The Enduring Appeal of the Adidas Samba

The renowned indoor soccer shoe is now approved by Urban Outfitters

Walk through your local Urban Outfitters these days, and there, amid the ironic T-shirts, Levi’s skinny 510s, Miler High Life truckers’ caps, and the Ron Burgundy text, Let Me Off at the Top!, is the Adidas Samba.

It’s heartwarming on the one hand—what could be wrong with honoring a classic—but bewildering on the other. It was a shoe, unlike, for instance, the ubiquitous Converse Chuck Taylor, that was once available only for the initiated, at soccer supply outlets and some sporting goods stores.

While Urban Outfitters may like to think of itself as alternative, it is, on the contrary pretty much everywhere, Suburban Outfitters, if you will. Those in the know—“the soccer tribe,” to borrow the Desmond Morris term—always understood it was a stylish walking street shoe in addition to futsal or for use on hard artificial surfaces.

Amid all of the capitalization of Brazil and its culture this summer—Adidas named the official ball the Brazuca, remember—the Samba, the plain, old Samba, at the exceedingly modest price of $45 (at Modell’s anyway) was almost begging for a revival or special edition. Thing is, it never went out of style. Along with the Stan Smith, it’s one of the company’s enduring creations. (Despite a recent resurgence, even the shell-top Superstar fell out of favor after its mid-1980s, Run-D.M.C. heyday.)

 

 

According to Neal Heard’s invaluable book Sneakers, the Samba (which inspired a short-lived knock-off, the Bamba), “holds two records for Adidas: It is not only the company’s biggest selling shoe of all time, it is also the longest running model in production.”

Although Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas, intended the shoe for snowy and icy surfaces, it came to be used for training and indoor use. And in city life. It’s a sturdy walking shoe that takes on an enhanced life as it gets worn out, something that, say, the Gazelle cannot pull off. Gazelles are too pretty to wear; they’re almost worth mounting on a shelf. The Samba you want to not only wear, but tear.

Although it now comes in white, red, and navy—and soccer shoes in general have evolved into the garishly iridescent over the years—it’s the original black and white (with “Samba” written in small gold lettering), that reaches a kind of mid-twentieth-century Modernist ideal. (Indeed, the Samba was born in 1950.)

And it’s the company’s trademark three stripes—Die Weltmarke mit den dri Streifen—that has made not only the Samba endure but the company itself. Two stripes wouldn’t be the same, nor would four or five. (K-Swiss just never earned the same cachet.) Three is mystical, and it evokes main-event status of the boxing ring and its three ropes. Muhammad Ali wore Adidas, lest we forget.

The Samba may now be Urban Outfitters-approved, which is fine. Sure. But we, the soccer tribe, knew all along.

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