Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Fifty Shoes That Changed the World

A book that I have nearly worn out from reading so often is the Design Museum's Fifty Shoes That Changed the World.  It was a Christmas gift, and was one of many things that made me realize that I am a shoe fanatic. I recommend it to every shoe/design lover.  It offers a shoe journey from the factories in London ...

where the Plimsoll was manufactured, 

to the iconic red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, 

to the subculture phenomenon Doc Marten's eight-eyelet boots, 

to the resurgence of Birkenstock

to Christian Loubotin's Extreme Ballerina Heels 2, 

to recent designs in plastic by Vivienne Westwood for Melissa.

But the real star of the book for me was the one and only Salvatore Ferragamo.  I'm very embarrassed to say that I had been largely unaware of his accomplishments as a shoe designer until reading this book.  He is the creator of the cage heel, the invisible sandal, and most notably, the cork wedge.  In 1937, the cork wedge became the first patent in the history of fashion.  High up on my long list of places to see is the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence, home to thousands of shoes, many of which are Ferragamo's original designs between 1920 and 1960.  His name lives on today as the company has expanded into ready-to-wear, leather goods, eyewear and watches.
There is one little thing that the book lacked for me. Plenty of different types of footwear are included from boots to sandals to one-metre long, illuminated, unwearable sneakers.  Every time I re-read this book I can't help but wonder: where are the Adidas? Perhaps I am biased because Adidas is my favourite sneaker company, but shoes from both Converse and Nike earn their place in the 50, so why not Adidas? Let's examine the evidence.
For Converse...
...we have the All-Star basketball shoe. Obviously an iconic shoe for many reasons: one, an early instance of celebrity endorsement when Converse hired basketball star Chuck Taylor in 1921 for promotions and his name began appearing on the ankle patch of the shoe, where it has stuck ever since. Two, Andy Warhol put the shoes in a painting.  Three, the Ramones wore them, and it doesn't get much cooler than that.
For Nike... 

  ... the Waffle trainer and the Air Jordan 1.  So, the Waffle trainer has a great story behind it.  The Oregon shoe company, Blue Ribbon Sports was a manufacturer Onitsuka Tiger's running shoes. One of the founders of said company was Bill Bowerman, who was obsessed with jogging, designing running shoes and testing new materials for lighter sneakers. He developed the waffle sole of the Waffle trainer after pouring liquid polyurethane in his wife's waffle iron.  The shoe was launched in 1974 with great success, Nike became Nike in 1978, and the rest is sneaker history. Clearly, a defining moment in shoe history.  
The Air Jordan 1 was created as the Waffle trainer was losing popularity. In 1984, Nike recruited the new basketball sensation, Michael Jordan, to be the namesake and celebrity endorser of the shoe they developed. Does this story sound familiar? 23 models later, the Air Jordan is still one of the most popular Nike shoes and yet another example of the power of celebrity.
And now my case for Adidas...

... the Superstar.  The Adidas company was founded in 1948 by Adolf "Adi" Dassler after a conflict with his brother.  His brother, Rudolf Dassler, went on to found the shoe company Puma. Successful shoe family! I digress. The Adidas Superstar features the company's trademarked three stripes and it's own signature shelltop.  The Superstar started in basketball courts but made it's way to the feet of rap group Run DMC.  They wore the shoes without laces and the tongue sticking out. They even wrote a song about them! Listen here. Adidas soon signed an endorsement deal with Run DMC, the first ever between a rap group and a major corporation. Oh look, another story about celebrity endorsement...
Basically, if I had my way, there would be Fifty-One Shoes That Changed the World. The contribution Adidas has made to sneakers and streetwear isn't one that should be overlooked. But, maybe I am still biased. I'm passionate about my shoes! 

- Shannon

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