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The great return of the Samba

Why the adidas sneaker created in 1950 has made a comeback

The great return of the Samba Why the adidas sneaker created in 1950 has made a comeback

Frank Ocean is just the latest in a long list of celebs to have been spotted wearing a pair of adidas Samba, during a stroll with Tyler, the Creator, a few days ago in Paris. Ocean's endorsement, a style icon even before being an artist and singer, seems to confirm the definitive return of the Samba, the historic adidas silhouette that after years of oblivion and marginalization - but not of complete disappearance - is returning to be part of the dominant aesthetic. 

Actually, the return is not that sudden, given that the shoe's relaunch plan began in 2018 with a very specific goal for adidas: to regain its role within the sneaker game. In fact, despite the historical importance of adidas in the world of sneakers, in the moment of maximum expansion and growth of the industry - begun in 2016, and continued the following year with Nike's The Ten collection together with Virgil Abloh - which was starting to record remarkable revenue and attention, thanks to limited edition silhouettes, exclusive releases, re-editions of old shoes, adidas gave life to a layered and composite strategy. While the Beaverton brand pulled out of the archive every type of Jordan ever made, passing it to Abloh for a rework of sure success, adidas bet everything on Yeezy to win the hearts of sneakerheads, never giving up on the Stan Smith, the most sold kick in the history of the brand, reinterpreted and re-proposed in countless versions, also signed by designers, such as Raf Simons, and streetwear brands, such as Palace, with varying fortunes. If on the one hand, the German brand focused on West's vision (at the time a bet, in retrospect a won bet), on the other hand, it has always maintained a plan B, centred on an iconic shoe. 

While the sneaker and streetwear market became an ever-larger bubble populated by silhouettes all looking the same, endless re-editions of the same shoes, uninspired collaborations, a slice of the audience started to move away, progressively distancing itself from an industry that had lost its cultural and aesthetic component. The unbridled and unjustified hype was increasingly contrasted by heritage, archival research and the desire for quality sneakers that have stood the test of time. In all these years, in fact, without targeted campaigns, without innovations or flashy changes, without in short the attention usually paid to large-scale releases, the adidas Samba has continued to sell, and a lot (35 million pairs in the entire history of adidas, behind only Stan Smith's numbers), maintaining, almost effortlessly, that aura of coolness impossible to build artificially. It's the original colourway, in white or black tones, that has remained a symbol, the bearer of different values ​​and instances, that can be summarized in a normcore essentiality. This seems to be the main reason for the effective return of a silhouette that has become a declaration of intent, marking the definitive transition to a normcore that shuns logomania, ultra-rare sneakers and exaggerated fits, opting for a more understated, more contemporary and evolving aesthetic. No high-profile collaborations were needed, despite the presence of Grace Wales Bonner, Jonah Hill, and even Beyoncé, to ensure that the Sambas returned to having the relevance of the past, so much so that the shoe has not changed much since 1950, the year it was born. 

The sneaker worn by Frank Ocean and loved also by A$AP Rocky was born in 1949, entering production the following year, and is a creation by Adi Dassler himself. The Samba was born as a football boot, a technical silhouette characterized by a sole covered with studs, designed for the most extreme climatic and playing conditions, such as hard or icy ground. In a short time, thanks to its comfort and decisive and minimal design, the shoe became an indispensable accessory for professional and non-professional footballers, also invading indoor football fields. The silhouette was chosen as the shoe of the German national football team at the 1954 World Cup, which they eventually won. Since then, the first colourway - black upper interspersed with white Three Stripes, rubber sole and gold clover logo on the tongue - has evolved, without radical changes, maintaining that sporty but classic taste, elevated by a minimal colour blocking and a simple and unforgettable silhouette. 

Football remains one of the leitmotifs in the history of the shoe, which cemented its fame and status symbol within the British terrace culture and casual aesthetics. In the outfits of the English hooligans, mostly made up of items from Italian sportswear brands, such as FILA, Sergio Tacchini, Ellesse and Stone Island, adidas was the most-worn brand when it came to sneakers. Wearing a pair of adidas, be it Gazelle, Trimm Trab, Campus, Spezial or Samba, became a habit of the English fans, ante-litteram sneakerheads who used to search for limited-edition or unavailable adidas sneakers during their trips to Germany. The brand's sneakers, therefore, became part of the official casual uniform, a further way to give shape to an identity that is also stylistic, a way to stand out from the fans of other teams, so much so that the Sambas still remain the symbol of Liverpool fans.  

Sambas soon went beyond the boundaries of football fields, becoming a lifestyle accessory to all intents and purposes. The success of the shoes, and their duration over time, lies in their versatility, in their being iconic but not unique, part of the history of different sports and aesthetics, both of the skate culture and of the Brit Pop world of the early 2000s, with the Gallagher brothers, and Damon Albarn's Blur. The kicks have been worn by Bob Marley and Freddie Mercury, Owen Wilson and Shia Lebouf, Ashton Kutcher and Donald Glover in Atlanta - one of the faces with which adidas tried to win over the Black culture, to today's biking scene

The 2000s also marked the decade of oblivion of the shoe, which remained a prisoner of that casual and Brit Pop aesthetic that had progressively lost popularity and relevance. However, the shoe didn't disappear, but it resisted, remaining in adidas collections, on store shelves, in online retailers, even in outlets, always the same, and kept selling like hotcakes. It's almost a belated awareness that drove adidas to consciously take back the shoe, relaunching it without altering it, ultimately elevating it to that status of a normcore legend that only a sneaker-like the New Balance 991 can boast. The relaunch of the Samba has come at the right time, but it might have been fully understood and appreciated only today, in a time where we have rediscovered essentiality, minimalism, in taste, in gestures, in that New Normal aesthetic of which Samba has become the greatest symbol.