WIMBLEDON, England — Not that he judges, but Stan Smith checks your shoes.

Force of habit.

“When I’m walking, I usually look at people’s feet more than I look at their face just to see what they’re wearing,” said Smith, 75, sitting under an awning in the backyard of the stately three-storey home. floors. he rents fortnightly from Wimbledon, one of the closest houses to the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.

Difficult to blame him for his fixation of the foot. Over the past 50 years, Adidas has sold over 100 million Stan Smith tennis shoes, now a fashion statement and not something competitive players would wear on the court.

Smith, who distinguished himself at Pasadena High and USC, made the Guinness Book of World Records in 1988 for the most pairs sold – around 22 million – and that number soared in the 1990s when Adidas released the Stan Smith II and the retro Stan Smith 80.

The most common are plain, with clean white leather and a hint of green on the back.

Smith, who estimates that he owns around 150 pairs, wears his everywhere except the Royal Box at Center Court, where they are still considered a little too casual.

“I lobbied for a while, but they won’t let me,” he said. “I have black ones. They have ones with a pointed end, which is patent leather, but I haven’t tried that.”

This year in particular, Smith has received a number of high-end invitations. It’s the 50th anniversary of his men’s singles title at Wimbledon, and he and his wife, Marjory, will sit with the royal family on Sunday for the men’s singles final.

In fact, there will be more Smiths on center court on Sunday than in an old London telephone book. This includes the four children and their spouses, and 10 of the 16 grandchildren. They will be there to celebrate Stan’s birthday and then visit the headquarters of Adidas in Germany, the company that awarded him a lifetime contract.

The first generations of shoes that became the Stan Smith brand were actually named after French player Robert Haillet. It was the early 1960s, and these Adidas had the same look – leather uppers with three dotted lines of perforations and a soft rubber sole. At the time, most athletic shoes were made of canvas. The Haillets also had reinforced backs to help protect the Achilles tendon.

In 1971, as Haillet approached retirement, Adidas wanted to strengthen its presence in the United States and build a shoe campaign around an American player. They targeted Smith, who was at the top of the leaderboard at the time.

What followed were several iterations of the shoe, including Haillet’s name on the side and Smith’s face on the tongue, and Smith’s name on the side and Haillet’s on the back.

“Gradually he became better known as me,” Smith said. “About four or five years later, they took his name off the shoe entirely.”

It was not uncommon to create shoes around sports stars. Converse named the canvas high tops after Chuck Taylor and the badminton shoes after Jack Purcell. Adidas will then name the tennis shoes after Rod Laver, Ilie Nastase and Boris Becker.

But the Stan Smiths really got stuck. For decades they were the staple, until sales began to decline in the early 2000s, prompting Adidas to pull them from the market in 2011. The company bought back all possible inventory to that people can’t find the shoe. Adidas told Smith the plan was to bring the shoe back after two years, but he didn’t have much faith in the ploy.

“They didn’t have a real concrete plan from our point of view,” he said. “We walked out of that meeting thinking, ‘Well, it’s been 40 years. It was a good race. “

Sure enough, the company kept its word and relaunched the shoe on January 15, 2014. As part of the marketing strategy, it gave away a pair of shoes to each of the 100 influencers, with a twist – their picture on the tongue in place. of Smith. It helped spread the word.

The company asked fashion designer Stella McCartney and singer Pharrell Williams to design designs for the shoe. There were all kinds of Stan Smiths—graffiti-covered, leopard-spotted, Kermit the Frog shoes, and others with shiny silver tongues and gold toe caps.

“The most unusual ones I’ve seen look like tops with a zipper around the bottom,” Smith said. “You can detach the upper part and it’s an ordinary low shoe.”

Among his favorites in his collection are a cardinal and gold version – he has the USC fight song as a ringtone – and ones in crackled black leather with tennis ball hardware on the back.

In 2019, while seated in the royal box, Smith presented a tiny pair of his shoes to Kate Middleton for Prince Louis, who was then one year old. The tabloids got a photo of this and the image went viral.

Since 1965, Smith has attended all but one Wimbledon, either as a player or guest of honor. For the past 25 years, he and his business partner Gary Niebur have entertained customers at the home, which sits right next to the training grounds.

“I talk about the tournament, the games they’re going to see, we take pictures,” Smith said. “We go and watch the tennis and then come back for tea. It’s a lovely English garden atmosphere, and we sometimes get a few balls over the fence from the courts.”

A recent visitor, a general manager, told Smith he had 400 pairs of shoes at home.

You would think a guy would have an inflated ego about it.

Smith’s wife has him under control.

“I did an interview once, and I said, ‘Probably 95% of the people in the world have no idea who I am,’ he said. “And my wife stepped in and said, “Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world have no idea who you are.

“Thank you darling.”