The 1970s superstar says he's rarely recognised, despite his photo appearing on the Adidas trainers – probably because it was taken without his trademark moustache
I'm sitting opposite Stan Smith, and he's wearing Stan Smiths. In some ways this makes perfect sense. Mr Smith, 1970s tennis superstar, is promoting the shoe he gave his name to 43 years ago; it's being relaunched on 15 Jan. In other ways, though, the sight of Smith in his Stan Smiths is hopelessly incongruous.
For one thing, Stan Smith's Stan Smiths are dazzlingly pristine. On his feet, this quiet cult trainer – its most distinctive feature is its three rows of perforations in place of Adidas stripes – seems loud. At the Adidas HQ in Covent Garden, Smith sits squarely with a hand on each knee, like a grandfatherly storyteller. The downward droop of his silvery moustache is splendidly replicated in the arc of each eyebrow and, at 67, he has the air of a distinguished gent.
Smith is an unlikely ambassador for a trainer that has sold more than 30 million pairs worldwide and been embraced at diverse times by punks, casuals, Britpop and hip-hop. David Bowie, John Lennon, the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jay-Z, Usher and the fashion designers Marc Jacobs and Phoebe Philo have all worn Stan Smiths. Gisele Bündchen modelled a pair in last November's French Vogue. Just those, and white socks. See, that's the power of Stan Smiths: vying with Bündchen's breasts as main event.
Does Smith have any idea why the trainers have had such enduring, cross-cultural appeal? "I think it's because it's a simple white shoe," he says, lifting one foot to his knee for a closer look. "Sometimes simple is better. You see [other] shoes with bells and whistles and different colour stripes and styles. They're trendy. But this has become trendy because it's so simple." He may be right there – footwear's equivalent of the white T-shirt.
Smith is modest – to an extent that has become annoying for his daughter. When she was going to an Usher gig she asked her Dad "to talk to Usher and see if I could get her backstage". How did that go? "I told her I didn't really know Usher, so I gave her a photograph of me to give to the guy that's guarding the stage. It didn't work." She was turned away – but it's funny to imagine anyone showing a picture of a 70s tennis superstar to a bouncer at an Usher concert.
Is Smith ever recognised on the street – after all, his picture is on the sneaker's tongue? "Only if they are really old," he says. "The kids today have no idea I won the US Open, Wimbledon, Davis Cup, all that stuff." Besides, he doesn't actually look like that picture. Never has. Not even when it was first taken and appeared alongside the name of Robert Haillet, the French tennis player who wore the shoes first, but whose name didn't stick.
"I've had a moustache from aged 22," Smith says. "For about six months I shaved it off. That's when they took the picture." Over the last 10 years, he's been wondering if it's time for a new one. But then, of course, they wouldn't be the same Stan Smiths any more. Not that Smith calls them Stan Smiths. "That would be too weird. I just call them 'my shoes'."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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