Adidas' Crown Jewel: Why the Adidas Superstar is Still Relevant
Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Written by Evan Marrow
Illustration by Phoebe Nichols
When Adidas first released the Superstar sneaker in 1969, the intent was to deliver peak performance to athletes on hardwood. The German brand’s motivation for creating the Superstar model originated from a defect in their first low top basketball sneaker called the Supergrip, which was unable to withstand the intensity of high-level basketball. Since the Supergrip’s midsole and toe box wore down over time, Adidas opted for a shell toe on the Superstar. Several NBA greats of the era including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rocked the Superstar, which provided cutting-edge protection for its time. Yet eventually, the sneaker’s functionality became outdated on the court and its sales stagnated as well.
It was not until 1986 that the shoe transitioned into a lifestyle icon with the help of rap group Run DMC. The trio of Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizell made Adidas their own, rocking track tops and sporty sneakers on the streets instead of the courts. Their impact was so profound that Adidas established their Originals lifestyle branch in 1992 in order to expand the company’s newfound prominence within street style culture. Run DMC was not the only musical giant to endorse the shoe. The 90’s ushered in a new wave of artists such as the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, and Puff Daddy who all had love affairs with the Superstar. Today, the silhouette continues to top the sales charts as a best-seller for both men and women. However, the sneaker’s longevity cannot solely be attributed to celebrity endorsements, but rather to the design’s innate ability to satisfy the physical demands of a multitude of lifestyles.
Through Run DMC’s profound influence on the Superstar, the sneaker’s popularity quickly disseminated to other cultures besides just hip hop. When the Beastie Boys became associated with the shoe, the group sparked the sneaker’s following within the skate community. The shell toe and herringbone traction pattern features met the durability standards that skaters required. Aesthetically, the Superstar also offered a fashion statement that other skating shoes could not provide, which furthered its appeal. As a result, the Superstar is considered one of the top skating shoes of all time, a feat that Adidas certainly did not expect to achieve when the sneaker was first released.
The Superstar’s flat herringbone sole caters to courts and boards, but also lays the foundation for a minimalistic silhouette that the sneaker’s durable coated leather upper completes, inviting people to make the shoe their own. Run DMC’s rendition involved removing the laces and popping the tongue, while the B-Boys swapped the sneaker’s stock laces for extra thick ones. Other designers and artists have viewed the shoe as a canvas, applying bold patterns to the upper to reflect their own personality and branding such as Missy Elliott’s signature model from 2002 that features a vibrant purple upper. In 2015, Pharrell applied a similar design to the shoe when he released his “Supercolor” pack that featured 50 different monochromatic colorways of the Superstar. Various streetwear brands have reimagined the Superstar as well, such as BAPE in 2004, which dressed the upper in its signature camo. In recent years, trends have reverted back to the simplicity of the shoe’s black and white colorway.
The Superstar fits into today’s society within the popular wave of athleisure, which embodies styles suitable for both casual lifestyle and athletic purposes. Leggings and track pants serve as perfect complements to the sneaker, which create a retro and sporty aesthetic. With its minimalistic design of a signature white base with black accents, the shoe can seamlessly integrate into almost any outfit.
Within the past decade, sneakers have ascended from their origin of athletic and casual wear to gracing runways and red carpets. Designer brands such as Balenciaga have served as catalysts for this movement, rebranding items such as “dad shoes” for people to embrace as fashion statements. The Adidas Superstar is no exception to this evolution as an ever-growing number of A-list celebrities are spotted with the shoe, reflecting the Superstar’s newfound role in the upper echelons of style. Despite their impressive rise, sneakers’ humble beginnings enable them to remain accessible, while also providing a level of high fashion.
Another contributing factor to the Superstar’s popularity is Adidas’ return to prominence in North America. In recent years, Adidas has rebranded their Originals branch to appeal to upscale fashion customers. In addition to releasing new models, the company reformed their approach to advertising through utilizing social media and streaming services in an effort to reach a greater audience of teenage consumers. Benefitting from the brand’s revitalization, the Superstar remained the steadfast core of the Adidas, continuing to flourish among its shifting counterparts. Although a profound effort was made in North America to boost sales, a similar movement was not required within the German brand’s home continent. The three stripes and trefoil are commonplace on European streets, especially amongst teenagers. The Superstar is so prominent within the age group that seeing a teen that doesn’t own a pair is a rarer occurrence than seeing one who does.
Despite the potential limiting factor of an $80 pricepoint, the Adidas Superstar remains an icon among shoes, gracing the feet of people from a vast array of demographics. The sneaker’s rubber shell toe and leather upper provide physical durability which combines with its unisex design to produce an ideal “everyday” shoe. The Superstar packs the status symbol of celebrities while still remaining minimalistic, enabling it to not only integrate into, but enhance most outfits. Adidas’ crown jewel has undeniably asserted itself as a superstar of fashion for nearly 50 years, and with every three black stripes, provides customers with both a timeless shoe and a long history of wear.