50 years ago, French tennis player Robert Haillet debuted a future classic. Today, we remember it as the Stan Smith. adidas transferred the silhouette to the mustached American in 1971. From there, the brilliantly simple design became a classic and seeped into all crevices of popular culture. As of 2012, the Stan Smith was the best selling tennis shoe of all time.
Over time, the Stan Smith has gone through a number of subtle changes and directional iterations. The Comfort, for example, employed velcro straps. In the late ’90s, the shoe was fully revamped as the Millennium, a shoe Smith himself still wears on court.
The latest version of the Stan Smith is adidas’ second skateboard-specific interpretation of the classic. The shoes’ legacy in skating was cemented in the early ’90s. Rick Howard wore them for his part in “Goldfish.” And, from there, the Stan Smith became commonplace on decks around the world. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stan Smith, adidas skateboarding has brought its take on the shoe back to basics with the Stan Smith Vulc.
With subtle tech, the Stan Smith Vulc is a brilliant ode to an icon. Redesigned to meet contemporary performance needs, the Stan Vulc retains all the essential characteristics and shape of the original, but offers improved control and feel.
How did adidas do it? Jesse Rademacher, adidas Skateboarding Footwear Category Manager, breaks it down.
First things first, why ditch the traditional Stan Smith cup sole for vulcanized tooling?
Our focus on the project was simple; we wanted to connect the heritage of our brand to the specific needs of skateboarders. Vulcanized outsoles are some of the best for skateboarding, as far as board feel and control, it quickly became an obvious starting point for our version of one of adidas most famous shoes.
Did the change in tooling pose any design challenges?
Every new, built from the ground up tooling poses a challenge in order to not only make sure it skates well but also maintains the classic aesthetic that makes instantly recognizable as an adidas design. With the Stan Vulc, we needed to make sure it didn’t only live up to adidas standards, but also the performance needs of skateboarding. We focused on three main areas for the redesign, weight reduction (we created a drop in EVA midsole which is significantly lighter than rubber), traction/board control (the vector traction tread pattern incorporates a directional grip that makes your skateboard move in the direction you want it to), and of course keeping the iconic Stan Smith design language in place as a nod to the shoe’s heritage (we replicated the exact dimension of the original sidewall through a customized molded foxing tape).
What other performance enhancements have been implemented that might be hidden to the naked eye?
We started the process by breaking down the OG Stan to it’s basic components then started adding back elements of the shoe with weight, traction, and performance in mind. This means we eliminated as much rubber as possible and dropped in a molded 3/4 length EVA midsole. In order to have the best board feel, the midsole doesn’t run full length under the forefoot. The upper has been stripped of all the extra fillers and backers that make the heavy and more bulky. We added Sprint Skin to the quarter panels to keep it light, strong, and durable. Quarter perforations go all the way through for ventilation. Molded sock liner for support and comfort. See below answer for description of outsole and tread pattern.
Does the design incorporate any specific athlete insights?
We didn’t specifically work with any of our pro riders on the shoe, but rather took all of the learnings we’ve had over the years making shoes for some of the best skateboarders out there and worked them into the design and functionality of the Stan Vulc. From a Stan Smith—the athlete himself—perspective, we added in a flocked moustache onto his tongue logo visage. He told a story at one our global sales meetings about how he’s had a moustache his entire life except for the day he had his photo taken for the iconic tongue logo. We went ahead and corrected the historical mishap by adding in a 3d flocked ‘stache back where it belongs in all its hirsute glory.
What about traction? How was the outsole pattern conceived?
We wanted to honor the original tread pattern and cylindrical lugs, but in keeping with our approach of built for skate, we added Vector Traction. This means that the outsole is mapped out into sections that each serve specific skate functions. Push area near big toe, radial pattern under the ball of your foot for setting up tricks, flick area on the outside of forefoot, two angles for different breaking types on the heel, and reducing all rubber in the mid foot which doesn’t get much wear (this lightens up the entire shoe as well). The angles on the lug allow them to flex and grip longer before slipping, improving traction.
On the upper, what steps have been taken to provide the durability required to combat the rigors of skating?
The idea was to keep the shoe as authentic as possible on the outside with the traditional paneling and look. This meant that we needed to build the shoe better from the inside. We backed the upper suede with our patented Sprint Skin to make it stronger and more durable from within. Suede is a natural material, so mating it with a synthetic reduces weak areas that might otherwise stretch and tear. It is similar in theory to plywood in how the grains of each layer alternated to provide structure and strength.
Nick Schonberger is Deputy Editor at Complex Media and a formerly a mediocre Water Polo player.