The Enduring Appeal of Superstar Sneaks

The tagline for Adidas Superstar sneakers reads: “Superstar is not a trend.” The ubiquitous nature of the shoe makes the statement impossible to dispute. The shoes are one of the few fashion pieces that have been worn by folks of all genders, of all aesthetic tastes. 

Since its launch on the basketball scene in the mid-seventies, the shoe’s classic tri-striped design has hardly changed at all, but the appearance of the shoes in different cultural contexts makes them—and their close cousin Stan Smiths—one of the most successful, and fascinating, pieces of fashion around today. This trend is incredibly prominent at the 5Cs, where the sneakers can be spotted paired with anything from sundresses, to skinny jeans, to sports jerseys.

So what is so timeless about these shoes? And why have they become so popular in the last two years? 

The Superstar’s rise to popularity began before any current 5C student was born, with the Run-DMC album Christmas Rap, which used a pair of the shoes as its album art. The cover proved the visual connection between hip-hop and basketball, the sport for which the shoes were initially created. The roots of each are found in New York City when the Superstar became a staple in the rap and hip-hop scene there. 

With the diffusion of hip-hop culture and the streetwear associated with it in the 1990s, Superstars became ubiquitous, though they were still primarily worn by men. Fast-forward to today when Adidas massively rebranded in an effort to revitalize the shoe as an essential fashion staple. It worked. Adidas has been central in making sportswear fashionable, blurring the lines of explicitly gendered clothing and bringing their sneakers into the female fashion market.

Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas brought us Yeezy’s, $350 sneakers that are as practical for athletics as they are sartorially acceptable. Similarly, Céline's creative director, Phoebe Philo, at New York Fashion Week in 2010, propelled the shoe into the female fashion scene. This was a highly strategic marketing move on Adidas’s part. 

In an interview with The Guardian, the marketing boss at Adidas, Jon Wexler, describes that the company stopped selling the shoe for a period in order to make way for its reboot way back in 2009. Aside from Adidas’s individual efforts, the increasingly blurred lines between athletic wear and streetwear can be found amongst many high-profile fashion lines, including Kanye's.

Kanye's minimalistic clothing often borrows the silhouettes of sweatshirts, sweatpants, and athletic shorts, and is bottomed off with Yeezys. This is a trend that's appeared amongst many purveyors of high fashion, with Alexander Wang’s line at H&M being a prime and cheap example. The combination of Adidas’s efforts and the movement in fashion toward athleisure wear has made Superstars and Stan Smiths regular in high fashion and in the streets. 

The increased universality of the Superstars and the Stan Smiths did not happen by accident. Adidas worked consciously to make these shoes as timeless as they are, sending a targeted, distinct message to the consumer that decides to wear them. Kanye’s partnership with Adidas is telling of this message; his self-aggrandizing nature demonstrates the confidence and strength that effective sportswear is supposed to validate within its players.

The name “Superstar” conveys the same idea, as does “Stan Smith,” with the shoe being named after one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Aside from the aesthetic appeal of the shoe, Adidas conveys in its marketing that by choosing to wear Superstars, or Stan Smiths, or Yeezys, an individual could embody the greatness that the name of their sneaker conveys. Nothing in fashion is an accident.