David Lauderdale

The story behind Hilton Head’s Stan Smith and the viral photo with Kate Middleton

Viral photos from British press shown on the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy Facebook page.
Viral photos from British press shown on the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy Facebook page.

Stan Smith, the humble Hilton Head Islander known to the world as a shoe, has gone viral again.

He was photographed handing Britain’s Kate Middleton a tiny pair of Stan Smith sneakers in the Royal Box right before the men’s finals at Wimbledon last month.

“To Louis,” he wrote by his signature in gold ink on the familiar white leather Adidas trainers.

The British press surmised they may yet be a little large for the 1-year-old son of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.

The pictures quickly went around the world online, and were in the morning papers.

“Last year, I gave a pair to George and Charlotte,” Smith said of Louis’ older siblings.

And this year, he also took a pair for their cousin Archie, the tiny baby of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.

Smith’s shoes themselves have turned into royalty, certainly in the world of sneaker freaks and sneaker heads worldwide who take notice when Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle — or Alex Rodriquez lounging on the cover of a Sports Illustrated last month (“Alex in Wonderland”) — are photographed in their Stan Smiths.

But a lot of funny things happened on the road to see the little prince.

Tea with Princess Diana

Stan Smith was a 6-foot-4 California blond, not long out of UCLA, when Sea Pines founder Charles E. Fraser signed him to represent his Hilton Head resort community to the world.

That was in 1971, the same year Smith lost the finals at Wimbledon but won the U.S. Open. When he won at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club in 1972, the Duchess of Kent presented the world’s top-ranked player his trophy.

Smith, who says he’s missed only one tournament at Wimbledon since 1965, would eventually become a regular guest in the Royal Box at center court.

They have lunch beforehand, and after the match, it’s strawberries and cream and scones during afternoon tea.

This year at tea, Stan and Marjory Smith chatted with Prince William, second in line to the throne, and Kate Middleton.

“They’re going to be a great couple to support Wimbledon,” Smith said. “They’re both athletic. I read that Roger Federer has given George (the 6-year-old prince and third in line to the throne) a tennis lesson.”

Marjory Smith wondered if Prince William might remember another time they met at afternoon tea. It was when he was about 9 years old. There was an empty seat beside Marjory, and Princess Diana sat down next to her.

Her two little boys were with her, and some of the Smith children were there as well, including their little girl, Logan.

So this year Marjory tells Prince William what she’d said to her daughter so many years ago: “I told Logan if she wanted to be queen, this was her guy.”

Stan Smith said, “He actually laughed about it. I couldn’t believe Marjory said that.”

Adidas

Adidas signed Smith about the same time Charles Fraser did.

He’s been with both ever since. This week, he travels to Germany for the 70th anniversary celebration of Adidas. The world has been wearing Stan Smith shoes for 47 of those years.

The story of the shoes and Stan Smith is told in a new book, “Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe.”

The simple, green-trimmed shoes have always been popular, but in the past four years, as Smith says, they’ve gone viral. It’s happened by design, through social media and collaborations with musician Pharrell Williams and fashion designers Stella McCartney and Raf Simons.

But Smith says his favorite gift for others is a pair of the tiny shoes. Some are placed in a cube with a golf ball or baseball and given as a neat thing to put on your desk.

“The first time we ever saw the shoes on a child, Ramsey and Trevor weren’t even born yet,” Smith said of his two oldest children. “We saw it in a subway in Paris. Marjory and I said, ‘Wouldn’t that be neat, if our children could wear those shoes?’ “

They didn’t know if the shoes would be around that long. But they’ve made it through four children to 14 grandchildren, with another on the way.

As for Logan, she grew up to become the queen of Pete Pollak’s life. He, too, was reared on Hilton Head, son of Peter Pollak (who developed and sold a lot of property) and Suzanne Pollak (co-author of “Entertaining for Dummies” and “The Pat Conroy Cookbook,” and founder of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits).

Logan and Pete have four princes and princesses of their own now, with plenty of Stan Smiths to kick around in. And they have the real Stan Smith, a grandfather who is a viral, royal shoe.

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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