It’s difficult to imagine what 1920s-era basketball player and shoe salesman Chuck Taylor would have made of the new John Varvatos-designed red seersucker low-top All Stars, with eyelets but no laces, or the Comme des Garçons white or black sneakers, high-top or low, featuring Taylor’s name on one ankle and a crude Valentine’s Day heart with cartoon eyes on the other. These contemporary riffs on one of the most enduring basketball shoes in history are a long way from the shoes that were first sold in 1917 and embraced by Taylor so wholeheartedly that he left his team, the Akron Firestones, to become a salesman for Converse.
In fact, these new designs, as well as those over the years by Converse itself, are remarkably faithful to the originals, which were first sold as high-tops only, in leather or canvas. Taylor, whose name was added to the sneaker in 1932, pushed the shoes hard but was conservative when it came to their design. For example, an all-white high top made for the 1936 Olympics featured single strips of red and blue trim, giving the shoes a subtle but unmistakably patriotic look—during World War II, Converse All Stars were the official sneakers of the U.S. Armed Forces.
By 1949, Converse had permitted the shoe’s design to go two-tone, with black canvas uppers attached to white soles, cementing what is today considered the shoe’s classic look. It was not until 1957 that the company offered a low-top, which was no good for basketball since it failed to give a player proper support but terrific for hosting weekend barbecues in the postwar suburbs. Indeed, at the end of the Eisenhower era, Converse was so ubiquitous, it alone accounted for 80 percent of the sneaker market.
Nike changed all that in the early 1970s, when the company introduced its waffle sole, which was much better for runners than anything Converse had to offer. Nike would go on to dominate the market for basketball shoes, too, particularly with its Air Jordan. Converse responded by offering so many variations of the colors and patterns of its canvas uppers that the shoes became collectibles in their own right, but by 2001, the company was forced into bankruptcy, only to be acquired in 2003 by arch (pardon the pun) rival, Nike.