Air VaporMax 2020
The line between the sports field and the street is fading. Performance footwear is no longer just for athletes taking part in a match or a warm-up. Adidas, Nike and Jordan sports shoes are now for everyday life. What was once performance sportswear now belongs to the world of fashion.
Taking a walk on the streets you’re guaranteed to spot classic sneakers wherever you go. Trainers are a part of our lives. The first sports designers of the 20th century built a solid foundation for today’s fashion footwear, even if this was never what they set out to do. Whether it was the intention or not, today’s sneakers have their roots in the performance footwear of the past.
Most sneakers started life out on the running track. In the early 20th century, adidas (though then operating under a different name) was already providing specialist footwear for runners. From the early 70s, Nike entered the game. Inspired by the running world, designers would draw up the models the world now wears as sneakers.
Adidas kicked things off with the Gazelle. Starting as a running shoe, it was rapidly adopted as training footwear, and then later, to a large extent thanks to music artists and movie stars, as fashion footwear. Shortly after this, Nike’s Internationalist followed suit. Starting in the sports world and ending up on the streets.
In the meantime, adidas’ Stan Smith, which had made a name for itself as a tennis shoe in the 60s, was heading out on the same trajectory. Picked up by some of the world’s biggest stars, Stan Smith had started a second life as a sneaker. This was the world where sports and fashion meet.
We witnessed how fashion, culture and sports could come together on the west coast of the US in the 70s. This didn’t happen because of superstars, but because of the out-of-the-ordinary kids out skateboarding on the street. Nike started producing footwear which was ideal for their rebellious sport. These shoes fit all kinds of activities, from walking to school, to skating empty pools and parking lots. Today, Nike provides several skating shoes with its collections Nike SB and Stefan Janoski.
A similar trend was seen on the basketball courts. For many decades, some of the NBA's biggest stars played wearing the adidas Superstar. Boys and girls on local courts were quick to notice and started wearing those same models in their daily life. With a pair of iconic basketball shoes on your feet, your image skyrocketed. It was only in the early eighties that Nike brought in their own basketball models, with shoes like Air Force 1 and Jordan 1. This had an immediate impact on the scene, both on and off the court.
The race that broke out in the sneaker world in the late eighties and early nineties was unbelievable. Nike seemed to be bringing out new models in their Air Max collection at an unrivalled speed. This started in 1987 with the Air Max 1, and was followed each year by a newer, updated model. The popularity of sneakers such as the Air Max 90, Air Max 95 and Air Max 97 was like nothing anyone had seen. The visible Air outsole is one of the greatest technological innovations in footwear of all time. Since their release, there’s been a constant flow of new sneakers from different brands.
In the second decade of the 21st century, Nike continued its energetic expansion of the Air Max collection with models such as the Air Max 270, Air Max 720 and Air Vapormax. Nike’s big rival adidas didn’t hold back either. They seized their chance by launching the highly innovative Ultra Boost with its high-pressured foam outsole. At that time, almost every big brand on the market was riding the retro wave. Popular models from the 90s, 80s and earlier were given modern updates. We saw the launch of Nike’s Huarache, as well as older shoes that never got their big breakthrough but now found themselves centre stage.
At the same time, the first sneakers which didn’t start out life in sport also began to emerge. Brands started responding to the need for durable, comfortable and fashionable shoes which fitted the fast, mobile, urban lifestyle of young adults. Adidas, for example, would bring out the NMD, a shoe meant for the city’s nomads. And this may well be the future of design for new footwear.
In less than half a century, sneakers expanded beyond the world of sport. They crossed over into various subcultures, alternative movements, music and dance scenes. That’s the story of every sneaker today. A walk around the block will never be the same again.