Sole Survivors – the top 10 coolest trainers of all time
The trainers your mum moaned about you wearing to school have now kicked their way into the cloistered corridors of big business.
Scrutinise sneaker stock exchange StockX and you can bag a pair of Marty McFly’s Nike Air Mags for anything between £20,000 and £60,000.
Between retro futuristic and modern classic lines, you’ll never struggle to find something sweet for your feet on the high street.
But if you’re searching for stingers you’ll absolutely adore, take a trip back to the future with the creation tales of the 10 coolest trainers of all time.
1. Adidas Stan Smith (1965)
Named after the former world number 1 and two-time Grand Slam singles tennis champ, few serious sneaker historians would deny the iconic status of the Adidas Stan Smith.
Its smart yet simple silhouette undoubtedly set the trend for tons of trainers that would follow and it’s one of the first shoes with a toe box made from the same piece of leather, enhancing its smooth design.
As the first all-leather tennis shoe, it set a trailblazing standard that’s often imitated but rarely equalled.
2. Onitsuka Tiger Corsair (1952)
Few changes have been made to this iconic trainer since its initial release in 1952 – but why mess with a stone-cold classic, right?
Its subtle balance between old school retro fashion and Japanese-inspired style creates a shoe versatile enough for any event.
Plus, legendary stuntman Evel Knievel was partial to sporting a pair of Corsairs while he catapulted himself across canyons – pretty cool.
3. Adidas Superstar (1969)
Initially designed as a basketball shoe, the Superstar has successfully made a seamless transition from the court to the streets.
The pioneering rap group Run D.M.C. were this seminal style’s earliest celeb champions, but it was mass appreciation from the youth of the 80s and 90s which firmly cemented its spot as a fashion must-have.
Its simplicity allows for diversity and customisation, with the signature rubber toe setting up an endless variety of collectable colourways. You can pair this classic design with practically any outfit, because you’ll always look stellar in a pair of Superstars.
4. Nike Air Jordan 1 (1985)
Originally designed for basketball great Michael Jordan, it appears the shoes have reached a similar level of fame.
The classic shape took the basketball world by storm and rapidly transcended its sporting roots to become the must-have sneaker on the street.
Clearly the £1.7 million endorsement contract Nike signed with Jordan was worth it and, although the shoe has gone through 33 incarnations and counting in the decades since its launch, the original remains by far the best.
5. Reebok Pump (1989)
Some people call the Reebok Pump the ultimate trainer of underdogs – and for good reason.
After 17-year old tennis tyro Michael Chang’s victory at the 1989 French Open, he was chosen as the high-concept Pump’s front man.
Then when basketball rookie Dee Brown won the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest with a mind-blowing performance propelled by pumping up his Reeboks, kids everywhere were saying, ‘those Pumps can make you fly’.
Sales subsequently went through the roof, Pumps became a cultural phenomenon appearing in TV shows and films, and attracted further celebrity endorsements from hoop stars like Shaquille O’Neal.
The Pump is the trainer for every dreamer and that’s why it has a solid spot in our top 10.
6. Nike Air Max 1 (1987)
The brain-child of Tinker Hatfield, the visionary who brought us some of the most celebrated sneaks of all time, the Air Max 1 truly revolutionised trainer design.
Hatfield’s leftfield idea of exposing the shoe’s trademark air unit was inspired by a trip to the innovative, inside-out Pompidou Centre in Paris and he set a trend which has continued over 30 years.
For many aficionados, the Air Max 1 is a shoo-in for the greatest trainer of all time.
7. Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars (1917)
Time has had no impact on the popularity of Converse’s Chuck Taylor All Stars. Indeed, over 100 years in the game hasn’t stopped Converse from still selling 270,000 pairs a day.
Tough, timeless and effortlessly elegant, the All Star is a shoe for the ages which aligns itself awesomely with the Americana aesthetic.
The trainer’s eponymous designer was a former pro basketball player who became a legendary salesman for the Converse brand – even touring across the US with an All Star team to promote it to athletes competing coast to coast.
8. Puma Clyde (1973)
Truly a standout original, the Clyde was the first shoe to successfully make the leap from the court to the street.
Paving the way for the stratospheric achievements of trainers like Superstars and Jordans, these Seventies icons helped fuse basketball, hip-hop, street culture and fashion into an eclectic youth movement that continues to electrify the world.
Named after New York Knicks Hall of Famer Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier, the Puma Clyde remains de rigueur for B-Boys and B-Girls from the Bronx to Brasilia and beyond.
9. Vans Checkerboard (1982)
One of the most distinctive styles on our list, the checkerboard print will be forever synonymous with Vans – and its design genesis perfectly exemplifies the concept of a company staying in touch with its audience.
When Steve Van Doren (son of Vans founder Paul Van Doren) noticed skaters colouring in the rubber of their Vans to create a checkerboard pattern, he transferred the look to the canvas and the rest is history.
Furthermore, the style later came to symbolise racial unity in the UK and the US when it was adopted by the 2 Tone movement and bands like The Specials and the Toasters. So not only is this sleek style timeless, it’s also interwoven in the multicultural milieu of the early 80s.
10. Nike Dunk (1985)
The multiple choices of colourways that matched college basketball teams made the Nike Dunk trainer immensely popular, with the tagline “be true to your school” becoming a piece of marketing magic that united players and fans alike.
Meanwhile, later technical updates also made the Dunk perfect for skating, and attracted an even bigger cult following.
For its innovative combination of ‘school spirit’ and practicality for a wide range of sports, the Dunk claims a well deserved place in our countdown.
Revenue in the global athletic footwear market amounts to US$66,943 million in 2019 – food for thought for anyone who believes every businessperson wears pinstripes or dismisses trainer culture as a passing fad.
And in terms of visionary design, futureproof creativity and innate understanding of the psychological drives of customers, many aspiring entrepreneurs could take valuable tips from the success stories we’ve discussed.
So you should feel inspired to win big while looking ice cool whenever you slip into a pair of our top 10 sneakers – whatever your game.