The Spring Court G2 is a tennis shoe. It’s dead French, it’s mostly made out of canvas, and there’s some little air-holes in the sole for a bit of added ventilation. Some famous ‘cultural icon’ types have worn ‘em and, come to think of it, I’m fairly certain some regular everyday folks have worn ‘em too.
It’s the sort of humble design classic that doesn’t really warrant an introduction, never mind sentence after sentence of spiel trying to clumsily express why they’re good—BUT, for those with nowt better to read—here you go…
I’ll cut out most of the historical scene-setting here as most of it is pretty dull (and a fair bit of it was explained in this article a while back). Suffice to say in the early 20th century more people started playing tennis, and in turn, light, flexible footwear was called for. In France, it was a man named George Grimmisien (already a big wolf on the footwear campus thanks to his rubber wellingtons) who answered that call back in 1936 with his brand… Spring Court.
It might be said that when it comes to canvas tennis shoes, in essence, they’re all pretty much the same. Cotton on the top, rubber down below, a bit of glue in the middle to hold it all together—but minor details make a big difference, and whilst a visiting extra-terrestrial (Alf, for example, or perhaps Dan Aykroyd with a conical bonce?), might see all ‘pumps’ as the same thing, anyone who’s expended valuable mind-matter mulling over the ideal white t-shirt or the optimum height of trouser hem will know that things aren’t so simple.
Just as a Renault Five isn’t just ‘a car’, a canvas pump is more than just cotton and vulcanised rubber, and on the hypothetical world map of canvas pumps, each has its own slight regional (and possibly stereotypical) distinctions which sets it apart from it’s foreign friends.
There’s Team USA’s Converse All Star—the squeaky-clean high-school Spalding-dunker turned cig-smoking outsider… Italy’s Superga 2750—a sleek, modernist masterpiece best served with a Campari Soda, Slovakia’s Novesta Star Master and it’s humble stoic flavour, and let’s not forget Australia’s Dunlop Volley—an unassuming white pump which accidentally became the Antipodean roofers’ go-to shoe thanks to it’s grippy sole (this isn’t a lie either).
With it’s relatively wide shape (sitting a good few notches above the Superga and the Converse on the ‘chunk-o-meter’) and that grinning toe-cap, the Spring Court comes from the same friendly France as Asterix, battered old Citroen vans and Henri Rousseau. In 1936 it might have been seen as fairly radical thanks to those air-holes in the sole, but as time marches on it has become a simple, naïve item, like the cotton fisherman’s smock, to be worn without fuss or fanfare.
This simplicity might be the key to its charm—and in an ever-changing world of weak marketing and post-ironic footwear choices, they’re a subtle side-step from the noise and nonsense… the kinds of shoes that some buy summer after summer, in the same way Ivy League students used to stock up on button-down shirts.
That simplistic nature also means that, like a good dollop of mayonnaise, they go well with most things. John Lennon famously wore a pair with a white suit whilst adhering to the Green Cross Code on the front cover of the Abbey Road LP (him and Yoko wore ‘em on their wedding day too), whilst David Hockney kept things horizontal with some khaki slacks and an old cardigan. To put it simply, you don’t need to be told how to wear these things.
All these favourable factors would maybe make you think that the Spring Court G2 (and it’s high-top brother, the B2) would be some kind of unit-shifting mega-hit, but unlike a lot of their canvassy compadres, they’ve never really reached that critical mass tipping point which plucks something niche into the mainstream.
Although they could be found on the high-street back in the late 90s, they were completely overlooked, as Oi Polloi founder Steve Sanderson explains, “There was a time before we opened the shop when Spring Court was only being sold in places like Schuh, but back then, they were being ignored by the everyday shopper. I ended up buying half-a-dozen pairs of the original G2’s in various colours out of clearance for basically a tenner a pair. No money at all, considering how good they were. We started digging around and we found out that Serge Gainsbourg and John Lennon used to wear them back in the day. So when we actually opened the shop, and it came to stocking footwear, Spring Court was a no-brainer.”
“For us, the main thing we were into with Spring Court was that they were always super comfy,” says Steve. “They’ve got an air-cushioned sole unit inside, with air vents on the outsole, which isn’t that common with most canvas pumps. For us, they’re as classic as Converse or Vans or Superga – they’re the same kind of animal.”
And then there’s the smell. This is where stuff gets pretty weird, but if you’ve made it this far into an article about relatively obscure French tennis shoes, then there’s a good chance that you too have been known to follow your snout and huff the ol’ shoe-glue from time to time.
For years Spring Court were renowned for their minty scent. This refreshing aroma presumably came from the adhesive used to stick the shoes together, but a lot of people were convinced that Spring Court added the scent later, to add a final bit of ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the Gallic daps. Was someone in the factory responsible for rubbing mint leaves into the soles? Or were mis-shapes from the Polo factory being ground down and re-purposed as shoe-whitener? And wouldn’t garlic have been more fitting for the ultimate in French footwear?
These questions sadly remain unanswered, but I can say that maybe four or five years ago, after the Spring Court brand was bought back by the Grimmisien family and the factory was moved, the Sminty scent disappeared to be replaced by something noticeably fruitier. No word of a lie, they’d apparently tried to recreate that signature scent, but quickly found that the original substance which gave off that minty bouquet was toxic and had been pulled from the shelves.
This shift in smell was more controversial than you’d maybe imagine, and whilst it deterred a few long-standing fans, it attracted a few new ones too. Bizarre? Maybe, but it certainly goes to show how important these seemingly unimportant details really are.
Yep, Spring Courts are just another pair of canvas pumps… but they’re very good canvas pumps. They still smell quite nice too.