Soccer sneakers are everywhere right now. Once viewed as a function-before-form ugly duckling, the kicks have become a perennial presence in 2017 on-feet galleries. adidas’ ACE 16+ Purecontrol Ultra Boost can be seen fetching triple retail price on eBay, Nike continues to re-imagine its Mercurial and Magista silhouettes into all kinds of bangers, and KITH’s Cobra COPA is one of the year’s best sneakers period. And that’s just the beginning. When Gosha Rubchinskiy drops these in the coming months, expect the hype to blow up bigger than Brazil’s next soccer wunderkind. Soccer sneakers might be “in,” but there’s one exception that’s never been “out.”
First introduced by adidas in the ‘50s, the Samba is the Three Stripes’ most enduring model. A pioneer of its time, the Adi Dassler-created shoe arrived with a high-traction gum rubber outsole designed to stop footballers from careening around on frozen pitches. When unfancied West Germany won the 1954 World Cup, defeating a legendary, Ferenc Puskas-led Hungarian side in a final dubbed the “Miracle of Bern,” their players wore a cleated version which gave them the edge on a rain-soaked, boggy surface.
The Germans might have invented the Samba, but ironically, it was their great rivals in England who popularized it. As casual subculture took hold of the nation in the 1980s, the shoes became de rigeur uniform for soccer hooligans. Affordable and versatile, they could be worn with dark blue jeans and Day-Glo tracksuits bottoms alike. When these weekend warriors weren’t busy kicking each other’s heads in or drinking unholy amounts of pints in pubs, many could be found popping ecstasy pills at acid house raves. It was this scene that would eventually bleed into the Madchester movement, which in turn would inspire the Britpop era, which in turn would inspire the mid-’00s indie rock revival. Take a look at any band from each epoch — The Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur or Arctic Monkeys — and you’ll find various members rocking the shoe at one time or another. Like all great models, the Samba had transcended its initial purpose and become something much bigger.
They didn’t invent it, but it’s difficult to think of the Samba without automatically compartmentalizing it alongside other British icons like the Fred Perry tipped polo and Aquascutum check scarf. Still, it wouldn’t be adidas’s second biggest selling sneaker of all time (behind the Stan Smith) if its popularity was solely limited to the UK and Europe. In the States, various celebrities have been spotted stepping out in the shoe, eschewing pricier models for the Samba’s understated elegance. Rihanna rocked a white pair before she signed on at PUMA, while Kirsten Stewart also favored them for some low-key red carpet flex. Not long ago, even this guy was getting in on the act:
You should never mess too much with a classic, but that hasn’t deterred outside influences from trying. To a designer’s eye, the minimalist Samba doubles as the perfect canvas for some avant-minded experimentation. In 2015, Been Trill dipped the shoe in iridescent silver (this shoe never saw the light of day), while 2009’s tie-up with Stone Island — a football casual’s dream partnership — turned out unexpectedly, to say the least. In house, adidas has toyed with a seemingly infinite number of its own variations over the years, the Samba Super perhaps being the most notable.
So, why should the Samba be your summer sneaker cop? Apart from its dope backstory, it also looks fucking great. Like, really fucking great. It’s one of those silhouettes that transcends trends, and will likely never go out of style. The extra-long tongue can be popped for effect or folded under the laces for a more subtle look. Wear it some white socks and pin rolled Dickies, or with no socks at all and shorts. Furthermore, it’s a shoe that begs to be worn. Summer means muddy festivals, day trips to the beach and outdoor parties. Sure, the full-leather upper (which might take a few days to break in, FYI) is durable in the extreme, but like a Chuck Taylor All Star or Vans Old Skool, it arguably looks better when slightly (or extremely) busted.
If you want to add a soccer sneaker to your rotation, don’t splash half your holiday savings doing so. Instead, invest in the Samba. For $70, you’ll be buying a linchpin that’ll last the summer and beyond. To quote adidas: Perfection never goes out of style.
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- Main and Featured Image: Daniel Fraser / Highsnobiety
- Image #1: Fashionbeans
- Image #2: Complex