Imagine that you’re back in 1917. World War I seems unending, the Russian Revolution is in full throttle, the worldwide influenza epidemic is about to take off, and there’s no Tamiflu protection for at least another 80 years. Amidst all this doom and gloom, Converse launches the first Chuck Taylor All Star, a shining beacon of rubberized hope in these turbulent times.
A smash hit from the beginning, All Stars (and all the various low and hi-top combos subsequently produced) were perennially associated with hip, subversive counter-culture. All Stars were the outsider kicks, favored by 1950s rockabilly kids, punk rocker Joey Ramone, and grunge-king Kurt Cobain. So what on earth has happened to the credibility of this simple shoe? When did Converse All Stars move from being achingly hip to Ellen DeGeneres-friendly? When we saw this monstrous new creation, we knew that this was an issue that needed to be investigated. Behold, the rise and fall of Converse All Stars.
1917-1969: Primarily worn by basketball players like their original progenitor and namesake Chuck Taylor, All Stars are worn by the U.S. team in the 1936 Olympics. As more colors are produced in the ’50s, All Stars are ushered into the rebellious underground by James Dean, who wears a white pair with jeans. Chuck Taylor dies in 1969, immortalized by the shoe that bears his name.
1969-1993: Arguably the golden age of Converse, All Stars are emblematic of subversive youth culture — Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Rotten, Joan Jett. In an era when the kids really did try and change the world, All Stars encapsulate the spirit of change. But with All Star lover Kurt Cobain’s death in 1993, the tide turns.
1993-2001: All Star decline is gradual but nonetheless evident — as emo and indie bands swarm into the mainstream in the late-90s, the pedestrian groups Green Day, Wheatus, and just about every other whiny, impassioned vocalist dons Converse. This is the time period when 14-year-olds accessorized their Tamagotchis with the latest hot pink All Stars, decorated with peace signs and yin and yangs. In fashion terms, All Stars have now crossed over to the dark side. Bad business means the company files for bankruptcy in 2001, and in 2003 gets bought by Nike. The modern era, the Crisis of Converse begins.
2003-present: All Star annihilation. The brand is now so pervasive in mainstream pop culture that style-less C-listers and Disney stars like Zac Efron and the Jonas Brothers drive the stake into Converse’s once-hip heart. When Ellen DeGeneres makes Converse her shoe of choice, Chuck Taylor turns in his grave, and Williamsburg’s hipsters abandon the style for good.
Will it take a return to 1917’s war, destruction and disease to finally destroy this shoe?