Worn by rock stars and presidents alike and popularised through the decades by Elvis, Kurt Cobain and Snoop Dog, Converse sneakers are one of the most popular and enduring shoes of our generation. But it’s taken the trainers a long time to get there.
Converse launched the original All Star basketball shoe almost a century ago in 1917, and a few years later, the firm brought in basketball legend Chuck Taylor to work as an ambassador.
Promoting the brand around the United States, Taylor was the first pro athlete to endorse a basketball shoe. And he did Converse proud, spreading the word of the All Star throughout the land, with the shoe company kitting out the US Basketball Team, the US military, garnering widespread appeal. Finally in 1932 Taylor saw his signature added to the shoe.
But it wasn’t until the 1950s, during the first wave of youth culture, that Converse sneakers were adopted into mainstream fashion. Worn by everyone from Elvis to America’s most popular president, John F Kennedy, the Converse brand boomed over the next two decades, becoming a symbol of All-American culture.
During the 1970s, Converse sales saw a down turn. Ditched as official NBA shoe supplier and trumped by a surge of new competitors on the block, including Nike and Adidas, Converse struggled to compete.
This fall from mainstream popularity saw Converse seized by youth sub-culture. Across the pond, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was among a league of nineties grunge rock stars who adopted Converse as a uniform for grunge music and later, late-nineties Brit Pop fans ensured the brand gathered a new legion of devoted followers.
But sadly, this wave of fans wasn’t enough to keep Converse afloat and lagging sales meant that the company was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2001, only to be saved by one of its biggest rivals, Nike, and given a new lease of life.
Saved from bankruptcy, new ownership and new management soon had Converse storming back up the popularity ranks, picking up scores of new fans along the way, with everyone from Pete Doherty to Keira Knightley and Rihanna sporting the classic shoe.
Their popularity has even sparked creative collaborations. After scooping a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Brits, Blur frontman Damon Albarn and his band Gorillaz went on to design their own shoe for Converse in 2011.
Now once again a staple of mainstream fashion, this modern classic looks here to stay.