from day 1 of business on march 16 1966 vans were essentially a bespoke, made-to-order factory-direct retailer. in their hurry to open for business the van doren's had no inventory, & simply had empty boxes lining the shelves whereby those initial orders were customade for collection the following day. of course those boxes would all soon be full but the precedent was set from day 1 for individually tailored canvas casuals. in that very event of satisfying the customer at whatever cost, the van doren's set themselves apart by offerring the only on-site manufacturer & retailer of canvas footwear which even by todays standards was light years ahead.
not only was the custom culture established on day 1 but so too the 'catering to a whim' which vans became infamous for. & as legend has it on that 1st day, a customer's desire for a lighter shade of pink or a deeper shade of yellow led to the 'house of vans' tradition, which the van doren's built 1 shoe at a time. herein one could provide their own half yard of fabric to construct their very own personalised footwear. as such, for over 20 years the van doren's charged an additional $1 to provide one's own materials from anything including the kitchen curtains to a leather jacket to become the shoe uppers. a 19 day turnaround from east coast to west allowed jackson brown for example to bring down his battered snake-skin trousers to give them new life as a pair of scaled down style #44's. the forsight of this concept is pure genius.
thus continued the culture of customisation which only evolved further to offer made-to-match footwear for cheerleaders & drill teams. word also soon spread that vans could produce almost any conceivable combination of colours, widths, sizes, & materials which saw podiatrists sending problematic patients in for bespoke alterations, local skate groms looking for bi-tonal combinations of style #95 & eventually legends like tony alva coming in for 1 shoe at a time to combat the thrashing given to the trailing leg. paul van doren was a systems guy & before too long offered nation-wide mail order customs & instore binders of canvas samples for every colour of the rainbow. as it were, if it wasn't for this freedom of choice, the kids in the 70's without the option for a blue/red/blue #95 era, or a blue/gold/blue #98 slip-on, the evolutionary foundation of the dogtown revolution may have been a bit more uncertain.
now if you ask me thats 1800-VANS-RAD!!
now if you ask me thats 1800-VANS-RAD!!
the vans culture of custom canvassing the nation had evolved so much to the point where it had become inherent within the brands perception. all the myriad of combinations the van doren's saw the kids conceiving, had a strong influence on what they supplied the retail stores. then there were prominent retailers/distributors around the world who would customise their own stock options to dress according to the styles & flavour of the moment including the demands of the italian paninaro scene for example (more on this another time). it came to a point whereby a modern connoisseur finds it difficult to tell between a stock shoe sold once on the shelf & an individually tailored customade pair.
over time however we have formulated a framework to classify customade vans compared to their less off the wall sisters on the shelf. this should fall under our stock-hunting tutorial realm here (& has actually inspired a new 'app') however for all intensive purposes, & you know it's intense, let's include it here. the first method of classifying a custom is the presence of a receipt. don't go looking for these however as they are exceedingly rare. another method of identification are the internal markings within custom shoes to help keep track of the order as it journeys from order sheet to destination. written in pen on the insole at the arch & sometimes under the tongue you may find this custom# number. it is also stamped in ink on the inside of the heel stay or inside arch. once mistaken for a '271 of 272' scenario, we now make the informed assumption that these are in fact 1-offs! if you score an original box you may also find the lucky customisers name or reference to the pair on the box. apart from these markings & the presence of narrow/wide widths, or mens sizes in women-only stock options (ie velvet/disney/tapestry etc) then your guess is as good as mine, except in the case of the obvious (thanx made for skate).
of course production of vans moved offshore in 1994 & we believe this too saw the end of the custom culture as we knew it. the tradition was re-established however in the late 00's as the web based virtual program we know today. it is without the same romanticism as flipping through the binder of canvas options however it still resonates the freedom of expression which vans & america is all about.