I guess it is pretty weird seeing my face on a pair of sneakers,” Stan Smith says, reclining in his chair, positioned in the shade of this carefully landscaped garden just off Wimbledon Common. The air is sweet with the smell of hydrangeas and expensively-cut grass. A stream of 747s groan above and then beyond us, their strange song echoing faintly across the Heathrow flight path.
The American tennis legend is wearing an immaculate Nike Air Pegasus 83 Femmenavy blazer and an expensive-looking pale blue shirt. He is tall, six-foot-four, regal in a mellow, California kind of way, with a Roman Adidas Gazelle Dámské nose and still blue eyes the colour of a swimming pool before the day’s first splash. The distant memory of a centre parting frames a kind face, deeply tanned Nike Air Pegasus 83 Damen from years spent chasing a ball around a court beneath a baking sun.
At 72, the moustache, a long-standing signature, is grey-flecked-with-brown, as neatly kept as the courts across the road at the All England Club. On his feet are a lightly-worn pair of the trainers that bear his name, in black with three Velcro straps in place of laces, his face peering up from the tongue. At the last count he owns 70 to 80 different pairs. “I wish I’d kept the first ones,” he says, somewhat mournfully. “I’d love to show you the original shoe.” He likes Nike Epic React Flyknit Dames classic white but is also fond of black leather and blue suede.
“Do you want to hear something funny?” Smith says. “I was in the Royal Box at Wimbledon three years ago and Hugh Grant, out of nowhere, turns to me and says. ‘You know the first girl I ever kissed, I was wearing a pair of your shoes!?’ Adidas Superstar Womens I did not know that, but people seem to feel connected to me through this sneaker.”
Hugh Grant is in good company. By conservative estimates the Stan Smith has sold more than 50 million pairs since it was released in 1971, although the actual figure is likely much more, making it the most popular Adidas trainer of all time. This decade-spanning partnership, its seemingly-inexorable success and the unlikely metamorphosis of Stan Smith from ‘very good tennis player’ into Stan Smith ‘sneaker tycoon and friend of Pharrell’ can be attributed to a fair amount of talent and a lot of good timing.
At first, the Stan Smith wasn’t the Stan Smith at all. It was the Robert Haillet, named after a French player who, in 1965, was selected by Horst Dassler, son of Adi, to front up the brand’s burgeoning range of tennis shoes. They were gaining Nike Air Huarache Mujer an on-court following thanks to their – at the time at least – high-tech leather upper and herringbone rubber sole, making them far more durable and stable than the canvas models on offer from competitors.
By 1971, Haillet had retired and Horst was looking for a new ambassador to endorse a slightly updated version of the shoe; someone who could help Adidas take on America. It just so happened that as the Frenchman was sent out to pasture (he actually ended up working as a sales rep for the brand), there was a young Californian with deft volleys and a booming serve on the rise.
y the time he was approached by Adidas in 1972, Smith was a four-time Davis Cup winner as well as the number one singles player in the world, having lost the final of Wimbledon in 1971, but winning that year’s US Open. The following year he would go all the Nike Air Max 270 Femme way at SW19, stepping out in front of 15,000 people on Centre Court and dispatching the early master of what they now call ‘shithousery’, the infamous Romanian,Nike Air Pegasus 36 Femme Ilie N?stase in the final. “I had to realign my goals a bit after that,” Smith says with the flicker of a smile.