Foundation of a Stripe: How adidas Started Their New Chapter

Photo via Krado Design

Photo via Krado Design

2015 was one of adidas’ most monumental 12-month periods in years. There’s no question adidas has been dropping hit after sneaker hit. The Yeezy line has driven the sneaker world into shambles, thanks to very distinct builds and stellar Boost cushioning, while the Ultra Boost, a timelessly good running shoe that has crossed far past the runner realm, has been the fundamental backbone to all of adidas’ recent success. Even on just the popularity of the Yeezy Boosts and Ultra Boost, the brand with the Three Stripes has more fans now than in any other recent time. But it’s so easy to get caught up in these two models. Yes, the Primeknit and Boost combo is a one-two punch that’s on top of the sneaker world. However, these two models weren’t the first to bring adidas into a new era. Even before the advanced technologies were rampant in adidas’ designs, the brand was getting ahead of the curve.

adidas Stan Smith

To make the leap, adidas leaned on its storied history, starting with the resurgence of the Stan Smith. The shoe was a mainstay of the adidas Originals offering for a long time before adidas decided to pull the plug on Stan Smith production in 2011. With the blink of an eye, the first leather tennis shoe ever made and one of adidas’ best sellers was nowhere to be found on store shelves. But then, this tweet happened:

Just like that, not only was the world getting its beloved Stan Smith back, but one that was constructed with sustainability and modern style in mind. The cosigns were big too. From the museum display and promotional campaign featuring Andy Murray and Will Arnett, among others, to Ellen DeGeneres, Kim Kardashian, and fashion moguls spearheading the ubiquity of the customized Stan Smiths on social media, influencers made sure than anyone and everyone knew about the epic return. The rollout only added to the hype, with the shoes first appearing in fashion-forward boutiques in unison with cities’ Fashion Weeks, and eventually trickling out to other retailers with major launches in January and July of 2014. And in a world that was looking more toward sport and minimalism, the crisp Stan Smith was the perfect gem for such a release effort by adidas.

adidas Stan Smith Pharrell

That being said, adidas’ success with the Stan Smith was also due in part to breaking the traditional mold of the shoe in every way possible. It started from the get-go with Consortium releases in ostrich, crocodile, and cracked leather dressed in the classic white and green. From there, the world saw skateboarding versions, Primeknit Stan Smiths, and a bevy of collaborations with sneaker boutiques and familiar adidas partners that elevated what the Stan Smith brought to the table. Patterns and obscure materials took over at points as well. However, two collaborators in particular lifted the Stan Smith to the pinnacle of the mainstream fashion world. Through his line with adidas, Raf Simons has delivered on set after set of premium Stan Smiths, marked by an “R” in the place of the brand’s stripes. Furthermore, the Stan Smith served as the springboard for Pharrell Williams‘ work with adidas. Since his first collection, Williams has dropped six more, including a duo in partnership with Billionaire Boys Club/Ice Cream. It is with contributions like these that the Stan Smith has catapulted back into the spotlight.

Although adidas imported the Stan Smith directly from the archives, the brand also strives to bridge the gap between that and the modern. It just so happened that they stumbled upon an incredibly infectious formula to do so with the ZX Flux. The designers’ initial goal was to make a “really light, deconstructed, top-them-all running shoe on the ZX 8000 tooling,” using mesh, which would have still been impressive, but the utilization of satin is what made the ZX Flux revolutionary. Never before could a sneaker on the market hold a photographic print to the point of hyper-realism. And it was only once the team behind the ZX Flux thought about using detailed prints that they found the super smooth satin material. Sam Handy, Design Director of adidas Originals, had this to say: “Stuff people always wanted to see on a shoe, you could try it with Flux. Something you never thought was possible, you could try it on Flux.”

adidas ZX Flux "Prism"

Photo via Sole Collector

The real-life prints caught the attention of adidas’ following at first, with previews of lightning and ocean prints showing the potential of the ZX Flux. The city-themed pack that adidas initially showcased took the realism to another level, capturing the essence of places like Berlin, London, and New York City like no previous collection of sneakers ever could. But truly, it was when adidas went beyond the real that everyone took notice. Specifically, the multicolor prism-patterned pair put the sneaker’s vibrancy capabilities to the test, and passed with flying colors. People went wild for that specific design, a first for a new adidas silhouette in some time. Since then, with a plethora of printed releases, collaborative efforts, reworks of the Flux silhouette (Gore-Tex, slip-on, weave, mid-top, and more), and the miadidas release, all boundaries have been thrown out the window, and people are sure to find the pair that fits them to a tee.

adidas Tubular - Complex

Speaking of boundaries, adidas broke another with their last major hit prior to the Ultra Boost and Yeezy Boost line: the adidas Tubular. The shoe tackled a challenge that designers of the original Tubular line from the 1990s couldn’t conquer: building a shoe that could stand on a tire. To do so, adidas Originals Vice President of Global Design Nic Galway looked to the Dakar Rally and the very particular tires used in that setting. From there, a neoprene upper kept things from getting complicated with the upper while providing a dynamic fit. The other minimal design cues on the Tubular’s upper paid tribute to adidas, but what came out most from the Tubular was a look akin to Y-3 models. It broke down the price barrier that stopped so many from grabbing the Qasa silhouettes, giving the masses a similar, sleek look with wider availability and some Originals flair.

Other iterations of the adidas Tubular have dropped since the sneaker’s initial debut, but unlike the ZX Flux and Stan Smith, it was the message that adidas delivered with the Tubular’s debut that mattered more than any subsequent release. Rather than keep the higher fashion potential of adidas off to the side in the Y-3 line, the brand was embracing it to the maximum. The Stan Smith showed this same potential, to the point where it has become one of the go-to sneaker silhouettes for both sexes in the world of fashion. And this happened all before the Yeezy clothing and sneakers made any impact, all before the Ultra Boost was embraced worldwide as the best thing to happen to adidas in years.

Don’t get us wrong; the adidas Yeezy Boost line and Ultra Boost have catapulted the brand to a new level of fandom – no question – but it really started before that. By allowing adidas to celebrate the brand’s heritage, bridge that heritage with revolutionary elements, and capitalize on boundaries previously pushed by the brand, the Stan Smith, ZX Flux, and Tubular set up the wildly successful stage in 2015, and where the brand is headed for the foreseeable future.