Consistency Is Key: Over 100 Years Of The Chuck Taylor
Over the last 100 years the Converse “Chuck Taylor All Star” has been creating a legacy by effortlessly embedding itself in some of the most important fashion movements and subcultures of the 21st century. From the basketball and baseball industries to the Hip Hop and punk scene, to modern street culture, the Chuck Taylor has been an important figure throughout all of these cultural movements.
The key to longevity is consistency, and as with many of its contemporaries within the sneaker scene, the design of the Chuck Taylor has largely remained the same since it was conceived in 1917 by rubber company-turned-shoe-manufacturers, Converse Rubber Shoe Co. It wasn’t until 1923 that the iconic silhouette was rebranded as the Chuck Taylor All Star, after pro-basketball player (and OG trendsetter) Charles “Chuck” Taylor fell in love with the shoe whilst playing for the now-retired basketball team; “The Converse All Stars”.
Eventually, new technologies and innovations (coupled with changing fashion trends and the progression of sneaker culture) lead the design of basketball sneakers in a slightly different direction, but the Chuck Taylor did not fade into obscurity. Rather the shoe found itself an unlikely cult hero for a number of developing subcultures that would go on to have a lasting impact on contemporary fashion.
Given the Chuck Taylors status within the NBA it’s no surprise that the Hip-Hop community soon adopted the shoe as both industries have often thrived off one another and draw inspiration from each other. The Chuck Taylors move from the hardwood floors of the NBA to the cityscapes of America was exactly the push that Converse needed to establish themselves outside of the sports industry. Rappers have always influenced trends and have always provided much-needed innovation when it comes to fashion, therefore it is easy to see why the Chuck Taylor became so important in this movement, and why it still remains the case even in today’s modern Hip-Hop scene.
However what may be the ultimate testament to the shoes versatility is that alongside this, the Chuck Taylor found itself an iconic figure in the Punk and Grunge movements being flexed by key figures such as The Ramones and Kurt Cobain. Musically and stylistically these movements were very different from the Hip-Hop scene and even further removed from the basketball industry, however thanks to its universal appeal the Chuck Taylor once again found itself the unlikely hero of two important cultural movements and a key player in the fashion that drove these scenes.
Cut to 2018 and the Chuck Taylor is one of the most recognisable and iconic shoes on the planet, heavily ingrained in modern pop-culture, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t instantly recognise a pair of Chuck’s. And while the Converse All Star has made a continued impact on the mainstream, in terms of street culture, two silhouettes have been incredibly important. The Converse 70 (a slightly more “premium” and contemporary iteration of the classic Chuck Taylor) and the Converse One Star have both remained solid footwear staples of the modern street-wear scene, and over this last year in particular have been incredibly important when it came to pushing the boundaries of sneaker design.
Over the last year alone Converse have teamed up with some of the biggest brands in contemporary fashion such as Carhartt WIP, Porter-Yoshida & Co. and most recently Dutch street-wear OG’s Patta to offer fresh new takes on the classic 70’s and One Star silhouettes. As well as this many of the industry’s most influential figures have put their spin on the classic sneakers, with A$AP NAST, Tyler, the Creator, JW Anderson and Virgil Abloh all putting a unique twist on the classics. And while many would argue that 2017 was the year of the One Star when it comes to Converse, it was the 70 that proved the staying power and versatility of the classic Chuck Taylor. As highlighted by Virgil Abloh’s decision to include the sneaker in his infamous “The Ten” collection, which was arguably last years biggest footwear collaboration.
As well as being one of the most hyped pieces from an already hyped collection, Virgil's re-interpretation of the the Chuck Taylor is a perfect example of just how important the shoe is to street-culture, and demonstrates how even after one hundred years of being on the market the silhouette is still inspiring a new generation of designers. And the love for Chuck Taylors doesn’t end with the hyped up collabs, as regular Converse 70’s have a huge place in contemporary fashion, as the timeless and low-key nature of the shoe makes it an essential footwear staple regardless of your interest in the sneaker game.
Overall the Chuck Taylor’s staying power comes from its versatility, wearability and inclusivity. It’s no secret that certain aspects of street-wear culture can have an heir of elitism associated with them (which depending on who you ask is a good thing or a bad thing) however the Chuck Taylor is for everyone, regardless of how you dress, if you identify with a specific subculture or even how affluent you are, the shoe will welcome you into the cult. Everyone wants to dress well and look good, even if they’re not bothered about the latest hyped sneaker and Converse get this. Which is why the Chuck Taylor has the status that it does, and why it continues to inspire young designers and brands all the while staying true to what made the shoe great in the first place.
The way someone wears a Chuck Taylor, whether it’s a 70, a Chuck II or a classic All Star, communicates a lot about them. Because the shoe is a canvas, a canvas that the wearer can decorate however they want (figuratively speaking, unless of course you’re on that Virgil Abloh flex), as the shoe is an extension of self-expression. That expression may be fairly lowkey like a simple pair of black and white 70’s high-tops, or it may be as overt as the OFF WHITE or JW Anderson interpretations, either way both of these expressions are saying something about the wearer, as unlike many modern sneakers that instantly speak for themselves the Chuck Taylor remains quiet, and allows you as an individual to do the talking.
Photography: George Metcalf & Susy Campbell / Styling: Susy Campbell