The history of the PUMA Suede is as colorful as the multitude of tonal variations it is available in today. From its first iteration as the Crack to the Suede as we know it today, the sneaker has hundreds of stories to tell. From podiums with one of the first civil rights activists in sport, courts with basketball’s first style icon to the frontlines of some of counter-cultures most important moments including hip-hop and the b-boy scene, the Suede has seen it all.
The Suede is a sneaker for all time that has managed to transcend trends and taste. This could come down to its minimal aesthetic; its low cut and soft suede upper can be worn with anything, from the tracksuit to the tailored suit. It could also be that its subtleness lends itself to characters who break the mold and the status quo, in their style and their deeds. Ultimately it doesn’t take the attention away from a fit or moment in time; instead, it compliments, leaving the wearer to represent themselves.
The Suede’s origins go back to 1968 when PUMA launched their warm-up sneaker, the Crack. With suede chosen as the upper material of choice for its ease of dying to different colors, the Crack (named after those with a high level of skill e.g. “he is a crack ballplayer.”). Given to athletes in the 1968 Mexico Olympics to accompany their off-track podium and leisurewear, this is where the Suede (or Crack at the time) met Tommie Smith.
For most PUMA athletes the suede Crack would have been supplied in blue and white but for Smith whose US team’s kit was not provided by PUMA, he received the now famous black and white version. As Smith stood on the podium PUMA in hand and ready to receive his Gold Medal for the 200m, he and compatriot John Carlos raised their fists in a silent gesture against the racial atrocities happening back in their home country. This was a crucial moment in sport, a moment that paved the way for future athletes to use their stage to stand up and speak out for those who do not find themselves in such privileged positions.
Just four years later in 1972, PUMA made a significant coup, linking up with New York Knicks point guard, Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Frazier was instantly drawn to the lightweight and low style and adaptability in color choices of the Crack’s suede upper. He wanted something similar to wear on the court, something he could change up the color of whenever he wanted. With adjustments made to its silhouette to suit Frazier’s on-court needs, the Clyde was born. Almost instantly, the popularity of the model blew up. In Frazier’s hometown of New York, his on and off-court style and swagger hit a positive nerve, and with it, the Clyde’s low-key vibe and multitude of color choices started to appeal to the youth of the city. The boom continued into the ’80s as the sneaker left the court and found its home on the streets as DJs, b-boys and b-girls, MCs, and graffiti artists alike needed a sneaker that matched their distinctly New York look, but that also had the performance and comfort needed to bounce from location to location. As the cops came calling to shut down block parties and stop the new rise of graffiti artists who were expertly painting the city in the cover of night, they needed a sneaker that could run, jump, twist and turn whilst looking good with it.
The sneakers’ popularity in the US was catching on overseas, with UK b-boys and b-girls picking up on the look so effortlessly carried by their stateside counterparts. The time was right for PUMA to push their suede sneakers internationally. Finally, The Suede as we know it today entered the market place. The sneaker was such an icon in the US scene the British branch of PUMA even decided to name it ‘States’ for its initial UK release.
The Suede has never left hip-hop, any sneaker aficionado knows that they need to own at least one model to be considered a real collector. This owes much to the history the Suede has and the respect it deserves. Generation after generation it has been there to tell an important story.
In recent times the Suede inspired Rihanna’s first PUMA shoe, the Fenty Creeper, whilst PUMA Hoops creative director Jay-Z picked the Clyde as the shoe to model the brand’s first foray back into basketball with the PUMA Clyde Court Disrupt. More than 50 years on and that very first PUMA lifestyle sneaker is still inspiring new models and the people that wear them to represent themselves and create their own generation-defining moments.