Fashionistas say Rishi Sunak has killed the revival of Adidas Sambas (2024)

In hindsight it was a narrow escape. A few weeks ago, I determined to treat myself to a pair of £90 blue and cream suede Adidas Sambas.

Like half the country I'd been caught up in Samba fever, reasoning they were the perfect lightweight shoe if summer ever decided to arrive. But so popular were they, they had already sold out in my size.

Now I breathe a sigh of relief. For last week Rishi Sunak chose a pair of white and navy Sambas for an interview on tax policies and, in the brief second it took to post it on his Instagram account, killed the revival of this classically cool shoe stone dead.

It's not the first time the Prime Minister has made a sartorial blunder. He is regularly criticised by fashion types for his too-short trousers and when he wore a pair of £490 Prada loafers to a building site during the cost of living crisis in 2022, he was mocked for being out of touch.

But something about the leader of our nation donning the fashionistas' favourite trainer for 2024 is a step too far. In the clip his Sambas looked straight-out-the-box fresh, adding to the 'Dad trying too hard to be trendy' vibe and fuelling suspicion a stylist told him to bung them on as they'd make him look 'relatable'.

They didn't. Social media was awash with memes and jokes about Sunak killing Sambas. 'In a bid to present himself as young and hip, Rishi Sunak took an eternally cool sneaker and ruined it for everyone,' wailed GQ magazine.

Last week Rishi Sunak chose a pair of white and navy Sambas for an interview on tax policies and killed the revival of this classically cool shoe stone dead

The Samba Spezial model, recently seen on the likes of Hailey Bieber

Meanwhile footwear historian Elizabeth Semmelhack told The Times it could prove to be 'the death knell' for the classic trainer which has previously been described as 'the defining sneaker of our age'.

How Adidas trainers took over the world

1949: Adidas founder, inventor and Nazi party member Adolf 'Adi' Dassler creates football shoes with a rubber sole that offers excellent grip on icy surfaces. The German football team wear them at the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil where it becomes known as the Samba after the Brazilian dance.

1980s: The Samba becomes the go-to shoe for footballers across the world… and their fans, making the brand synonymous with the football hooliganism on the rise at the time.

1982: The Samba Spezial model, recently seen on the likes of Hailey Bieber, Bella Hadid and Lindsay Lohan, launches with its new shock-absorbent wedge and multi-stud outsole.

1990s: The Samba finds a new audience in the skateboarding community, due to its traction and durable design, leading to the creation of a skate-focused version of the shoe. It also becomes a Brit pop staple, adopted by Oasis's Gallagher brothers Noel and Liam.

2020: Demand for the Samba rises tenfold, cementing its status as a global fashion icon. It's now the second biggest-selling Adidas shoe behind the Stan Smith with numerous iterations including a vegan version.

2024: It's hailed as the shoe of the summer as UK-wide searches for the trainer more than double — not least because Harry Styles wears them, too.

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Yesterday, with the backlash at fever pitch, Sunak felt forced to apologise. He jokingly told LBC Radio: 'I issue a fulsome apology to the Samba community. But, in my defence, I would say I have been wearing Adidas trainers including Sambas — and others, in fact — for many, many years. The first pair my brother got for me many, many years ago — my first pair of fun Adidas trainers as a Christmas present. I haven't looked back since. So I've been a long-time devotee.'

He added: 'That pair [in the video] I did buy, but I've had Adidas trainers for a very long time.'

But claiming he is a long-time devotee of the brand has only made things worse in the eyes of Samba owners, who now fear wearing them is basically the equivalent of an 'I Rishi Sunak' badge.

To be fair to him, the Samba is now so ubiquitous that true trendsetters were already snubbing them. Adidas's chief executive, Bjorn Gulden, declared in 2023 that the Samba was the 'hottest shoe on the market' and that the company intended to sell 'millions and millions'. Indeed, more than 35million pairs have already danced off the shelves and it's one of Adidas' most popular styles ever — second only to the Stan Smith.

On a recent train journey, I counted five pairs of Sambas, in various colours, worn by bankers, business types and students. Celebrities including actresses Sienna Miller and Katie Holmes, singer Rihanna, models Kendall Jenner, Kaia Gerber, Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber and Kate Moss all have a pair.

Despite their popularity, it's still quite a step forward for Adidas Sambas to suddenly be the shoe of choice for a Prime Minister.

They were designed as a football shoe in 1949 and, not so long ago, associated with football hooliganism. The battle-scarred terraces of the 1980s were full of so-called 'Casuals' wearing box-fresh Sambas. They were more likely to be used to kick your head in than garner you an online kicking like Sunak's have.

Katie Holmes pictured in a pair of Sambas while out walking in New York

Kaia Gerber is seen during Milan Fashion Week in 2022

Even well into the 90s, footwear with the Adidas three-stripes was regarded with suspicion.

Ewan McGregor wore them as the drug addicted anti-hero of Danny Boyle's hit film Trainspotting and the bar I worked in when I was a student in Leeds in 2002 banned them outright.

But Adidas has been exceptionally clever at resurrecting the Samba and making it deeply desirable.

In 2020, the brand collaborated with one of the hottest rising stars in British fashion, Grace Wales Bonner, on a line of Sambas with subtle crochet detailing. That collection and every subsequent one has instantly sold out and pairs of these coveted styles now sell for thousands of pounds per pair.

While it might be every Samba fan's worst nightmare to see Rishi in their favourite retro lace-up, no trainer is truly safe from the dreaded 'politician effect'. Who can forget when Theresa May made Converse uncool by wearing them on holiday in Italy in 2018? Or when Liz Truss tanked not just the economy, but everyone's favourite white trainers, when she was spotted in a pair of chunky white sneakers from Reiss in 2022?

No doubt the Princess of Wales and Meghan Markle cringed along with the rest of us when Matt Hanco*ck rocked a pair of their favourite Veja Esplar sneakers last year. And one wonders whether the marketing execs at hip running brand Hoka were punching the air when President Biden wore a pair of $150 (£120) Transport stability sneakers in February this year — reportedly to help him keep his balance.

Still, not everyone is slinging their Sambas in the bin or selling them on resale site Vinted.

Kat Farmer, the fashion stylist and influencer, wrote on Instagram: 'I've spent too long breaking the b******s in to stop wearing my Sambas. I love them, they go with everything and are now comfortable and I am lazy.'

So maybe Sunak hasn't killed them off forever — just pushed them back in the box for a little while.

And when he's a distant memory, we can dust them off again... which may be sooner than we think.

Fashionistas say Rishi Sunak has killed the revival of Adidas Sambas (2024)
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