Hard as it is to believe, this year Converse is 100 years old. The Converse Rubber Shoe Company was formed in 1908, and the first Converse All-Star was produced as an elite basketball shoe in 1918. With a classic design that hasn’t changed since 1947, All-Star has since gone on to become one of the most potent signifiers of Americana, especially at the movies. From Ron Slater in Dazed and Confused to Marty McFly in Back to the Future, Converse have graced the feet of some of the most iconic characters in cinema, being the footwear of choice for jocks, nerds, misfits, bad boys and prom princesses. Arbiters of cool, drenched in nostalgia, shoes like the Chuck Taylor have a cultural cache that most brands can only dream of.
Converse can boast that they sell 100 million pairs per year – to put that into perspective, Adidas sell, on average, 1 million pairs of Adidas Stan Smiths per year. While the All-Star was the first mass produced basketball shoe in North America, and would go on to be one of the most iconic shoes in sports history, at the beginning, sales were steady but nothing groundbreaking. Enter Charles H.Taylor or Chuck Taylor as he was known by the masses.
The celebrated basketball player held basketball clinics across high schools in America, promoting the shoe along the way, and the Converse Basketball Yearbooks to celebrate the culture of basketball. In 1932 Converse added his name, “Chuck Taylor”, to the famous ankle patch detail, and the ‘Chuck Taylor All Star’ was born.
An even greater honour would come for Chuck as he was asked to design a shoe for the American basketball team at the 1936 Olympics – a white hi-top model, with patriotic red, white and blue accents. This historic Olympic Games would, of course, be held in Germany, a country with which the USA would soon be at war. Chuck would teach basketball to the troops, all the while promoting Converse, so that the All-Star became the official shoe of the American Armed Forces.
Postwar, the major innovation came in 1957, with the introduction of the ‘Oxford’ a lower-cut model of the shoe that was more suited to casual use than the high-top professional iteration. From that moment, the rise of the All Star was unstoppable, becoming THE shoe of American youth. When you think of America and the 50s – you think the All Star, as Marty McFly did when he bought a pair to fit in when time travelling.
As shoe manufacturers such as Nike experimented with new silhouettes and technology in the late 60s and 70s, Converse stayed true to their classic design, finding them a cult status amongst the punk rock movement. Their affordable price and practical design made them a truly democratic shoe. By the 90s, as the whole world went sneaker crazy, the grunge movement would cling to their All Stars as totems of authenticity.
Which is where they still stand today – you’re more likely to have owned a pair of Chuck Taylors than not. And if you haven’t – what’s stopping you?