Fifteen years ago, the Library of Congress selected Fast Times at Ridgemont High for inclusion in its National Film Registry, where it joined the likes of Lost Horizon and Hitchcock’s The Birds as a motion picture “deemed culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” In the two generations since this 1982 teen flick was released, much of what’s in it hasn’t aged so well, like the movie’s near-total exclusion of black characters, for instance, or the vapid gag of taping a sign to a dude’s back that reads: “I am a homo.”
But one element from the movie has held up and, in fact, might even be approaching timeless. These are the checkerboard Vans slip-ons sported by Sean Penn’s perennially stoned surfer character, Jeff Spicoli. They are already one of Vans’ bestselling styles, and starting next month, stores will carry a new, limited-edition series of special Fast Times kicks.
“This original model has become a holy grail in the sneaker community,” said Vans’ head of footwear design, color and trend Rian Pozzebon, the man behind the special-issue shoes.
Vans was recently working on a project with Universal Studios when Pozzebon remembered that the studio held the rights to Fast Times. “I felt we had to jump at this opportunity while the friendship was there and re-release the Fast Times Slip-On 98 DX.”
It’s not that the famous shoe had disappeared, of course. Vans introduced its first slip-on shoes in 1977, adding the checkerboard pattern to the lineup after company founder Paul Van Doren noticed that SoCal skateboard boys—who were already enamored by the brand’s tight-gripping waffle soles—were coloring their white Vans with checkerboards.
In 1982, then 21-year-old actor Sean Penn wandered into the Vans store in Santa Monica and bought himself a pair of checkerboard Vans. He liked them so much that he wore them to the set of Fast Times, for which he’d just been cast, and talked director Amy Heckerling into letting him wear them on camera.
When the production team rang up Vans to ask for more slip-ons to be sent to the set, Steve Van Doren (son of the company founder) spotted the pot of marketing gold before him. He wasted no time creating the first limited-edition run of Fast Times slip-ons and gave them away at the film’s premiere on Aug. 13, 1982.
This latest run of commemorative sneaks, which is also being sold in limited quantities online, features a few special touches, including heavyweight 10-ounce canvas, a thick foxing stripe featuring the Fast Times name and a cushier footbed.
It’s rare enough that a brand gets to tap into a famous movie to tout its goods, and Vans enjoyed the plug to the days before paid product placements. Even so, Fast Times is now 37 years old. Are the odds very high that today’s youth, skateboarders or otherwise, have seen the flick?
“Technology has changed the ability to connect to our past,” Pozzebon said. “The younger generations’ interest in past TV sitcoms and film continues to grow.”