Ok there are rules. Retro sneaker style cannot include ‘reissues’ of trainers that never originally existed. Originals or faithful reissues only. Regardless of whether one plays any sport whatsoever, the footwear must be a genuine sporting shoe – we have no time for (fashion) designer sneakers, or trainers that were rubbish first time round (Gola). And they must be, or have been, on the feet of yours truly. Here is my personal odyssey through a few decades of sporting footwear.
1970. Adidas Superstar. Having said the above, the Adidas Superstar is as much a classic for Run DMC’s legendary laceless hip-hop patronage (Walk This Way and My Adidas) as it is its sporting style and heritage. Today there are a bewildering variety of Superstar editions but the B&W originals were released as a low-top version of the Pro Model basketball shoe. Not only the go-to sneaker for the hip-hop generation, the ‘shelltoe’ as it was known was a favourite of the skater fraternity. Euro editions were produced in France and enjoy a hyper-collectibility (and inflated collectible price tag). Walk this way.
1984. Reebok Paris Runner. Issued in the original Gallic colourways and reissued in 2009. Super-lightweight mesh upper with blue suede overlays. Since 2012 Reebok have been busy (re) issuing endless alternate inferior colour versions. Funny that I remember being ridiculed for wearing these – there was a time believe it or not before the sportswear fashion (marketing) revolution when trainers were only for football terrace hoolies and running shoes were only for runners. If it wasn’t for the Saucony Jazz, these would be the comfiest sneakers ever.
1978. Adidas Nastase. Yes, this writer does have a leaning towards the white sports shoe, which inevitably brings him to tennis. Along with basketball, tennis has a close relationship with sporting celeb endorsement. Smith, Laver, Lendl, Borg and the original bad boy of tennis Ilie Nastase. I have ignored my genuinely original Stan Smith’s as everyone knows about them (although let’s be clear they have to be the original white/green colourway and not the arriviste new versions). A modification of the Adidas Rod Laver in navy blue insignia, mesh upper, mid-sole cushioning (no Air yet) and as per the Stan Smith, Nastase on the tongue. Hints of Trimm Trabb, Munchen and Puma California in the shape – as opposed to the more slimline Nastase Master. Ironically, I literally bumped into Nastase at a seniors tennis event, and he wasn’t wearing them.
1989. Nike Air Jordan 1V. Not just a basketball sneaker, a cultural phenomenon. Nike met Michael and the rest is history. The Jordon 1V was released in four colourways White/Grey, Black/Grey, White/Red, White/Blue, Spike Lee (as Mars Blackmon from She’s Gotta Have It) did the ads and famously referenced them in Do The Right Thing – John Savage treads on Giancarlo ‘Buggin Out’ Esposito’s Jordans. Uber comfy (with Air), absolutely unique composition and design, the 1V jump-shotted the whole Jordan brand into the stratosphere and sports apparel marketing was never the same again. I had the White/Red and still have a mashed up pair of White/Blue.
1980. Adidas Kick. Once upon a time, all trainers were black. Adidas Kick were for me aged 11, entry level branded footwear in the era of the Bamba and Samba (the Kick’s more grown up brothers). Clean cut football trainer with suede toecap overlay and rubber rim (which Kick owners will ruefully tell you were the first thing to go), and the trefoil logo on the heel. Yes, they also came in white with blue stripes but in the age of Beckenbauer, Keegan, Kempes and co, Black is the only colour. Speaking of Mr Keegan, honourable mention should go to the Patrick Keegan King.
1981. Diadora Borg Elite. Not only a super-stylish tennis shoe endorsed by the Wimbledon iceman Bjorn Borg but the definite casuals trainer on the football terrace catwalk. The Reebok Classic was the terrace Ford Cortina, the Borg Elite, the Alfa-Romeo. Made in Italy in kangaroo leather with gold branding, variations came in less glitzy colourways (although the silver versions are also pretty desirable). The original versions had Borg’s signature across the gold Diadora ‘swoosh’ and a different tongue design but you’d need a healthy chequebook to get those today.
1994. Reebok Instapump Fury. Not many sneakers make it into The Design Museum’s illustrious archives but the Reebok Instapump Fury does. A revolutionary fusion of space age design and inflatable technology that rewrote the design aesthetics of the running shoe Result? A trainer that fits like a sock. The inflation was adapted from pumps used for mountain bike tyres and was unsuccessfully copied by Nike (Air Pressure, Air Force 180 Pump, Air Command Force) but with none of the success of the Instapump Fury which Reebok also rolled out into its basketball shoes. As you pumped, the airways across the instep and heel inflated to match the foot. And no laces. Iconic.
1987. Air Max 1. If the Reebok pump changed the world, so did Nike Air. The Air Max 1 was the first Nike shoe to display a visible air window, even through they had utilised air cushioning for almost a decade. Coming in red and blue colourways, Nike have rolled out the Air Max brand to cover numerous sneaker lines, while the original Air Max has got more futuristic through the years, with an ever enlarging Air window. However, for classically simplistic uber-comfort, nothing beats the original. Reportedly inspired by the Pompidou Centre in Paris with the internal workings on show.
1975. Adidas Americana. Let’s be clear, there are only two acceptable versions of the Americana, white hi-top or lo-top, with the lo-tops particularly tricky to find. An important part of US basketball history, they carry the red, white and blue colourway of the American Basketball Association (which merged with the NBA in 1976), original versions had a nylon mesh upper and leather toebox (later, suede). super high priced if you can find a pair with the ABA logo on the box. On a school trip to Boulogne aged 12, I inadvertently bought into a slice of sneaker history with a pair of the hi-tops and waited almost 30 years for my next pair.
1981. Saucony Jazz. In a world of over branding and sneaker fashions, the Saucony Jazz stands as a timeless classic that has avoided pernicious over trending. Simple as they day it was born, the trademark triangular lug outsole provided traction and piston-like suspension still used by Saucony almost 40 years later. notable siblings include the Saucony Jazz Pro Lo with its slimmer sole and the funkier Saucony Shadow, by dint of not being hip, the Jazz has quietly become an unassuming, subtle classic. Oh, and just the comfiest thing to wear despite the absence of state of the art gizmos and tech. Less is more.
1979. Adidas Forest Hills. Named after the home of the US Open until its departure for Flushing Meadow in 1978, the Forest Hills was a serious rival to the Diadora Borg for casual supremacy. With the trademark gold branding (thankfully not adapted to other colourways), lemon yellow sole, mesh tongue and name on the upper (now ubiquitous), its legacy is as much as fashion icon as sporting shoe from the golden age of Adidas design.