VANS SLIP-ON CHECKERBOARD, FROM BMX TO CINEMA

Vans was born out of skate culture, but some of their models grew to be associated with extreme sports. In the seventies, BMX had adopted Vans’ rebellious image as their own, which is why they celebrated the arrival of a new model called #98 which would go down in history as the Slip-On.

With a silhouette that was inspired by the Authentic (#44), by eliminating all laces they became perfect for the BMX, but there was more to its functional side. Vans organised sneaker design competitions and some of the proposals decorated the midsole with a checkered black and white pattern, which is why they decided to launch the same colourway for the Slip-On. BMX fans saw this as a direct reference to the checkered flag that is shown in the finish line of their races and they adopted the sneakers as something that belonged to them.

But the true explosion of the Slip-On arrived in 1982, through a movie. Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a teenage comedy without too much pretence but with references to rock music (the screenwriter Cameron Crowe, had worked for Rolling Stone), teenage society (the director Amy Heckerling became an anthropologist once again a few years later with Clueless) and fashion (Marilyn Vance, in charge of the costumes, also created the designs for The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

Created as a choral movie, an extremely young Sean Penn played Jeff Spicoli, a surfer who represented to perfection the Californian beach culture. Carefree, lazy, playful, hungry and always in search of fun. Vans took advantage of their relationship with Universal Studios to deliver a huge load of sneakers with the hope that they would appear on the silver screen, but Sean Penn did much more than just that: he turned the checkered Slip-On into a whole new character.

Californian and surfer as the character, Sean Penn understood that the Slip-On was the most direct way of representing himself. The screenwriter Cameron Crowe had been inspired by a classmate to create the character of Jeff Spicoli, but when it came to creating his image, Sean Penn was reminded of one of his surf friends. He took the image of a usual beach-goer and turned him into the example for thousands of people who had never set foot in California, blond mane, open shirts, worn-out t-shirts… and checkered Vans Slip-On’s.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a teenage success and Jeff Spicoli became the aesthetic model (and sometimes even when it came to ethics) of a generation that tried to mimic the style of Southern California that seems to live between waves, with the Vans Slip-On Checkerboard as an essential element.