How Did the Adidas Samba Sneaker Become 2022’s It Sneaker

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If the Adidas Samba sneaker were to write its own memoir, it would be a classic rags-to-riches story about how an old utilitarian sneaker somehow made its way to the feet of fashion’s biggest street style stars.

The sneaker was first designed as a men’s shoe in 1949 by Adidas founder and namesake Adi Dassler. At that point, it was all black, with the brand’s classic three stripes in white, and a gumsole designed to enable soccer players to play on hard and icy surfaces.

In 1950, the FIFA World Cup took place in Brazil, and as a marketing strategy to get soccer players and fans to buy the model, Adidas named it the Samba, after a traditional Brazilian dance and music genre.

 

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The original Adidas Samba sneaker.

Adidas

The plan worked, and the design continued to evolve through the years, eventually released with the slimmer silhouette we see today. It also entered the womenswear market and more colors became available. By the ‘90s and early 2000s—when I was a kid—it was the shoe to wear for indoor soccer. It went with everything, it was lightweight, and most importantly to me at that age, it was the shoe everyone wanted to wear.

But a few years in, the shoe’s massive popularity somewhat backfired. It soon became a go-to for dads and men with nine-to-five jobs who weren’t necessarily known for having sought-after style. Now that was enough—for girls and guys going through puberty and trying desperately to be cool—to make the shoe decisively uncool.

new york, new york april 24 bella hadid is seen in noho on april 24, 2022 in new york city photo by gothamgc images

Bella Hadid wearing the Adidas Samba while out in New York.

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Through the mid 2000s, young shoppers instead looked to Vans or Converse, brands that were popularized by a revitalized skate scene devoid of dads. For those of us who read fashion blogs, watched Gossip Girl religiously and swore by style tips from our pop icons, skater slip-on Vans and high-top Converse sneakers became the new style standard.

The Samba, in our eyes, was now suddenly a nerd shoe, an old shoe, or in today’s terms, an Adam Sandler Summer shoe. Still, many of us kept a pair of Sambas in the back of our closets at our parents’ house and this year, you already know we dusted them off like nothing happened.

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Models wearing the Grace Wales Bonner x Adidas collection and Sambas.

Courtesy of Adidas

This June, Grace Wales Bonner debuted its fourth collection in collaboration with Adidas, which included a couple pairs of retro-inspired Sambas. Bonner has been reimagining the sneaker with Adidas since 2020, and every Graces Wales Bonner x Adidas Samba has sold out instantly. If you didn’t buy them when they dropped, they can currently be found on resale sites like StockX for up to $800 more than retail.

The 2022 Grace Wales Bonner Sambas have the brand’s signature vintage-preppy spin with sleek tones, contrast stitching, and satin lining. They feel less like something a soccer player would wear and more like a shoe an eccentric school girl would pair with her pleated tennis skirt to do anything but run in the mud.

The collab came exactly at the right time, amidst the rise of the “coastal grandmother,” “weird girl,” and “lazy girl” trends; made popular by girls who are neither old nor weird nor lazy, like Bella Hadid, who has worn the Samba faithfully for years.

new york, new york september 23 kendall jenner is seen in tribeca on september 23, 2022 in new york city photo by the hapa blondegc images

Kendall Jenner wearing Adidas Sambas while out in New York.

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Gen Z flocked to the shoe upon its release, in large part thanks to Hadid’s unmatched trendsetting capabilities, but also because it became the unexpected sneaker that could add the necessary quirkiness for every trending TikTok aesthetic. They also retailed for under $200, which is hundreds, if not thousands, below the standard price point for a supermodel-endorsed It shoe.

new york, new york july 29 kaia gerber is seen on july 29, 2022 in new york city photo by gothamgc images

Kaia Gerber wearing the Adidas Samba sneaker out in New York.

Gotham//Getty Images

The Sambas became new again, and were everywhere; they even made a cameo as pieces of modern art during this year’s Art Basel. The sneaker became a street style essential amongst models like Kaia Gerber, Kendall Jenner, and Hadid—plus mega-influencers like Emma Chamberlain. Gerber often took the preppy model-off-duty approach, Jenner embraced the relaxed coastal grandma aesthetic, Chamberlain seamlessly incorporated the sneaker into her European summer vacation wardrobe, and Hadid—supermodels’ answer to the “weird girl” look—mostly paired them with colorful, busy, Y2K pieces that didn’t seem to make any sense together but somehow worked.

In all instances, the shoe brought a sense of nostalgia, and the idea of a gorgeous girl ironically wearing a nerdy dad shoe became the ultimate It girl move.

This Samba comeback has been quite a revelation for fashion girls—not only because so many of us have dads who can’t comprehend why the shoe they’ve been wearing for 30 years is suddenly sold out, but also because in a year that has given us surrealist Schiaparelli, alien-esque Balenciaga, and Valentino Pink PP, the old-school sneaker’s massive boom seems a little like a cosmic joke.

Then again, when fashion gets too fashiony, why not seek comfort in a dirty old soccer shoe?



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