Stan Smith sneakers are a global fashion phenomenon. Their history spans decades, and the sneakers have been worn by everyone from young teens to Hypebeasts, adults as well as myriad celebrities and fashion royalty. “It’s so popular around the world, it’s sort of a uniting factor,” Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s one thing that everybody seems to have liked — men or women, wherever they live in the world.”
However, some of the sneakers’ younger fans might be surprised to learn that the name behind their favorite trainers belongs to a living person. Not to mention, he’s a former world-class tennis champion. This enigma around who Stan Smith is ignited the concept for his new book, Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe.
“Young people who have never seen me play [tennis], it’s pretty natural they wouldn’t know much about my tennis career, unless they were tennis historians,” says Smith. “And so, it doesn’t bother me at all that they wouldn’t necessarily know who I am.”
Today, his celebrity and fashion fan base include Pharrell Williams, Raf Simons, Madonna, Marc Jacobs and Céline‘s former creative director, Phoebe Philo, who helped elevate the shoes in fashion by making Stan Smiths a part of her regular uniform. “I’m becoming more fashion oriented over the years, particularly knowing what’s happened with the shoes and getting to know some of the people that are involved in fashion,” says Smith. “I would not say I was a born and bred fashion person, but I’ve become more aware of what’s going on.”
In September, Stella McCartney, who put her own spin on the shoes, launched a vegan version. It wasn’t long before the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle was spotted wearing the sneakers during the 16-day royal tour.
The tennis champ is no stranger to the royal family. He autographed sneakers for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s two kids. “I gave a pair of shoes to George and Charlotte two years ago at Wimbledon,” Smith says. Of William and Kate, he says, “It’s great to have a young couple who are into tennis.”
Smith’s celebrity notoriety doesn’t faze the 72-year-old tennis star. He’s rubbed shoulders with Madonna, Kate Moss and more. In one story, he says, “Hugh Grant turned to me at Wimbledon and said, ‘You know, the first girl I ever kissed, I was wearing your shoes.'”
But for Smith, these anecdotes pale in comparison to everyday encounters. “The most enjoyable thing for me is to see a 13-year-old daughter and her mother both wearing the same shoes because, normally, a daughter would not be caught dead wearing anything her mother would wear or her father,” says Smith. “And the other day, I was at the U.S. Open and a girl was there about 14 years old and she had convinced her father to get the shoes.”
Over the years since Smith was on the court, tennis fashion has evolved and changed, perhaps more so for women compared to men. “I think men could be a little more adventurous,” he says of tennis fashion. “Pharrell designed the whole outfit for the players last year at the U.S. Open, which I actually really liked. It was very colorful. I thought that was neat. And so, I think that we may see more men doing that, but I think men are more minimalists anyway, so it’s not going to be as adventurous as some of the women.”
Still, women’s tennis fashion has had its share of controversy lately, as exhibited by Serena Williams’s catsuit ban at the French Open. Then, there was her controversial final match at the U.S. Open. “There were a lot of issues there. It wasn’t just one thing, but it was a lot of different issues particularly brought upon by Serena,” he says. “And obviously it was a terrible finish for a young player [Naomi Osaka] to win her first Grand Slam, who then had this controversy around it, that had nothing to do with her.”
As a whole, Smith agrees it was “tough” to watch. “I think it was unfortunate and the umpire could’ve been a little more lenient maybe in warning [Serena] that she’s got a game penalty, but he was doing his job. I think in the heat of battle, [Serena] was emotional and it was unfortunate.”
Even though Smith still attends the U.S. Open, his heart lies in Hilton Head, S.C., where he runs his tennis academy and where he founded the Boys & Girls Club there with his wife, Margie. In November, Smith collaborated with Volvo’s VP of Design, Robin Page, as well as three other artists who put their design spin on the iconic sneakers at the Concours d’Elegance. The shoes were subsequently auctioned off with the proceeds benefiting the Boys & Girls Club.
“Hopefully I’ll go down as a humanitarian to a certain degree,” Smith says. “My career playing tennis was one in which I fought hard in every match and played fair. And since then, I’ve had the opportunity to give back. And the Boys and Girls club has been a big part of it.”
One of the men featured in the book, Mark Mathabane, was a child from then apartheid South Africa whom Smith helped earn a tennis scholarship to come to the United States and receive an education.
It’s clear that Smith’s legacy means he’ll be known for much more than “just a shoe.”
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