

It’s hard to blame him for fixing his leg. Over the past 50 years, Adidas has sold over 100 million Stan Smith tennis shoes, which are now a fashion trend, not something that competitive players would wear on the court.

Smith, who once excelled at Pasadena High and USC, made the Guinness World Record in 1988 for the number of pairs sold – an estimated 22 million – and that number rose in the 1990s when Adidas released the Stan Smith II and the retro Stan Smith 80s.

The most common ones are uncomplicated, with clear white skin and a hint of green on the back.

Smith, who reckons he has about 150 pairs, wears them everywhere except at the Royal Lodge in the Central Court, where they are still considered too casual.

“I have lobbied for quite some time, but they won’t let me do it,” he said. “I have some black ones. They have some patent leather pointed toe but I haven’t tried it.”

In particular, Smith received many high-profile invitations this year. It’s the 50th anniversary of his Wimbledon men’s singles title and he and his wife Marjorie will sit with the Royals on Sunday for the men’s singles final.

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

Stan Smith of the USA returning the ball to Ilie Nastase of Romania during Wimbledon in 1972

Stan Smith of the USA returning the ball to Ilie Nastase of Romania during Wimbledon in 1972 Smith won that men’s singles title 50 years ago.

(Associated Press)

To commemorate the anniversary of Smith’s singles title, Adidas gave all of its sponsored players a pair of running shoes with SW19 on the tongue – the Wimbledon zip code – the date of his victory over Ilie Năstase inside the right shoe, July 9, 1972, and a score match inside the left shoe.

The first generations of shoes that became the Stan Smith brand were named after the French player Robert Haye. It was in the early 1960s and Adidas had the same look – a leather upper with three dotted perforation lines and a flexible rubber outsole. At that time, most sports shoes were canvas. The Haillets also had a reinforced back to protect the Achilles tendon.

In 1971, as Haile was approaching retirement, Adidas wanted to increase its presence in the United States and build a footwear campaign around the American player. They targeted Smith, who was at the top of the rankings at the time.

Several iterations of the shoe followed, including Haile’s name on the side and Smith’s face on the tongue, and Smith’s name on the side and Haile’s name on the back.

“Gradually my name became better known,” Smith said. “About four or five years later, they completely removed his name from the sneakers.”

It was not unheard of to design shoes around sports stars. Converse named canvas high tops after Chuck Taylor and badminton shoes after Jack Purcell. Adidas named a tennis shoe after Rod Laver, Nastase and Boris Becker.

But the Stan Smiths are really stuck. They were a staple for decades until sales began to drop in the early 2000s, prompting Adidas to pull them off the market in 2011. The company bought back all the inventory it could so people couldn’t find the shoes. Adidas told Smith they planned to bring the shoes back in two years, but he didn’t really believe in the ploy.

“From our point of view, they didn’t have a real concrete plan,” he said. “We walked away from that meeting thinking, ‘Well, it’s been 40 years. It was a good run.” ”

Of course, the company kept its word and released the shoes again on January 1st. November 15, 2014 As part of a marketing strategy, the company gave away a pair of shoes to each of 100 influencers with a twist: them a drawing on the tongue instead of a painting by Smith. It helped spread the word.

Stan Smith shoes in 2022.

Classic 2022 Stan Smith shoes.

(Sam Farmer/Los Angeles Times)

The shoes were designed by fashion designer Stella McCartney and singer Pharrell Williams. There were all sorts of Stan Smiths – covered in graffiti, in leopard spots, in Kermit the Frog shoes, and with shiny silver tongues and gold plates. socks.

“The most unusual one I’ve seen looks like high tops with a zip at the bottom,” Smith said. “You can unzip the upper and it’s just a regular low-top shoe.”

Among his favorites in his collection are the cardinal gold version – he has the USC fight song as his ringtone – and the cracked black leather versions with tennis ball-like material on the back.

In 2019, sitting in the royal box, Smith presented a tiny pair of his shoes to Kate Middleton for Prince Louis, who was one year old at the time. The tabloids got this photo and the image went viral.

Smith has been to every Wimbledon but one since 1965, either as player or guest of honor. For the past 25 years, he and his business partner Gary Niebuhr have been entertaining clients in a home that is adjacent to sports fields.

“I talk about the tournament, the matches they are going to watch, we take some pictures,” Smith said. “We go to watch tennis and then come back for tea. It’s a nice English garden atmosphere and we sometimes get a few balls flying over the fence from the courts.”

One recent visitor, the CEO, told Smith that he had 400 pairs of shoes at home.

You’d think the guy’s ego would get blown up over this.

Smith’s wife keeps him in line.

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

“Thank you, honey.”