The Converse Chuck Taylor is perhaps the most iconic staple in American fashion. First introduced in 1917 as purely a basketball sneaker, it’s become instantly recognizable and has been ripped off innumerable times.
Maybe that’s why it took Converse nearly a century to finally give it the modern facelift it so rightfully deserves. After all, why fix something if it isn’t broken? If Wilt Chamberlain could score 100 points on the hardwood in a pair of O.G Chucks, surely our generation shouldn’t have anything to complain about.
But the customer is always right.
The Chuck Taylor II, unveiled last last month in Boston at Converse’s new global headquarters, is greater than the sum of its shiny new parts. They beefed up the uppers, added foam padding, and finally threw some cushioning in there.
The heavyweight canvas offers more support for whatever trouble you might find yourself in, and isn’t as flimsy as its predecessor—so it's much more resistant to wear-and-tear. The padded non-slip tongue solves the universal discomfort of having the tongue slip from side-to-side, a constant issue in the regular Chuck. But the most significant update to the 98-year-old silhouette is the addition of Nike’s Lunarlon insoles, which offers more arch support and cushioning than ever before. So long, breaking in period.
A more comfortable, easy-wearing Chuck is what people wanted—and Converse has obeyed. You can now literally walk in Chucks all day. What's more, the coordinating eyelet colors and stark white midsole without a contrast foxing stripe speaks to modern tastes without altering the unmistakable identity of the Chuck Taylor.
The whole of the Chuck II speaks to the evolving needs of today’s consumer--whether it be chefs, teachers, skaters, or sneakerheads, while also staying true to its roots. As Vice President and General Manager of Converse All Star Richard Copcutt put it: “We had to be respectful of our past. This isn’t a sneaker that we would toy with lightly.”
People are reluctant to change—and when you mess with something as truly iconic as the Chuck Taylor, you’ve got to be really careful or risk alienating the millions of Converse loyalists around the world who’ve grown up with the original shoe and don’t want to see it butchered. Thankfully, the Chuck Taylor II deftly balances old-school aesthetics with some very welcome technological advancements.
In a smart business decision, Converse is keeping the old Chuck Taylor around as well as the retro-inspired Chuck Taylor 1970 silhouette, a hardier throwback model that's won favor with Converse purists and the fashion set, resulting in collaborations with boutiques like Concepts and cult brands like COMME des GARÇONS Play. At $70-$75 per pair, the Chuck Taylor II sits right in the middle of the basic Chuck Taylor ($50-$55) and the Chuck Taylor 1970s ($80-$85), and costs considerably less than Converse's collaborations with designers like John Varvatos and Missoni, which can retail for up to $200.
When it came to designing the Chuck Taylor II, Converse understood the mammoth task at hand in redesigning a certified classic, and spared no expense in obtaining feedback from as many people as possible.
“We have a really big wear test community at Converse and [they’re] our development team. It was the biggest wear test we ever did and we got overwhelming responses. People were writing letters saying, ‘This is insane, this is so crazy. Please do this,’” said Converse Creative Director of Global Footwear Bryan Cioffi.
Converse knew the Chuck II had to have the core DNA of the original but still be able to stand out on its own, while also delivering features that today’s consumers asked for. Chucks are well known for developing a unique patina with wear over time, and even with the more substantial canvas, that won’t change on the Chuck II. It just might take a bit longer.
“Wait till you see how this canvas wears. It’s incredible. We threw out a couple of other canvases because it stayed too clean for too long,” Copcutt admits. Those looking to make their mark in comfort can rest easy knowing the personalization aspect of the Chuck Taylor II remains intact.
Little has changed about the Chuck since it was first introduced—and for good reason. It’s the first basketball sneaker to truly crossover and become the everyman shoe, which is why Converse agonized over the smallest details in designing its sequel.
“We were obsessing about the laces and spent three or four hours in one meeting debating how long the aglet should be,” Copcutt said. The reason? “The aglet on the Chuck II is slightly longer than on the original Chuck for easier threading.”
A shoelace may be trivial to some, but Converse went to even greater lengths just to come up with the name, and how they reached “Chuck II” will probably surprise you.
“We had a naming summit,” recalled Copcutt. “We sat there and argued and we wrote on the board for hours and hours. Then our marketing guru went to have a cigarette and says, ‘What are you guys talking about? Just call the damn thing Chuck II!’”
The name stuck. It makes sense, after all. It’s the second iteration, the second coming of the most iconic sneaker in history. It demands to be taken seriously and refuses to live in the shadow of its older brother, it’s the new cool kid on the block. As Geoff Cottrill, a vice president and general manager at Converse told CNN, “We redesigned everything, yet redesigned nothing.”
Converse's calculated gamble wasn't without risk. To put things in a business perspective, the company sells about 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day—roughly 98.5 million Chucks a year. The old adage about not fixing something that isn't broken doesn't really apply. Remember: The Chuck II doesn't aim to replace the original, but rather pay homage in a new way. It's the movie remake that's full of nods to the original, but benefits from modern technology.
To put it another way: Legends are never forgotten, but they do get retold by new generations. And if the Chuck Taylor II's instant sell-out status is any indication, its story is merely just beginning.