Of all the classic sneaker silhouettes, the most underappreciated might be the German army trainer. Despite the Teutonic obscurity of the name, the silhouette is as recognizable as the Chuck Taylor or Air Force 1. So why doesn’t the GAT, which has been reinterpreted by brands as varied as Maison Margiela, Dior, and the DTC powerhouse Beckett Simonon, get more play?
The shape of the German army trainer can be traced back to a spiked running cleat that a successful sneaker business in Herzogenaurach called Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Geda for short) designed for Jesse Owens before he tore through the 1936 Olympic Games. Geda was, famously, run by two bickering siblings: Adolf and Rudolph Dassler. When the two fell out for the final time in 1948, Rudolph founded Puma, and Adolph, known to his friends as Adi, founded Adidas.
In the 1970s or early 1980s, the Bundeswehr, as the West German army was known, contracted with one of the Dassler’s companies (to this day, it’s not clear which) to produce a training shoe for soldiers. The German army trainer was born. The shoe sported a contrasting gum sole and a plain white upper with a light gray suede panel. The anonymous, utilitarian design met the military’s need for mass production, while the gum sole offered comfort and traction for military training. It so happened that those purely functional details looked great, too.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cold War persisted in Herzogenaurach. The town was bitterly divided when the Dasslers split, but it remains the headquarters for both Adidas and Puma. The German army trainer became an army surplus store staple and eventually caught the eye of Martin Margiela in the late 1990s.
Maison Margiela Replica Sneaker
Margiela’s German army trainer, the “Replica,” is a self-aware admission that his design is a copy of an existing one. Margiela’s Replicas were particularly popular in the early 2010s when the menswear world was obsessed with high-end minimalist sneakers; an era when extremely crisp pairs of Common Projects were all the rage.
The current menswear landscape has elevated accessible silhouettes from well-known brands like the Nike Air Force 1, the Reebok Club C 85, and the New Balance 550. But even though the sneaker world has moved on, the German army trainer is survived by its thriving older brother, the Adidas Samba.
The soccer-influenced Samba may not be exactly the same as a German army trainer, but the two share major design details. They both have a pointed silhouette that narrows from heel to toe and a W-shaped suede panel across the toe box, arguably inspired by wingtip dress shoes. The gum sole is another key feature that sets the two styles apart from other classic sneakers, which more commonly have a white rubber sole.
The most obvious difference is that the Samba swaps the single stripe for three, and the toe panel stops at the midsole, while German army trainers have an additional strip that extends to the eyestay. But the design undoubtedly originates from the same town, the same family, and the same Germanic inclination. Though it was developed decades before the GAT, the Samba feels like part of a uniform. For millions of fans of the beautiful game across Europe and elsewhere, it all but is. That seems to be more true now than ever. Fashion magazines like Vogue and GQ clocked the trendiness of the Samba in the spring and summer of ’22. Searches and prices for the Samba began to climb that year on Google and StockX, respectively, peaking in fall and winter. And while prices on StockX never climbed to astronomical heights, the fact that a non-limited release consistently sold considerably above retail is a testament to the hype around this shoe.
The German army trainer, on the other hand, had a mellow 2022, with the price of the Margiela Replica remaining relatively stagnant on StockX. In both demand and design, the German army trainer is low-key compared to the Samba. GAT loyalists probably prefer it that way. Whether it’s Beckett Simonon, Margiela, or the genuine article, the anonymity of the design is its appeal.
Despite its German DNA, the Samba has come to be seen as a British shoe, and it’s an essential part of another trend, dubbed Blokecore. Blokecore is a global appropriation of a distinctly British look: football jersey, stonewash denim, Adidas sneakers (preferably Samba or Gazelle), and an attitude best typified ( ironically, given its history) by ye olde two-finger salute. Blokecore was perfectly primed to land in 2022 when the World Cup reminded Americans that
football soccer exists, Britain reminded the world that it’s a mess, and everyone seemed to simultaneously remember that Oasis is in fact really good.
As a result of the explosion of Blokecore, fashion brands like Palace, Percival, and Balenciaga have stocked football jerseys in recent seasons, including collaborations with soccer-centric brands like Umbro. At the core of the look was the Samba, and it was ripe for reinvention. Wales Bonner made a particularly coveted take on the Samba, which retails for an eye-popping sum on sites like StockX. Jonah Hill took a turn designing a Samba, as did Pharrell, Emily Oberg, and Palace. But the old-school, no-frills version in black or white, which you can buy just about anywhere, is arguably still the coolest.
And if you find the original version of the shoe, with the pronounced, protective tongue too hard to wear off the pitch, Adidas offers the Samba OG. The OG has a smaller tongue, and has proven so popular it’s hard to find in stock.
With any trend, it’s reasonable to wonder if you’ll miss the boat, or hop on just as everyone is hopping off. But the Samba is an undeniable classic, and the minimalist German army trainer is adaptable to shifting trends. To paraphrase Oasis’ Gallagher brothers, who are as famous for feuding as the Dasslers, the Samba is gonna live forever.