It’s obligatory when talking about Adidas Stan Smith to mention the words; classic/casual/ heritage/ iconic/ legendary and cool. So there you go. From now on it is obligatory when talking about Mr Stan Smith, whom the aforementioned trainers are named after, to mention the words; warm/charming/generous/witty/legendary and cool.
Former tennis Grand Slam Champion Stan was kind enough to let me mither him for half-an-hour about aspects of his life, career and sport, although I mostly just asked him about the trainers
It was a pleasure and privilege to have the chance to talk to Stan and throughout our chat nothing gave me greater joy than hearing him continually pronounce Adidas as Adee-dus rather than Adi- das. Stan knows.
When I put ‘Stan Smith’ into Google, the first 10 pages return hits about the trainers/sneakers rather than yourself. How does this make you feel? Frustrated, angry, proud…?
(Laughs) Thanks for that! Well I’m not surprised by that as the sneakers have certainly had a life way beyond my tennis career. For many younger people the name signifies the sneakers rather than me so I wouldn’t feel angry or frustrated by it and I guess I am proud that my name lives on through them way, way after my professional career has ended.
Are you aware of the impact and popularity of the Stan Smith design?
I am aware of their popularity because I get asked to take part in things like this. It still surprises me that the sneakers are so popular after all these years but people are constantly telling me how much they like them. When I signed up with Adidas I never thought I’d be talking about the sneakers over 40 years later!
What do you think makes them so enduringly popular?
They’re a pretty simple design and they can be worn with most things. I know that pretty much no-one wears them for playing tennis these days and their popularity is down to people just wearing them as casual shoes. I’m wearing a pair right now.
I’m also wearing a pair now, with a pair of jeans and a casual shirt and I’ve definitely never worn them for playing tennis in!
How did your face and your name end-up being on one of the most popular trainers/sneakers on the planet?
The same sneakers already existed but they were called Adidas Haillet named after the French tennis player from the 1960’s Robert Haillet. When he retired they looked for someone else and saw me.
How much involvement did you have in the design?
Very little really. As I said the sneakers were already designed and had another name. The change over from Haillet to Stan Smith was more about branding than design. I was happy with them the first time I saw them.
What was it that Adidas saw in you?
You’d have to ask them! Adidas wanted to increase their appeal outside of Europe and saw tennis as the ideal sport to do it. I was a major name in the game and a bit of a star in the US. Adidas saw me as the right person to have the branded sneakers after Haillet. I met with Horst Dassler and we hit it off and it went from there.
So Adidas were looking for more than just appealing to tennis players?
Adidas found that the sneakers were popular in France off the tennis courts, with regular people wearing the shoes for everyday wear so they hoped that would also happen in the states.
And it did.
The sneakers became very popular for sports at first but then they got picked-up by college kids first, with their preppy style and then musicians and artists picked-up on them and then they became more widely popular everywhere. And they stayed popular.
What were you wearing before the Adidas Stan Smith?
Converse. All the tennis players in the US wore Converse back then. Canvas sneakers with a rubber soul. I maybe wore some Pony too but not as an endorsement. Tennis shoes were very simple things back in those days.
Did you ever play against an opponent who was wearing Stans and did it give you a psychological advantage?
(Laughs). I’ve never been asked that before. That’s a good one. I did once play a South American guy and I noticed he had put black tape on the side of his sneakers and on the tongue to cover-up my face and name. I doubt I would’ve noticed he was wearing them otherwise . Any ‘Psychological advantage?’ Maybe. I beat that guy that’s for sure!
The photo of you on the tongue is a key feature of the shoes. How does it feel having your face on so many people’s feet?
Well it’s funny because I’ve always worn a moustache but for about six months I shaved it off and it was during that time that Adidas took the picture that went on the tongue of the sneakers. By the time they came out I’d re-grown the moustache and everyone who saw the sneakers would say “It doesn’t look like you Stan. Where’s the moustache?” I never really thought too much about how I feel about it but its kinda crazy I guess but it also makes me kinda proud.
How many pairs have you got through in your life?
That’s another one I’ve never been asked! I’ve never thought about it. I don’t know. Maybe 30-40 pairs over a professional season when I was playing. They used to get pretty beat-up throughout the matches, particularly on the hard courts where the leather would split open at the sides due to all the sliding across court.
I still wore them a lot when I was retired professionally but was still training. I guess I’ve had about maybe 5-600 pairs. It’s certainly a lot of sneakers. I’m never without a pair, put it that way!
Where’s the most unusual or funny place you’ve ever seen somebody wearing a pair?
I don’t know about unusual. I’ve seen people wearing them all over the place. People often stop me to ask me to sign a pair while they’re still on their feet! I remember being at an airport and there was a cleaning guy mopping up nearby. He was friendly and we spoke a while and then I told him that the sneakers he was wearing were named after me. He looked at me like I was crazy and got right out of there.
Do you ever get envious of the trainers/sneakers that the modern players wear compared to the more ‘basic’ equipment of your day?
I’m not envious at all. Tennis is a tough sport and the players need the best equipment. The modern sneakers have all the science and bells and whistles and are very different from what I wore. The sneakers I played in were the best of their era and the modern players play in the best of theirs.
They’re better for playing the sport but you don’t see many people wearing them on the sidewalk (laughs).
Did you ever meet Adi Dassler?
No I never did meet him. All my dealings were with Horst Dassler, Adi’s son. Horst was heading-up Adidas France and the original Robert Haillet shoe came out of there. It was Horst who approached me about the endorsement. He was one of the first guys to pick-up on the idea of brand endorsements for sportsmen.
How important is it to wear the right shoes for a tennis match?
Well you want the best equipment available. When I had canvas Converse sneakers I wore those, when I moved onto the leather Adidas and then later I moved onto tennis shoes made from modern fabrics, more like nearer what the players today wear.
How important is it to wear the right shoes on a date?
(Laughs). That’s another one I’ve never been asked! Not in an interview anyway. Well I wouldn’t recommend wearing sneakers but then I guess it depends on the date. And the girl! (Laughs).
Stan Is Back #stansmith
Available to buy at http://www.adidas.co.uk/stan-smith