Air VaporMax 2020
The line between sports and the street is fading. Performance footwear is no longer just for athletes playing in a game or warming up. Adidas and Nike athletic footwear is now for everyday use. What was once performance sportswear now belongs to the world of fashion.
While going for a walk on the streets you’re guaranteed to spot classic sneakers wherever you go. Tennis shoes are a part of our lives. The first sportswear 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 their intention or not, today’s sneakers have their roots in the performance footwear of the past.
Most sneakers begin their lives out on the track. In the early 20th century, adidas (even though it was operating under a different name back then) was already providing special footwear for runners. From the early 70s, Nike entered the game. Inspired by the running world, designers created the designs the world now wears as sneakers.
Adidas kicked things off with the Gazelle. Starting as a running shoe, it was rapidly adopted as a cross trainer, 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.
Meanwhile, adidas’ Stan Smith, which made a name for itself as a tennis shoe in the 60s, was on the same path. Picked up by some of the world’s biggest stars, Stan Smith 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 American west coast in the 70s. This didn’t happen because of superstars, but because of the out-of-the-ordinary kids out skateboarding on the streets. Nike started out producing footwear that was ideal for their rebellious sport. These shoes fit all kinds of activities, from walking to school to skating in empty pools and parking lots. Today, Nike provides several skating shoes with its Nike SB and Stefan Janoski collections.
A similar trend was seen on the basketball courts. For many decades, some of the NBA's biggest stars played while wearing the adidas Superstar. Boys and girls on local courts were quick to notice and started wearing those same models in their daily lives. With a pair of iconic basketball shoes on your feet, your image would skyrocket. 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 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 ever 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 center stage.
At the same time, the first sneakers that didn’t start out in the sports world also began to emerge. Brands started responding to the need for durable, comfortable, and fashionable shoes that fitted the fast, mobile, urban lifestyle of young adults. Adidas, for example, brought 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.