How they used to make ’em: An authentic history of Vans Anaheim
The latest Vans Anaheim Factory collection features three reimagined versions of the original Authentic silhouette. We retrace the shoe's steps from 1966 to current day with the brand’s archivist and designers.
There’s something lazy about the cliche that they don’t make things like they used to. Sure, lots of brands have to develop their products; original materials become obsolete, technology advances and tastes (thank the fashion gods) evolve. A cherished few though don’t abandon the classics, keeping things fresh but remaining staunchly authentic. Exhibit V: Vans.
Ever at the vanguard, the footwear legend has kept its cool through seven different decades of subcultures and youth movements, constantly reinventing but never abandoning its most enduring designs. This combination of heritage and current is the driving force behind the Vans Anaheim Factory Collection, an ongoing project which sees Vans reverse time and cook up its classics: the Authentic, Era, Old Skool, Sk8-Hi and Slip-On, using the original recipe of its Anaheim factory.
The series’ 2022 edition is a meticulous remake of the brand’s first ever style of shoe – once the Deck or Style 44, now called the Authentic – with three new variations throwing it back to the Anaheim days but with a fresh twist of Orange, California.
Anaheim, if you’re not a Cali Gurl, is a charter city in Orange County, primarily agricultural for its first century, it’s now a laid-back haven on the outskirts of LA. Vans parked up in 1966, when entrepreneurial brothers Paul and Jim Van Doren, along with partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia, opened the Van Doren Rubber Company at 704 East Broadway, bringing vulcanised shoe soles to California for the first time.
“Vans is a unique brand,” the brand’s official archivist, Catherine Acosta, tells THE FACE over an apt Zoom backdrop of the original Anaheim Factory. “They were the first to set up on the West Coast rather than the East Coast, which is traditionally where vulcanised footwear had been.”
Strikingly, the Van Doren brothers pioneered a direct-to-consumer model. By sticking it to the middle man, a higher quality of shoe was suddenly affordable. “It was a big, big deal, and a detail that often gets overlooked,” Acosta says. “Their elevator pitch in 1966 was: we’re a manufacturer and retailer and we’re opening up our own stores.”
This quality manifested itself in the Authentic. While you’re more likely to find it on a skateboard than a sailboat these days, it was once made for slippery ships and was known simply as The Deck Shoe. One of four boat shoes available from day dot, its major selling point was the sticky, crepe rubber sole, designed to be much more durable than other deck shoes at the time. And now, it’s back how it used to be via the new Anaheim Factory Collection.
Samuel Hennessy, a Vans Footwear Designer, tells THE FACE about the balancing act of revival and reinvention. “I think with classics you don’t want to change too much,” he says. “When something is an iconic design, it demands respect.”
Rian Pozzebon, Senior Director of Global Footwear Design at Vans, explains to THE FACE how the brand kept this core silhouette for the new Authentic DX 44. The collection revives the higher glossed foxing tape, original drill lining weight and cotton laces and also features the original notched blue sole for gripping onto wet decks inspired by what Pozzebon calls the “siped nature of dogs’ paws.” There are just a few meticulously thought-out modifications. First, there are Ortholite® sockliners for added comfort. There’s also a synthetic leather piece added to the inside of the heel, first introduced in the ’70s, to ensure a longer-lasting shoe and give it “a little bit of an iconic look versus the classic shoe,” says Pozzebon.
Because of the Authentic’s rich cultural history, everyone in the Vans family has a different story about the shoe. For Pozzebon, it takes him back to his childhood. “My Mom only [allowed] me to wear the Navy Authentic,” he recalls, sharing childhood images of himself in those true blues with THE FACE. “About 10 years into the job, my Mum found a super small pair of Navy Authentics that were my younger brother’s… she’d held onto his shoes from the ’80s.”
For Hennessy, the Authentic’s appeal is in how its function was flipped by skateboarders. “It’s a very classic, iconic design… the most interesting thing about the Authentic is that… it was adopted by youth culture, whether it was the legendary Z‑Boys skate team, bands in California… they all birthed a burst of movements, styles and mindsets.”
Even without these memories, though, the Authentic is a shoe for the ages – and all ages at that. Pozzebon ensured he used young designers like Hennessy to keep things fresh. “To see what the younger generation would’ve done to the shoes is a fun thing for me to watch… it’s not just some old person like me bringing old aspects… I want to connect it to the younger generation.”
Vans opens its doors
Paul and Jim Van Doren open the newly-built Anaheim Factory – combining the first Vans retail store and its warehouse – on a balmy day in March 1966. “Paul’s original thought process was to create a shoe brand and build stores that would connect to the community. He wanted to build a direct relationship,”Pozzebon says. Twelve customers take home pairs of shoes but can’t pay as Paul doesn’t have change. They all come back the next day to settle up.
A total 180
By the early ’70s, skaters start to wear the Authentic, which was co-opted by the scene thanks to its thick canvas outer and toothy rubber tread. “Skaters were gravitating towards it because it lasted longer and performs better,” Pozzebon says. “Skateboarding is always part of Vans as a brand,” Hennessy says. “You know, it’s part of our DNA.”
Paul Van Doren only discovers this by chance, via the manager at a Vans store in Santa Monica. “The manager there was saying: ‘Hey, these kids keep buying our shoes.’ They were selling them one at a time because they were burning out the back foot,” Pozzebon says. By meeting with skaters like Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta, Van Doren realises that the shoes need more padding.
Off The Wall thinking
Vans capitalises on the newfound interest from skaters by creating its Off The Wall range, which features new silhouettes, including the Era, designed especially for skating. “When Vans created the Off The Wall product line, the Era, Old Skool and Sk8-Hi came out consecutively and really started to play with materials and prints,” Acosta says. While the Authentic isn’t included in the Off The Wall line, it remains connected, but with the new silhouettes and leftfield prints prioritised.
On the move
In 1982, after a period of rapid growth, Vans move from Anaheim, but stay in the OC. “By ’82 they’d outgrown the Anaheim location and had several other buildings nearby in Orange County,” Acosta says. “We’ve got solid Southern California roots… we’ve been there ever since [Anaheim]… We have all these different departments working in the different areas of Southern California,” Pozzebon says, noting how Vans’ ethos continued to resonate with the laidback, Southern Californian way of life, making it easy for the brand to make itself at home across the county.
The chic sneak emerges
The Authentic starts to become a lifestyle shoe. The LA Times marks the change and pens a piece on the Authentic titled: Once The Lowly Deck Shoe, Now The Chic Sneak. “It focuses on the Authentic being different from other athletic footwear brands at the time [because it was] looking at aesthetics and being fashion forward,” Acosta says. “The Authentic is a great example of what we now take for granted as a lifestyle fashion shoe.”
Authentic in name, Authentic in…
The name ‘Authentic’ is used for the first time in a 1993 Vans catalogue. “We don’t know who was clever enough to give the names to what we now call the classics or icons,” Acosta says. “Even in the catalogues that came after this you still see the style number, so it was really fluid.” Everyone has a theory: “To understand the name behind the Authentic…it was our original shoe,” says Pozzebon. “Call it folklore, but you hear these different stories and there’s a whole myth around it; nobody truly knows and everyone including Steve has a version.”
A return to the classics
Rian Pozzebon joins Vans and, alongside collaborator Jon Warren, moves the brand’s classic silhouettes from its stockrooms to its shopfronts, stepping away from a sole focus on the laceless Slip-On. The Authentic is spotlighted alongside the likes of the Era and Old Skool, becoming part of the Vans Vault series, a celebration of original models with premium updates from designers like Marc Jacobs, KENZO and Nigel Cabourn.
The first factory reset
The debut Anaheim capsule is released, bringing back the Authentic, Old Skool and the Sk8-Hi with their original style numbers. Dusted-down colourways such as red and mineral green return for the first time in decades, but the shoe’s other features are contemporary rather than original.
It’s all in the details
The first full collection is released by Vans, reviving two old motifs. The Stripes print – first made famous in the ’80s by legendary freestyle BMX rider Eddie Fiola – returns emblazoned on the Era 96 DX and Sk8-Hi 38 DX, while both models also feature with a ’80s archive Summer Leaf print. The collection brings back the original higher-glossed foxing tape, cotton laces and drill lining weight, made for retro enthusiasts.
As authentic as it gets
We’ve made it to the present; Vans’ latest Anaheim Factory Collection, featuring three different takes on The Authentic. But we’ve definitely said enough, so why not check it out for yourself below?