Like smartphones, tennis shoes in the Stan Smith mould keep getting made over with no change to their basic shape. Despite their frequent updates, we’re not expecting an oval or triangular Samsung Galaxy just as we’re not expecting a winged tennis shoe (although in the hands of Jeremy Scott, there really could be). Perhaps that’s the staying power of Stan Smith and the like: they have resisted transmogrification.
However, some time last year, basic tennis sneakers unavoidably became a canvas on which patterns and prints can appear. One of the earliest to turn plain to fancy was Pharrell Williams, who introduced larger-than-our-one-dollar-coin polka dots to the till-then relatively vanilla Stan Smith. On the same track too is Marguerite Bartherotte, an artist-designer who has updated Veja’s ‘Esplar’ sneakers with an enlivening, all-over print of parrots.
With souvenir jackets and tropical prints that suggest idyllic holidays quite the rage this season, these sneakers are on trend, but they don’t necessarily talk to those who prefer a Prince or Babolat, and Ms Bartherotte is certainly not addressing the needs of those who know Adidas also has a (now long discontinued) court sneaker named after another tennis star—Arthur Ashe (other than Robert Haillet that Stan Smith replaced). Through her fashion label G Kero, this collaboration with Keja is more skewed towards women who consider sneakers their flats when not wearing heels.
Made-in-Brazil French brand Veja’s ‘Esplar’ has the styling of old-school tennis sneakers. It’s a sleek, low-cut kick with the details expected of such footwear: the top-stitched eye stays that go all the way to the sole, flanking an unbranded tongue; the obligatory contrast-colour heel tab that sits atop the back stay; and the rubber sole with bumper that’s scored in harlequin check. The discreet details belie a nobler genesis. Veja shoes are eco-friendly and ethically correct.
Launch in 2005, their leathers are vegetable-tanned (hence, rid of chrome or metals) and cottons are GMO- and fertilizer-free, and organically grown. The rubber that goes into the sole are sourced from tappers who worked among wild trees of the Amazon forest. Veja does not ship its products by air—the shoes are transported by ship from the Brazilian factories to France, and onwards to Paris on a boat. Logistics are farmed out to Ateliers Sans Frontières, a French social enterprise that rehabilitates those who have erred on the wrong side of the law or have had a hard life by offering them employment.
Their efforts have paid off. Contrary to what many perceive of brands with a social mission, Veja’s sneakers speak in a contemporary voice, and their designs have won the patronage of French stars such as Marion Cotillard and, across the English Channel, David Beckham. The currency is now further enhanced by G Kero: birds of the Amazon do reflect the beauty of the rain forest, if not draw attention to a slowly but surely vanishing expanse of earthly green.
Veja X G. Kero Esplar leather sneakers, SGD225, are available at Rue Madame, Takashimaya S.C. Photo: Jim Sim