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VANS OLD SKOOL : A Brief History – one of the best pair of all time
Sneakers, Street

VANS OLD SKOOL : A Brief History – one of the best pair of all time 

The Vans Old Skool was created way back in 1977 – the same year that Elvis Presley died, The Clash released their debut album, and Red Rum won the Grand National for the third time. Or, in Vans history, a year after the Vans Era, and the same year as the Vans Slip On. At the time the Old Skool was known as the Style #36 and was the first Vans skate shoe to make use of the now ubiquitous side stripe.

Paul Van Doren came up with the idea to create a new shoe that marked Vans’ first departure from their signature deck shoe. While idly doodling one day, Paul Van Doren came up with a sketch of what he originally referred to as the “jazz stripe”. Mr Van Doren decided to incorporate this stripe into the design of a new shoe, and with that the Vans sidestripe was born. The Vans Old Skool was the first Vans shoe to feature the now iconic side stripe, which would go on to become the unmistakable hallmark of the Vans brand.

And so from the off the Old Skool proved to be something of a trailblazer for Vans. The Old Skool was the first Vans skate shoe to incorporate leather panels for enhanced durability, notably the silhouette’s suede toe. The Vans #36 was released in three unassuming colourways in ’77, with one of those being the enduring royal blue version worn notably by Stacy Peralta. But this was only the beginning for the Old Skool which would rise to rival the Authentic for the title of Vans’ most iconic shoe.

vans old skool

By the 1980s, Vans enthusiasts were exploring the versatile construction of the Old Skool. Its various panels made the Old Skool the perfect shoe for getting creative, and fans began customising their shoes to express their personalities.

Steve Van Doren, son of Paul Van Doren had noticed skateboarders drawing with black pen on their rubber midsoles. The idea that you could simply whip out a pen and create your own customised unique footwear was incredibly popular. The construction of the Vans Old Skool, with its multiple panels and varying material parts, lent itself perfectly to this idea, allowing the shoe to be tweaked and modified to the satisfaction of the individual. This idea of footwear as an extension of the wearer’s personality is something that Vans latched on to from an early stage and has become synonymous with the brand, with the Old Skool being their trusted canvas for this.

The notion of footwear as an expression of personality is something that became an integral part of the Vans DNA, and twenty years later in 2004 Vans would continue that tradition by launching Vans customs, allowing you to design your own Old Skools online and have your creation delivered direct to your door.

In the 1990s Vans began to reach out to the wider fashion and streetwear world. They collaborated with high fashion brand Marc Jacobs, creating an Old Skool which made use of premium materials, releasing in limited numbers allowed them to create a feeling of exclusivity, similar to the notion of customisation they’d pushed so hard in the previous decade.

vans old skool x marc jacobs

It was in the ’90s that Vans began their long relationship with skate shop and streetwear giant Supreme. In 1996 Vans and Supreme released a collaborative Old Skool shoe, a pair of which will set you back well over £1000 if you were to try and purchase them today. James Jebbia of Supreme said at the time: “The Old Skool is iconic, classic skate… In 1996, it was one of the best shoes offered by Vans and has really stood the test of time.”

vans old skool x supreme

The American punk rock scene of the late ’90s and 2000s, which in itself has a rich relationship with skateboarding, heavily adopted Vans Old Skool as their shoe of choice. Famous figures such as Black Flag lead singer, Henry Rollins were pictured wearing the shoe on many occasions. Never ones to miss an opportunity, Vans began working with bands such as Slayer, The Descendents and Bad Religion – creating Old Skool models with each band, in order to celebrate their shared heritage and history.

The Old Skool has of course always been popular amongst skateboarders, stick on a Julien Stranger clip and you’re likely to see the Anti Hero bossman skating a pair. Whether they took their lead from skateboarding fashion or not, the shoe also was popular amongst BMXers as well. Anthony van Engelen recalls his memories of the Old Skool: “The first pros I really looked up to were Henry Sanchez and Guy Mariano, and at the time they were skating Vans Old Skools, and skating them well.” Which, you have to admit, is a pretty stellar recommendation. The Old Skool’s suede and canvas upper, complemented by the grippy waffle sole, mean the board feel is good and they stand up to the abuse skateboarding puts shoes through.

Vans Old Skool skate shoes remain ubiquitous to this day. Vans paid homage to longtime team rider and skateboarding legend (in the truest sense of the word) Ray Barbee, designing a tasteful burgundy colourway. Rowan Zorilla, Baker pro and star of Supreme’s ‘Blessed’, has also had a signature pair of the shoe, available in both all white and black, with a checkerboard detail on the side giving a nod to Vans’ history, whilst the velcro closure in place of laces sets them very much in the modern trend of skateboarding fashion.

vans x ray barbee

Perhaps the main reason for the continuing popularity of the Old Skool is its easy availability. Anyone from the man on the street all the way up to major recording artists, Kanye West or Frank Ocean, can get their hands on a pair with relative ease. Whilst for some items this may be seen as a drawback, the shoes deep history means this saturation has yet to diminish its – for want of a better word – coolness.

As mentioned previously, collaborations have been a major part of the history of the Old Skool. Those early collaborations with Supreme and Marc Jacobs paved the way for many, many more. In recent years there have been Marvel Old Skools, Peanuts Old Skools, Disney Old Skools to name but a few.

vans old skool x peanuts

These popular culture collaborations, which admittedly are hugely popular, have also been offset by more high-fashion and streetwear focused limited releases. Tyler the Creator, of Odd Future fame, released a Golf Wang x Vans Old Skool in 2014. Since their first collaboration with Vans back in ‘96, Supreme has gone on to release countless more collaborations featuring the Old Skool, and you’d imagine there will be more of these to come in the future as neither brands popularity seems to be diminishing any time soon.

In India, its been more than an year since Vans had made any major drops on the shelves but 2020 is the year when we can see a major comeback from the best ones in classics game bringing back the most versatile sneaker of all time.

Stay tuned for more updates and information

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