Vans Shoes Designer James Van Doren Dies; Footwear Became National Fad After 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High'

Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High - P 2011

Sean Penn wore a black-and-white checkerboard pair in his breakout role as Spicoli in the 1982 movie.

James Van Doren, who designed the Vans line of shoes that became a nationwide fad after Sean Penn wore a pair in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, has died of complications related to cancer, the New York Times reported. He was 72.

Van Doren, who died Oct. 12 at his home in Fullerton, Calif., launched the Anaheim-based Van Doren Rubber Co. in 1966 along with his brother Paul and two others.

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The rubber-soled canvas shoes became a mainstay among the California skateboarding community in the 1970s thanks to their especially strong grips, which helped wearers perform aerial stunts on skateboards. The shoes and the company later became known simply as Vans.

But it wasn't until 1982's Fast Times that they became a popular with people outside of the skateboarding culture.

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In the movie -- which marked Penn's breakout role -- the actor played Jeff Spicoli, a surfer dude with no job who enjoys smoking marijuana and continually shows up late for class, to the eternal irritation of history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston).

Penn wears a black-and-white checkerboard pair of slip-on Vans in the movie, which sparked a nationwide fad. Suddenly, people across the U.S. who had never set foot on a skateboard were sporting Vans.

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However, by 1984, the company was forced to seek bankruptcy protection as the shoes began losing popularity and competition from outside the U.S. was increasing.

Paul Van Doren replaced his brother as president, and four years later the company was sold to private equity firm McCown De Leeuw & Company. It's now owned by North Carolina-based apparel company VF Corp., which also owns Wrangler and Lee jeans.