How Waffle Irons And Awkward Rivalries Created 6 Iconic Kicks

For sneakerheads — that especially otaku form of fashion fan who lines up for limited-edition drops, and then flies to New York just to fondle the Saran-wrapped shoes at Flight Club — the sneaker is more than a humble piece of sports apparel. It's an object of cultlike devotion, the canvas on which minute design details are dissected; pieces of wearable art that, even at their most outrageously high-priced, are still more tantalizingly accessible than a Kusama or Koons.

For those devotees, the forthcoming Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture will be something akin to a holy text. The book tracks the rise of sneakers from athletic necessity to icon of American casual wear, and features interviews with designers, curators, and collectors, plus hundreds of photos of the most grail-status kicks of all time.

Think you know your sneaks? Not if you don't know the tales of waffle irons, NBA outlaws, and thoroughly awkward sports rivalries ahead. Click on for the thoroughly entertaining origin stories behind some of the most coveted athletic footwear of all time.

Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture,
by Elizabeth Semmelhack, is available for pre-order at Rizzoli.
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Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli.
Thomas Dutton and Thorowgood Running Shoe, 1860–65
Until the mid-1800s, most running shoes were made from leather — including these, thought to be the world's oldest extant pair of athletic footwear.

With their elegant, pointed toe and stacked heel, they could easily be mistaken for modern dress shoes. Only the spikes on the sole and the band of leather used to support the forefoot give away their athletic intent.
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Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli.
Converse All Star/Non Skid, 1917
In 1917, the company then known as Converse Rubber Shoe Co. introduced a brown canvas high-top called the "All Star," while the white canvas model shown here was sold as the "Non Skid." The two styles shared the rubber toe cap, license plate at the heel, and circular ankle patch. When basketball coach Chuck Taylor started endorsing the sneakers in 1921, the ankle patch took on his name, and the iconic sneaks we call "Chucks" were born.
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Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli.
Adidas Stan Smith, ca. 1980s
Stan Smiths grew out of a style that Adidas originally created for French tennis player Robert Haillet in 1964. The sneakers were renamed "Stan Smith" for the tennis star in 1971 after Haillet's retirement, and for several years in the '70s they rather awkwardly featured Haillet's signature and Smith's image. If you have a pair of those FrankenSmiths, stop reading this and go immediately to eBay.)

In 1978, Haillet's signature was removed from the shoes, and the Stans we know now were born. Their popularity has waxed and waned throughout the years, but they're a staple of hip-hop preppy style, and they most recently enjoyed a resurgence via endorsements by Pharrell and their status as the official shoe of normcore.
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Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli.
Nike Waffle Trainer, 1974
Famed University of Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman had already created the legendary Cortez, but he was looking to improve on reducing that style's bulk. A relentless tinkerer, Bowerman landed on the Waffle Trainer's design when he poured a urethane mixture into a waffle iron, then cut the hardened form into a sole, resulting in the world's most lightweight running shoe yet.
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Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli.
Nike Air Jordan I, 1985
Nike famously signed a 21-year-old Michael Jordan to a $2.5 million, five-year endorsement deal in 1984, the year he was drafted to play for the Chicago Bulls. Anyone skeptical about the footwear giant signing a rookie was proved wrong when the first Jordans became a hit — despite their $65 price tag, which, at double the cost of other athletic shoes, was considered outrageously pricey at the time.

A legendary story goes that the shoe's red and black colorway, designed to match the Bulls' uniforms, was banned by the NBA. But Jordan wore them anyway, incurring a $5,000 fine each time he stepped onto the court. The accuracy of that story is contested by some, but when Nike referenced it in their advertising, the image of the Jordan-wearer-as-rebel was born.
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Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli.
Louis Vuitton x Kanye West Don, 2009
Years before his collabs with A.P.C. and Adidas Originals, there was Kanye West's partnership with Louis Vuitton, which resulted in three sneakers: the Mr. Hudson, the Jasper, and the Dons, which are shown here. The name is a callback to Kanye's College Dropout track "Last Call," in which he calls himself "the Louis Vuitton Don," with the sneaks featuring luxe materials like 24K-gold shoelace rings.

Those who doubted a pair of $1,200 sneakers would sell out clearly don't respect West's Midas touch — although the rapper/producer later said he wouldn't work with LV again due to the shoes' prices being "too extreme."
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Photo: Courtesy of Rizzoli.
Out Of The Box: The Rise Of Sneaker Culture is available for pre-order now at Rizzoli.