Sneakers are big business now, and being a sneakerhead isn’t necessarily a pastime reserved only for the sub-culture die-hards anymore. Everyone is getting into the sneaker scene, and with retro designs enjoying a massive resurgence, we’re going to take a look at some of the most iconic silhouettes that have ever hit the streets.
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Anyway, back to the list:
Nike – Air Force One
Like most sneakers that make their way into mainstream fashion, the Air Force One has its roots in sport: namely basketball. Named after the designation for the US presidential plane, the Air Force One was originally released in 1982 and gained huge popularity among street basketball players, selling out almost as quickly as they were stocked. It filtered into rap and hip-hop circles as well, and, because of its cult popularity, generates an estimated $800m a year for Nike. It has over 1,700 unique colourways released over the years, with some of the most coveted releases fetching several thousand dollars on resale sites. As far as longevity and prevalence are concerned, the AF1 is a force to be reckoned with.
Onitsuka Tiger – Mexico ‘66
Before Nike became the sportswear powerhouse that they are today, Nike founder Phil Knight cut his teeth on the sports footwear scene selling Onitsuka Tiger shoes out of the back of a fan. In fact, if you look carefully at Nike’s Cortez model, you’ll notice that it bears a striking resemblance to the Onitsuka Corsair – but that’s not their most iconic model. It was initially designed as a warm-up athletics shoe that made its debut in 1961, but reached peak popularity and exposure at the Olympics in Mexico, and has been a lifestyle sneaker staple ever since. Adding to its mythology is the fact that Bruce Lee wore them in Game of Death in a yellow and black colour scheme. Now that’s iconic!
Adidas – Stan Smith
We’ve got the tennis courts of Pasadena, California, and an American tennis legend named Stan Smith to thank for these minimalist court sneakers. While they may have started out being built for the court back in 1973, the Stan Smith is now a staple of fashion aficionados because of the rising popularity of minimalist style as well as the return of retro sneaker designs on many runways. The Stan Smith ticks both those boxes, and because of its storied history and almost perpetual popularity, an estimated 23 million pairs have been sold globally. If you’re looking for a pair of sneakers that can be dressed up or down and that’s instantly recognisable, the Stan Smith isn’t a bad bet.
Jordan Brand – Air Jordan 1
If these look like they share some DNA with Nike’s Air Force One, it’s because they’re effectively reimagined versions of Nike’s most popular shoe. They were produced specifically for Michael Jordan, loosely based on the Air Force One, but reducing the thickness of the sole and removing the ankle strap, as per Jordan’s request. The Air Jordan brand may boast over thirty models in its lineup, but the Air Jordan 1s remain some of the most popular retro shoes, so much so that they’ve reissued various iconic colourways starting as far back as 1994. It might be old, but like the Air Force One, the Jordan 1s also have serious staying power.
Converse – All-Stars
The Chuck Taylor All-Stars have to take the cake for the most iconic sneaker silhouette, because they’ve moved beyond being relevant only to folks that are into sneakers to being relevant as a cultural symbol to society at large. They’re the oldest shoe on this list, too, with its current design becoming popularly used by basketball star Charles Taylor almost a century ago in 1923. The shoe has become synonymous with youth culture, taking turns being adopted throughout music (the punk scene in particular), extreme sports as a skateboarding shoe, and in various films – usually found on the feet of rebellious but relatable protagonists. The other entries on the list might be recognisable to every sneakerhead worth their salt, but the All-Star design has maintained relevance across decades, cultures and sub-cultures.