Flash of genius

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Tennis players today wear high-tech clothes and footwear that have taken years to develop. But Fred Perry - the greatest British tennis player of all time - wore Green Flash plimsolls to win Wimbledon three times running, in 1934, '35 and '36.

The Green Flash is a design classic that has stood the test of time. Its distinctive grass-green emblem is etched on the collective memory of school days. Our sentimental love for the shoe probably stems from the fact that Fred was the last British man to win the Wimbledon title. (Oh, when will we have a winner again?) The British have always had a tendency to laud their home-grown talent - but his shoes as well? Green Flash are certainly as English as Wimbledon on a rainy summer afternoon, but that's probably because they were on the right pair of feet at the right time. Should we be running out to buy a pair in an attempt to reclaim the innocence of our youth? Dunlop would like us to: they have relaunched the Green Flash Classic 1555, as worn by Fred Perry, in the hope of making them a must-have fashion item - and it looks as if they will succeed.

The earliest sports shoes were developed in the 1830s by the Liverpool Rubber Company, whose founder, John Boyd Dunlop, discovered how to bond canvas to rubber. They were first called "sand shoes", because they were worn on the beach by the Victorian middle classes. By the end of the century they became known as plimsolls - so named because the point at which the canvas and rubber bonded supposedly looked similar to the Plimsoll line around a ship's hull. "Sand shoes" proved to be the prototype for the Green Flash trainer.

Plimsolls were all-purpose gym shoes and cheap street shoes throughout the early years of this century. But after the Great War, fashion and style began to creep back into the public consciousness. In 1933, the "Flash" range was unveiled; in essence these were simply higher quality, better designed plimsolls with a herringbone pattern on the sole to give good grip on grass tennis courts.

Anyone born in this country between 1960 and 1974 will probably have worn or wanted to wear Green Flash at school (anything would have been better than Woolworth's plimsolls with the little elasticated bit). But today's budding young players are more likely to be kitted out in Wilson Pro-Staff, Nike Air or K-Swiss, because they have the cushion technology that is all important. Of course, an additional lure for professional tennis players is the lucrative sponsorship deals that they can attract by wearing leading brands.

Green Flash, however, are no longer trying to market their shoes as sportswear, aware that their target customers are wearing the shoes for reasons of street cred and - possibly - sentimentality. The shoes are now sold in fashion stores rather than sports stores, alongside trendy club gear. Research carried out among the 18-25 age group revealed that their heroes are not sports stars but people they can truly aspire to imitate, such as DJs. So Dunlop Footwear asked 100 DJs about Green Flash. They all liked and remembered the shoes, and, in return for wearing them in clubs, received free shoes. An amusing offshoot of this sponsorship is the quotes provided. Neon Leon, a DJ at the Ministry of Sound in London, said of his shoes: "Green Flash are dope, all my posse think they're cool. We are all Green Flash dudes. It's the shit, man."

When Perry achieved his hat-trick at Wimbledon he was effectively the first sportsman to create shoe snobbery. In 1957, a Green Flash ad stated: "Four out of five Wimbledon players wear them." But by the Seventies, as new technology invaded the courts, Green Flash began a new life as school pumps; at the peak of their popularity, they sold a million pairs annually in the UK. Worldwide, Dunlop have sold in excess of 25 million pairs of their classic Green Flash 1555 plimsolls, making them one of the biggest sellers of any shoe s in history

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