It is easy to get swept away by the endless drop announcements from sneaker titans, especially when we are the ones feeding the demand and seeking obsessively for the next hype piece to add to our collections. While anticipating for the next Virgil Abloh x (insert sneaker brand here), we often forget that the Originals or the OGs (a sneakerhead term for the first release of a shoe model) were once propellers of street and pop culture. While they might not be as exclusive or as hype compared to your Yeezys Zebras or Chanel x Pharrell NMDs, they sure do not cost an arm and a kidney to procure.
Here are eight iconic sneakers and why they’ve risen from the streets to become the emblematic flagships of the brands.
Nike Air Jordan 1
It is almost impossible to not recognise the Jordan 1s. Its chunky high-top silhouette, iconic Nike swoosh on the sides and the inimitable red-black colourway, resonates with many fans and non-fans alike. The Jordans were initially made exclusively for the one and only Michael Jordan, then-rookie of Chicago Bulls in 1984. Its 'controversial' colourway broke the “uniformity in unform” rule by NBA, and Nike had to pay USD5,000 every time he plays in his Jordans. Nike capitalised on the drama, spun up a brilliant ad campaign for the red-black (now-dubbed 'Banned') Jordans and caused a frenzy amongst the fans. However, MJ did not actually wear the Jordans on court. Rather, he wore a strikingly similar prototype, known as the Air Ship during the infamous 18 October game. Nonetheless, his successes in NBA made the sneakers a household name, and eventually became the trailblazer for the subsequent versions and collaborations of the Jordans.
Outside the realm of basketball, Jordans' universal appeal and timeless design permeated various subcultures—from skateboarders to '80s rock and hip-hop artists. The USD30 price tag gained traction amongst the skateboarding community in the US when it was released in March 1985. In the music world, hip-hop artists from A$AP Rocky to Jay-Z, embraced the Jordans, further cementing its position in the entertainment industry. But it was arguably Kanye West’s influence that popularised the adoption of the Jordans in fashion. Prior to the Nike split, the iconic sneaker had a permanent spot in West’s outfits, whether be it for Paris Fashion Week, or in his Calabasas mansion.
Adidas Stan Smiths
Initially designed for French tennis player Robert Haillet in 1963, it was American tennis star Stan Smith who took over the endorsement in 1971, right after he was declared the number one ranked player, having won the US Open when he was just 24. At one point, the shoe didn't fare well in the market, which led Adidas to stop its production in 2011. After pulling them out off the rack for two years, Adidas rereleased the Stan Smiths in late 2013, along with an aggressive social media campaign targeting A-list celebrities by sending them each a pair of custom Stan Smiths with their portraits on the tongues.
Thereafter, Gisele appeared on Vogue’s cover wearing nothing but the sneaker. Alexander Wang used it for his spring/summer 2015 show. The minimalistic white, full grained leather upper sneaker with the iconic green logo and heel, became a fashion staple to many celebrities and worn by the likes of Phoebe Philo and Pharrell. The humble and unassuming sneaker had also undergone numerous treatments by esteemed fashion designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, Jeremy Scott and Raf Simons.
FILA never really did reach the level compared to its counterparts. Founded in 1911, the Italian sports brand was a powerhouse in apparel, specifically tennis and skiing. FILA's endorsement of Swedish tennis player Bjorn Borg did help the brand position itself in the global market. However, a series of expensive and unsuccessful endorsements eventually pressured the brand to fold. It eventually became South Korean-owned in 2007 after FILA Korea acquired all of its brands and subsidiaries. While the brand may not be making waves internationally, there were a few models that were truly OG—including Bubbles, Mindbreaker and most importantly, the 96, repped by seven-time NBA All-Star Grant Hill during his tenure with the Detroit Pistons.
The brand is slowly working its way up after the South Korean takeover. It has worked with Fendi for a recent spring/summer 2018 capsule collection, and Gosha Rubchinsky for a Dover Street Market exclusive. Riding the wave of the '90s revival, it won't be long now for us to see FILA dominating the sneaker sphere with both new and reinvented models.
Reebok InstaPump Fury
Ever had a shoe design so good that it was inducted into the Design Museum of London? Meet the InstaPump Fury, the godfather of ugly sneakers that made its debut in 1994. The futuristic design and bold colour, was appealing only to the niche groups that were appreciative of its tech-infused design. The InstaPump Fury featured the Pump technology which allowed the shoes to be fastened without using laces. Even Chanel used them for their spring/summer 2001 runway, subsequently launching their joint collaboration in 2003. But it was really Vetement’s scribbled iteration of the InstaPump in 2017 that propelled the iconic silhouette to a whole new level. Riding on its success, the French brand recently released teasers of the upcoming 'Monogram' pack that is rumoured to drop in 2019.
Fast forward 24 years later, the InstaPump Fury’s retro-futuristic aesthetic has became widely popular, especially among Asian sneakerheads, heralded by its appearance on many Korean, Japanese and Hong Kong celebrities. Most notably, Kim So-Hyun (South Korea’s megastar) wore them in a popular television series, which brought back the Reebok hype. Recent years saw the birth of colourways that referenced Japanese pop cultures such as Gundam and Ghost in a Shell, as well as collaborations with sneaker boutiques, pop culture franchises, and fashion brands. Even Singapore’s very own sneaker purveyors Limited Edt and STBG released the 'Feline Fury' colorway, inspired by the nation’s symbolic animal. There’s no stopping the InstaPump especially in the era of ugly sneakers. With Vetements and rapper Future jumping on the bandwagon, the InstaPump is well on its way to solidify its clout status amongst millennials.
The unisex sneaker was first introduced to the world during the 1968 Summer Olympics when track athlete Tommy Smith, claimed the 200m gold in a pair of Puma Suede. Smith wore a pair on the podium, rousing the interest of curious spectators. Basketball legend Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier then requested a custom version of the Suede that would suit his off-court style; now known as the Puma Clyde, which is rumoured to have sold two million pairs in its first year. It quickly gained popularity on the streets and became internationally recognised and desired.
The Puma Suede held a cultural importance in early hip-hop and B-boy dress. It was the go-to uniform sneaker for the breakers and emcees who desired a crisp and clean look. The Suede is definitely not going away anytime soon, as Puma recently celebrated its half a decade anniversary by releasing exclusive colourways for the flagship, as well as a slew of collaborations, including with MCM.
The Sk8-Hi is probably the most quintessential mainstay in skateboarding due to its added ankle protection feature; a step up from the low-top Old Skool. Back in 1978, the silhouette was considered revolutionary as it was the first high-top skate shoe. The signature sneaker peaked during the mid '80s, when the world of skateboarding collided with the hardcore punk movement that rose from LA’s South Bay. This decade saw many iconic collaborations with brands such as Supreme, Marc Jacobs, WTAPS, Gosha Rubchinsky, and Stussy.
According to Rian Pozzebon, head of design at Vans, he credits the rise of its influence in the late '70s Los Angeles’ skate culture, to the band of skateboarders in the Santa Monica/Venice Beach area that adopted Vans as their uniform. It was at the skating contests that their unique style turned many heads and propelled Vans to international recognition. Sk8-Hi was the brainchild of Vans and skateboarders after the American brand was inspired to work directly with skateboarders themselves. Furthermore, its simplicity and affordability thus make it one of the best-selling sneakers of Vans to date.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star
The optic-white Chuck Taylor All Star may have been the 'school shoe' of Singapore but it was the first mass-produced basketball shoe in 1917 despite the glaring fact that it has zero arch support. The shoe did not really gain traction until basketball player Chuck Taylor became a Converse salesman and spokesperson in 1921. By the time it hit the '60s, virtually every basketball player had a pair. The rise in the punk rock movement in the '70s also allowed the Chucks to seamlessly transit into the realm of music; notably on The Sex Pistols and The Ramones.
The iconic sneaker has seen collaborations with some of the biggest luxury fashion houses such as Givenchy, Maison Margiela, CDG, and most recently, given an Off-White Vulcanised treatment, which we reckon would be a hotbed for sweaty feet and yucky inners.
New Balance 574s
This sneaker is the definition of anti-fashion, going against the grain in a hype-driven sneakerscape. No raffles, no overnight queues, the 574 is available everywhere. You know they're truly an icon when the sneaker emoji bears a striking semblance to the shoe in its grey colourway. Amalgamating the best features of its predecessors—the 575 and 576—meant that it offered supreme comfort for wearers across any terrain. Being masters of soft-sell, New Balance stuck to its 'endorsed by none' mantra and let the design and comfort of the product speak for themselves.
New-Balance soon saw success across Asia and Europe in the '90s. Their street credibility was boosted when musicians such as Raekwon and Jhené Aiko, name-dropped the brand in their music and promo shots. In Japan, the 574s were integral in Harajuku street fashion. The brand started to reinvent the 574s in the 2010s, giving it a slimmer body and even 'Made in England' versions. Around the same time came the rise of Scott Schuman and Tommy Ton, who documented Pitti Uomo 2011 in Florence, where fashion mavens were seen in the 574s. ASOS reported that out of the 900% growth in their 2013 New Balance sales, one-third came from the 574s. This year, we see the sneakers undergo yet another subtle stylish update, curving less at the toe, making it ergonomically sleek. That’s one way to keep the classic relevant in a time of capricious fashion choices.