Fashion How Rishi killed off the biggest trainer trend in...

How Rishi killed off the biggest trainer trend in one fell swoop

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Now Sunak has inadvertently sounded the death knell for my beloved Sambas. A picture of the Prime Minister sporting a pair proved the quickest way to torpedo a trend that had, until now, seemed unstoppable.

Stephen Doig, the Telegraph’s men’s style editor, says the trainer has been “killed off by Rishi in one fell swoop.” Naturally, the PM’s appearance in a pair of Gen Z’s (former) favourite trainers set X/Twitter alight. “Thinking of the Adidas Samba community at this difficult time,” tweeted my colleague Ed Cumming. “Absolutely unforgivable,” wrote another. “We had a good run,” said a third.

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Originally designed in the 1970s and popular in the 90s, Sambas became a renaissance sleeper hit among trendy millennial Dads and Gen-Z girls on TikTok in 2022. Adidas was so taken aback by the demand that they couldn’t make enough of them. Since then, they have managed to be the “shoe of the year” for three consecutive years. Their unstoppable rise is difficult to parse – the originals are simply a pair of bog-standard black and white gum-soled trainers, available for £90 – a comparatively fair price in comparison to other cult trainers. There is nothing outstanding about them – they are not dissimilar to other Adidas designs.

Not long ago, Sambas were everywhere: worn by fashion’s movers and shakers, such as Chioma Nnadi, head of British Vogue; spotted on celebrities including Rihanna and Harry Styles; and pictured adorning the feet of TikTok influencers and Instagram It-girls such as Hailey Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid. Their ubiquity among 20 and 30-something Londoners is such that on any given Tube journey I might spot 10 pairs in the wild.

Bella Hadid wearing a pair in 2022

The sought-after Wales Bonner Ponyskin Samba – a collaboration with the British-Jamaican menswear designer Grace Wales Bonner, yours for £160 if you click quickly enough – sells out season after season. The suede crocheted styles have a resale value of £2,000.

But now, the verdict is in. Sunak has done for the Samba silhouette what Liz Truss and Nadine Dorries did for the all-white trainer: he has made it criminally – perhaps permanently – uncool.

Liz Truss, pictured arriving at the 2022 Conservative Party conference, was a big fan of the white trainer

Until fairly recently, there were no column inches dedicated to a politician’s choice of trainers, as it would have been dress shoes or nothing. But there has been a gear shift and a relaxation of formal dress codes in politics as in business. Last year, this led to the advent of the abominable “dress sneaker” – a brogue or smart dress shoe with a comfortable trainer sole.

You can tell a lot about a politician from their trainers. Barack Obama is an Adidas Stan Smiths man. Unfortunately, Matt Hancock is too – unless he’s wearing his Vejas, the sustainable sneaker brand of which Meghan Markle is a fan. (Hancock has previously said he wears trainers “to look like my constituents.”) Theresa May paired Converse with her suit at a Tory conference. Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s are a pair of rare and exclusive New Balance trainers in utilitarian khaki.

Obama, known to wear Stan Smiths, at an event for the Obama Foundation in 2019

Sunak has form when it comes to adopting streetwear trends. “He likes his luxuries,” says Doig, “see the outrage when he wore £500 Prada loafers to visit a building site.

“Sunak, unlike Johnson or Cameron, has a predilection for ‘cool’ items of clothing – cult Milan brand Palm Angels undoubtedly wept when he wore their sliders. Nothing makes them uncool amongst their fans faster.”

The famous photo of Sunak wearing his £95 Palm Angels sliders in 2021

Sambas – truly the trainers of the people – are a humbler choice than the pair of “stealth wealth” Common Projects sneakers the Prime Minister was photographed wearing in 2022 (RRP £340). But somehow, they have proved just as divisive.

There were already whispers that the Samba had become a victim of its own success. GQ wrote an article that earnestly declared we had entered the era of “Samba anxiety,” as long-time Samba fans were worried the silhouette had been ruined by its own popularity. In it, an American fashion and watch journalist called Brynn Wallner, was quoted as saying: “Wearing them can feel like you just got off the conveyor belt from the influencer factory.”

If herd popularity had dented its success, Sunak’s Sambas are the kiss of death. Luckily I had the foresight to snap up a pair of old-school Adidas Spezials, which are still cool – that is, until they’re spotted on Starmer.

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