Whether you don a Reebok Classic and suffer the sneer of indie kids across the country, spend hundreds on the latest incarnation of the Air Max or sport the weathered Cons omnipresent on university campuses, the trainers you wear say a lot about you.
Trainers have long since moved from function to fashion – from JD Sports to Size? through Sports Direct and Selfridges.
Sneaker culture has become so important that the Brooklyn Museum recently launched the exhibition The Rise of Sneaker Culture, and now The Design Museum in London have published their book Fifty Sneakers That Changed the World.
Punters queued for days when hot-air cannon Kanye West waded in with his Nike Air Yeezy, while Pharrell has the Adidas Superstar Supercolor. And you can’t count the number of US college rock bands who have tie-ins with Converse.
Alex Newson, curator at The Design Museum, says: “Science and technology have traditionally been the catalyst for innovation in sneaker design. However, it’s the willingness to tear up old ways of working that’s provided so much innovation.”
The shift to trainers as collectable art has also changed their design. Newson explains: “Just as design has helped shape the development of sneakers, sneakers have also influenced design, art and popular culture.”
Nike, Adidas and Puma may dominate the market, but a number of other brands have played a part in sneakers’ unstoppable rise.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars (1917)
The Converse All Stars were the first sneaker specifically designed for basketball in 1917. However it wasn’t until Chuck Taylor became the brand’s ambassador in 1923 that the signature ankle patch was added. Still known as The Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, they’re the pair worn by students across the world.
Adidas Samba (1950)
The Samba is the epitome of a fitness shoe turned fashion staple.
Originally developed as an all-year-round training shoe, its association with five-a-side football saw it become a firm favourite with the ‘casuals’ of 1980’s football terraces. The Samba is still as much a part of fans’ subculture as Stone Island, Burberry and Fruit Of The Loom.
Vans Custom #44 (1966)
Originally starting as a solo store in California in 1966 selling the #44 in four designs, Vans is now one of the biggest skatewear brands on the planet.
The store couldn’t cope with demand for the trainer when it first opened. Although the #44 has been superseded by a number of other designs, the classic rubber-soled deck shoe has remained the brand’s most iconic shape.
Nike Air Max 1 (1987)
Although Air Max 90 and Air Max 95 may have been more widely adopted, the Air Max 1 is where it all started. Every kid on the planet wanted a pair when they launched in 1987, and not much has changed with the Nike Air range since.
Reebok Pump (1988)
Now Reebok is part of the Adidas family with its headquarters in America, many forget the brand actually had quite humble beginnings in Bolton, though Bolton Wanderers’ Reebok Stadium is a clue.
The Reebok Classic would come to be sneered at by the likes of Pete Doherty and Arctic Monkeys, but was a huge seller during the Nineties, arguably sportswear’s heyday. But the Reebok Pump really defines the brand.
“It’s one of Reebok’s best-known innovations,” explains Newson. Considered by some as a gimmick, the Pump was introduced the year after Nike’s first Air Max. “The combination of a pump and small release valve gave control over the degree of cushioning and support,” Newson explains. “So the Pump was actually a far more sophisticated system.”
And one trainer that might (2016)
In 1989, the makers of Back To The Future II needed a futuristic sneaker for Marty McFly to wear in a hypothetical 2015. They approached Nike about having the fictional trainer made. Nike head designer Tinker Hatfield subsequently produced the Nike Air Mag, with an illuminated outer sole and laces that tied themselves.
On Back To The Future Day in October this year – October 21 2015 being the date McFly travelled to in the film – Nike announced the Air Mag are going into full production for a spring 2016 release, complete with illuminated sole and ‘power lace’ system. DeLorean not included.
Fifty Sneakers That Changed the World is available now from Octopus Books.
Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum