From Nike to Puma, these 10 iconic sneakers helped shape sneaker culture


By Eugene Chen

From Nike to Puma, these 10 iconic sneakers helped shape sneaker culture

The craze around sneakers can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s when sneakers were popularised by athletes and hip hop stars, and ever since then, sneaker culture hasn’t slowed down. Now the sneaker industry is a multi-billion dollar market, not just for the big brands, but also for sneaker collectors that resell limited edition sneakers. There’s even an app called StockX, where many resellers go to sell their sneakers and find out how much certain sneakers are worth. It’s like a stock market, but for sneakers.

Although athletes were the ones that ultimately sparked the beginning of sneaker collaborations and endorsements—with the release of the Puma Clyde and the Nike Air Jordan 1—hip hop artists were a major player too. In fact, hip hop plays a huge role in popularising sneakers—like Nelly with the Nike Air Force 1—and their collaborations with sneaker brands are more sought out than ever. Artists like Kanye West, Travis Scott, and Pharrell have many sneaker collaborations with their respective brands, that often resell for thousands of dollars. Even luxury brands have jumped on the bandwagon. Dior and Nike released their rendition of the classic Air Jordan 1. The infamous Off-White and Nike collaboration that saw many classic silhouettes reconstructed.

The Sneaker market is still growing, and it’ll only be a matter of time until sneaker brands find another to evolve the culture. However, we should also be aware of the iconic sneakers that made sneaker culture what it is today.

Nike Air Jordan 1

Photo: Farfetch

Arguably the sneaker that started it all, the Air Jordan 1 is highly coveted by many sneakerheads. The shoe was designed by Nike’s creative director at the time, Peter C. Moore. Initially, he was tasked to design a shoe that would convince Michael Jordan to sign with Nike instead of Converse, which was the other brand Jordan was considering at the time. The first Air Jordan 1 sported a red and black colorway or “Bred”, also known as the “Banned” colorway. Legend says that Jordan was fined USD$5,000 every time he wore them in-game because they broke league uniform rules.

Puma Suede & Puma Clyde

Photo: Farfetch

The Puma Suede and Clyde played a pivotal role in sneaker history. We’ve grouped them together because they’re essentially the same shoe, except for the fact that the Clyde is slightly more narrow and has a pointier toe box. The Puma suede gained popularity during the 1968 Mexico Olympics when American Athlete Tommie Smith broke the 200-meter world record. He later carried a single Puma Suede shoe to the podium, where the iconic picture of him raising his fist for equality was taken.

The Puma Clyde was named after the New York Knicks legend Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier. Clyde is also known for his style off the court and was often seen wearing Puma Suedes. Puma eventually signed a deal with Clyde, making him the first basketball player to ever be signed with a sports brand. This paved the way for other athletes in the future as brands started to follow in Puma’s footsteps.

Converse Chuck Taylor All Star

Photo: Farfetch

The Converse All-Star was first released in 1917 but didn’t add “Chuck Taylor” onto the ankle patch until 1922 when semi-pro basketball player Charles “Chuck” Taylor joined Converse. Believe it or not, the Chuck Taylor was originally a basketball shoe that was revolutionary for its time, because of Taylor’s proposed improvements on the original design—improved flexibility and ankle support. This became the first-ever celebrity-endorsed athletic sneaker.

Adidas Superstar

Photo: Adidas

While Converse All-Stars were still the footwear of choice for basketballers, Chris Severn, an Adidas consultant, saw an opportunity to penetrate the market, designing a sneaker that would prevent players from getting injured. Adidas went on to dominate the market, kicking Converse out of the discussion. As popular as the Superstars were on the court, they were also popular among the hip hop community, making it one of the top ten sneaker models of all time. One of hip hop’s biggest groups, Run-DMC, is responsible for taking the sneaker’s success. They even made a song called “My Adidas”

Adidas Stan Smith

Photo: Adidas

Basketball was not the only sport that Adidas had an interest in. In the early 1960s, Horst Dassler, son of Adidas’ founder Adolph Dassler, would produce the first leather tennis shoe. Originally called the Adidas Robert Halliet, named after the French tennis player. However, in 1971, Robert Halliet had retired from the sport, forcing Horst to find a new active player to endorse. Horst was then introduced to Stan Smith, an American tennis champion rising the ranks, and the rest was history.

Vans Half Cab

Photo: Farfetch

Don’t worry, we didn’t forget to include skate shoes, as they’ve made a significant impact on the culture too. Usually, when skate shoes are mentioned, the first brand that pops into mind would most likely be Vans. Released in 1992, the Half Cab was named after professional skater Steve Caballero. After its release, Caballero realised were cutting down the sneakers, to allow more flexibility at the ankles. This urged him to ask the brand to modify the design, transforming the sneaker into a mid-top.

New Balance 574

Photo: Footlocker

The New Balance 574 is probably the most popular New Balance silhouette among all the models. The 574 was New Balance’s attempt to enter the lifestyle sneaker market, despite its continuous focus on high-performance running technology. With a much lower price tag, the sneaker attracted a much wider audience. The introduction of bright colours, however, was what set the 574 apart from its other models and made it one of the most popular lifestyle sneakers of all time.

Nike Air Max 1

Photo: Farfetch

If you’re a true sneakerhead, you’ve probably heard of Nike’s own Tinker Hatfield, a legendary sneaker designer. Hatfield was previously hired as a corporate architect, designing buildings for the Nike campus. His background in architecture would prove to be useful, especially when it came to the design of the Air Max 1. Hatfield took inspiration from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, a controversial building that reveals its structural skeleton, which led him to create the signature air bubble we see on the sneaker.

Nike Air Force 1

Photo: Nike

The Nike Air Force 1 has stood against the test of time, with its truly iconic design beloved by all sneakerheads. Since its release in 1982, it is still one of Nike’s bestselling sneakers. Designed by Bruce Kilgore, the Air Force 1 got its inspiration from hiking boots and was designed to be a basketball shoe. The sneaker gained even more popularity the day the white-on-white lows were released; The date still remains a mystery to this day. Air Force 1s made a significant impact in hip-hop culture, appearing on the feet of the biggest artists. Nelly even made a song about his love for the sneaker.

Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red October

Photo: Farfetch

This sneaker is one of the most influential sneakers of the decade, revolutionising sneaker culture. Before creating his own brand with Adidas, Kanye West released two sneakers with Nike, but the one that garnered the most hype was his second sneaker, specifically in a full red colourway. The Nike Air Yeezy 2 was the most successful artist collaboration anyone has ever witnessed at the time. However, West was not happy with the royalties he was receiving, according to him “Nike told me we can’t give you royalties because you’re not a professional athlete.” This led to his move to Adidas, which revived the brand’s popularity.

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