The 20 most influential sneaker designs of all time

They are capable, like hardly any other product, of establishing a dialouge between fashion, design, pop culture and politics. We have traced their history in 20 cult models, from the classics to the new status quo of footwear design.

Born between the First and the Second World War, sneakers – also known as plimsolls, pumps, crepes, kicks and God knows how many other slang terms – were, at first, the outcome of studies on rubber and its applications, in fact some of the pioneering sneaker brands (like Dunlop and Superga) did all but fashion design. Although initially conceived for sporting purposes, it is their adoption into streetwear in the Sixties what truly revolutionised their role and semantics for ever.  

At first, between the ‘60s and the ‘90s, the use of the sneakers within urban scenarios was mostly limited to youth clusters and countercultures who were determined to associate the practicality of these shoes to iconoclasitc messages against the dominant culture and the formality of traditional fashion. 

Think, for instance, of the way Mario Schifano and Anita Pallenberg wore white canvas tennis pumps, during the New York stay in the early Sixties, so to have freedom of movement when in need of running away from the police breaking into the illegal parties and happenings of the Pop Art scene. 

If in those years the sneakers worn on the streets were the same the brands produced for the athletes, the separation of heritage ranges from those pushing the boundaries of technological research forward is something that belongs to more recent times.  

However, the biggest change in footwear costumes happened over the last decade when – with the complicity of reaching new frontiers in matter of design, ergonomics, and communication – a new way of conceiving the use of sneakers spread. They can now be considered a staple of luxury fashion and a piece of clothing transversal to age and social class, garments equally adopted in youthful urban scenarios and in formal environments, like offices or in the headquarters of fashion colossi.  

We traced their evolution in 20 models that both impacted on the evolution of design and of popular culture.  

Opening image :
Converse Chuck 70 High Top in parchment/garnet/egret. Photo: Converse.
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