Slide Away: The adidas icon that isn’t a training shoe.
by Rob May·
Words: Dan Sandison
Enduring, iconic, and perhaps even more ubiquitous than the Stan Smith, the Samba, or the Gazelle, the humble adidas adilette has been a cornerstone of the German sportswear giant’s output since the early 1970s. Mimicked, but never bettered - Gucci, we are looking at you - the adilette is a success story in simplicity, it’s the three stripes in its purest form, and the OG’s OG slider has become a legend in circles far beyond the world of international football, for which it was first created.
A pop culture icon, a symbol of comfort, a uniform for slackers on both sides of the pond, for off-duty pop stars and supermodels, benched and injured footballers, and a those-who-know-know calling card around the package holiday poolsides of the 80s, 90s and noughties. A signal of distress for celebrities being chased in the early hours by the paparazzi, the adilette transcends class, nationality, religion and profession. Unlike adidas’ more recent output its brilliance hasn’t been dimmed by its association with controversial stars, or Premier League footballers. It is the sandal you want it to be, and we have an outbreak of athlete’s foot to thank for it…
In the late 1960s, fresh off a shoeing by Alf Ramsey’s neat-haired Wembley heroes, and tired of catching athlete’s foot while on international duty, the German national football team asked their compatriots and favourite sports manufacturers in Herzogenaurach to come up with a solution. adidas offered up the humble shower shoe, a perfect changing room companion for their now burgeoning selection of boots.
A simple two-piece design, the adilette shower shoe featured a white band across a navy blue footbed, and was comfortable, practical and ideal for braving even the moodiest European football stadium baths. Die Nationalmannschaft were pleased, their toes became itchless, and adidas were so happy with their design that they slapped three simple navy blue stripes across it and introduced it to the mass market just a few short years later.
Marketed as “a health sandal” or “bathing slippers”, the adilette rose to prominence from around 1972 onwards and was featured in early adidas catalogues during this period, with a contrasting colourway to the now infamous NAVY/WHITE. As with all adidas releases from this period, the companies focus was on performance and tweaks were made to the design from year to year, but it was the performance of its most famous wearers that drove the popularity.
In 1972, with a team full of world-famous stars - Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer, Berti Vogts to name but a few - West Germany strode to victory in the European Championships, sweeping aside The Soviet Union 3-0 in the final in Brussels. West Germany were the team to beat, bouncing back after the disappointment of the sixties and resplendent in adidas kits, adidas boots, a baby blue tracksuit that would go on to form the basis of the now iconic Beckenbauer silhouette and, when off the pitch the very first commercially available adidas adilette.
World Cup glory followed in 1974, as the West Germans put Rinus Michels Netherlands to bed in Munich, and got their hands on the Jules Rimet trophy. The joint noisy neighbours of PUMA and Johan Cruyff had attempted to steal the show that summer, having the Dutch maestro play in an altered Oranje shirt with only two stripes, but the might of adidas, Beckenbauer, and Gerd Müller ensured that it was the lads with the adilettes on who were spraying champagne in the showers that evening.
Success in sport, as it so often does in the adidas story, was followed by cultural ubiquity. The adilette became THE post-game choice for athletes, and it dominated across track, field, court and pitch for the next decades. By the late 80s and early 90s, the shoe had taken on a new lease of life with slackers, beach bums, students and holidaymakers the world over. From football casuals to Stateside stoners, the adilette allowed a new consumer to wear sandals without delving into the wardrobe of the off-duty geography student, or the gap-yearing Australian.
Collabs and re-imaginings followed, but it was the iconic navy and white OG model that stood firm, and was most impactful when taken away from its natural athletic setting .Like the Stan Smith had done before it, and the Samba and the Gazelle continue to do, the adilette is a testament to adidas’ sporting output and its propensity towards re-appropriation. Tennis shoes worn on football terraces, tracksuits worn to the boardroom, and German shower shoes worn by the great and good of music, film, and pop culture.
Whether it be Henry Hill’s prison-bound kitchen team in Goodfellas, Adam Sandler’s affable idiot of an illegal foster parent in Big Daddy, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell at the after party, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams when not in sneakers, or even an irate Didier Drogba invading the pitch after Chelsea got Barcelona’d in 2009 (It’s a DISGRACE!!), the adilette weaved its way into the cultural fabric of comfort.