It’s hard to walk around any town in Italy, or indeed anywhere in the world, without spotting a pair of Vans. Whether they’re Old Skool, Authentic or Slip-On, Vans sneakers have become a classic of youth culture, with a long history behind them. At a critical time - counterfeiting and price fluctuations in the United States - the brand found an unexpected partner in Italy, who did not simply act as distributor but influenced the brand’s global production.
That was back in 1983: Vans had already taken on the identity we are all familiar with, and its popularity was given a great boost thanks to the iconic movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where Sean Penn wore them. WP became Vans’ ideal partner for approaching the European market, and especially Italy; the Bologna-based company recognised the American brand’s incredible potential years before it began to expand internationally. But while the shoes became an instant hit in Italy, the brand was in crisis in America, even declaring bankruptcy in 1984. But after this low point, things began to look up for Vans right away: only three years later, the brand had paid all its debts and the original Vans were becoming increasingly rare and sought-after items. With 50 million dollars in annual sales, Vans came back stronger than ever. And at this time, in 1988, WP got the idea of working together with Vans to design and produce a line of sportswear for sale exclusively in Italy: collections of polo shirts, t-shirts and bermuda shorts featuring the famous “Off the Wall” print. That was the time of the Superjeans denim collection of the ’80s, famous for its unusual labels and beautiful graphics; as well as Vans Covertible sneakers, made of hybrid fabric, an item from the archives that is impossible to find today. Therefore, the iconic Vans style actually originated in Italy. Its success was so great that, in 1990, the American parent company wanted to import WP’s clothing line to the US. In the following year Vans was listed on the stock exchange, and WP started working with the brand on creation of a new collection each season, from fabrics in a variety of colours and patterns to the design of the uppers, soles and, of course, the iconic Vans labels. In the ‘90s the brand experimented with Provençal motifs and patchwork, paisley and camouflage patterns. WP’s archives still contain such timeless styles as the canvas and rubber Slip-Ons and Authentic Vans with writing on the sole. Over the years, WP proposed expansion of the Vans line of footwear to include running shoes, basketball shoes, aerobics shoes and snowboarding shoes. The success of the new collections proposed by WP continued until ’93, when WP concluded its partnership with Vans, while continuing to be its main Italian distributor. The Italian company’s influence on the brand is still clearly visible today, in its lines of clothing and collections of sporting footwear.