Two people meet at a party one summer evening in the middle of France somewhere, and in late June, 1975. They are dancing that evening to songs like ‘Jive Talking’ by The Bee Gees. They are having fun, fuelled by a couple of glasses of champagne. This means they are at that ‘I feel amazing’ stage of the drinking curve, although they are not drunk. This is because both of them have a low tolerance to alcohol, which means that they get very drunk, very quick. The man is a cycling professional and the woman is a professional fashion model. Neither of the two know, or care where the other person should be the following day. Let’s just say, it is a good night, followed by a fast breakfast, fast bag packing, and an equally fast farewell.
A great night out often has implications, and with some bigger than others. This night together did have implications for the two of them. Firstly, the cycling professional had to get a taxi to a town, which is hosting the start of a special Tour de France stage, and which is equal to the big mountain stages for excitement. The Team Time Trial. The winning team will be the group that is well drilled in the art of riding very close together and that can manage their speed and pace the best. One of the cycling teams is in the ballroom of a hotel in the town where the stage starts and finishes. They are changing and preparing. The last member of the team walks in, dumps his bag on the floor and starts to unpack his kit. The room is silenced when the last of his kit is emptied onto the 18th Century chair at the side of him. Instead of his latest technology, Adidas, Eddy Merckx shoes, there is a pair of women’s designer platform shoes, and in green! The calm of the room, with its exquisite, gold leaf ceiling, is shattered as everyone realises that a member of the team is immediately vulnerable. This is an opportunity for the team to vent its pre-race stress on one person. You can imagine the comments that stream out from everyone in the room, and mostly related to headlines about ‘a team that won a stage of the Tour de France, with one member wearing ladies platform shoes, and in green’. More importantly, the green shoes do not match the red, white and black team kit. Context; this is an Italian team, so looking fast is as equal to being fast. Green, black, red and white is quickly identified as far from being the perfect aesthetic. Laughter quickly turns to mild panic, as the collective team then brainstorm ways of getting a real pair of cycling shoes to replace the alien, green ones.
Meanwhile, about 40 kilometres away, a fashion model is getting ready in much the same way, and with the same state of shock as her cyclist friend. Her handmade, and only pair in the world, green shoes are missing. In their place, is a pair of Adidas cycling shoes, in black with 3 white stripes! Two people have caused two fashion disasters. In contrast to the reaction of the cycling team, the head designer pauses for a moment before she reacts. The room, a stuffy backstage dressing room is as quiet as the 18th Century ballroom that the cyclists were lucky to have as their base camp. The fashion model explains her story. Then, a smile appears on the face of the designer. Her knowledge of fashion in the cycling world brings the realisation that she knows the only one team who are using those Adidas shoes this season. She grabs a newspaper, turns to the sport pages and quickly finds out where the green shoes are likely to be. They will be somewhere near the start of the Team Time Trial stage of the Tour de France. Every car in the car park is requisitioned, and the party of fashion models and design assistants is hurried into them. It is a fast drive, 40kms to the town where the green shoes are likely to be.
All sports people are suspicious of breaks in their routine before a race or event. Not having the right shoes, and which are green as well, that don’t fit either, is a big problem. It messes with the mind. The team coach brings along another pair of shoes, which are half a size too small, but hey, not much of a choice. The green shoes go back in the bag and thrown into the back of one of the team cars.
In the same town, the designer leads her entourage of fashionistas to the main stage of the finish of the Tour de France stage. It is an ‘out and back’ stage, so the start is actually the finish, and after a fast 36kms route. She locates the head of the event organisation and does a deal.
Teams start to cross the finish line at different intervals as they end their team effort. At the end of the stage, the fastest team is a French one, which the newspapers love. The Italian team that had a rider with the ‘wrong shoes’ came in tenth fastest. The winning team was invited to the big stage to receive the applause and accolades of the crowd and TV cameras. All of the other teams gathered around the big stage with the fans for the prize presentation. Prior to the winning team coming on stage, there was an amazing fashion parade. The last of the models came onto stage with a strange walk, because she was wearing Adidas cycling shoes, which were also too big for her. The announcer of the event hailed the amazing fashion statement, the cameras clicked and TV camera’s film spun. The wearer of the shoes stopped in the middle of the stage and took her shoes off, which she then held up high. As if the whole thing had been planned, a green pair of shoes appeared above the heads of the crowd. It took 5 seconds for the crowd, radio listeners via their commentators and TV viewers, to realise that the right shoes were in the wrong place. The cyclist holding the green shoes was pushed and carried to the front of the crowd, and then hoisted up onto stage.
The professional cyclist and model exchanged shoes, just like they had unknowingly, 12 hours earlier, but this time in front of a massive audience.
The following day saw newspaper headlines, which were not about the winning, French cycling team, but of two people with the wrong shoes on a big stage, and with a fashion designer that was now the ‘seasons favourite’. This was one one the first occasions where a designer became a marketeer, and it paid off. In the last part of the summer of 1975, if you weren’t cycling in Adidas shoes, or wearing some amazing green platform shoes, you just weren’t with it.
Cinderella shoes? No. Never miss a marketing opportunity? Yes.
All photos by the author