We take a look at the history of the Mephisto Rainbow and how it became the chosen leisure shoe of Cottonopolis from the original Casuals to the modern day city dwellers.

It’s a bit of a weird one when you’ve lived in different parts of Salford, North Manchester & Greater Manchester to what you see and what the rest of the world thinks “Cottonopolis” actually is. A massive Northern city high in crime, high on cocaine & hosts bare knuckle boxing matches. On the other hand there’s still this sort of buzz created mainly by people who live in places like Buxton of 90s nostalgia & Madchester which doesn’t really have any relevance to modern day street life in the likes of Moston or Middleton. “Mancs only wear a certain type of adidas shoe” or “Mancs always wear bucket hats & parka coats”, like we’re all trying to channel our inner Liam Gallagher even though his actual “Mancness” has massively diminished since he moved down to London back in the 90s. It sometimes feel like we’re clinging onto these glory days even though no-one wears ridiculously baggy Joe Bloggs jeans anymore and the Hacienda actually closed its doors in 1997. 90s nostalgia & nightclubs aside, Manchester has become one of the UK’s fashion hubs thanks mainly to its music, massive football clubs & unique Mancunian weather. Known for its almost Scandinavian like precipitation Mancunian fashion is constantly evolving from Japanese outerwear to technical footwear. If there’s one shoe that’s really earned its stripes on the Manchester scene from day 1 it’s got to be the Mephisto Rainbow trainer, or is it a shoe? We’ll come to that a bit later.

Mephisto Rainbow Advert
Above: An original Mephisto advert from the 1970s.

Walk around Victoria Station nowadays and you’ll still get a glimpse of the 50 odd year old Stone Roses fan wearing adidas trainers & track tops but it’s mainly black Nike sportswear, Moncler down jackets & Nike TN’s (another Mancunian mainstay). Head to the likes of the Northern Quarter or Ancoats and it’s strictly tote bags and Gorpcore or “Gorpsters” as I heard someone coin the other day. So why has the Mephisto Rainbow remained a mainstay among the roadmen & the roamers? It’s probably something a bit like Manchester’s connection to the Wallabee. Worn as a smarter alternative to a shoe, the Rainbow has that kind of Kickers Kick/wallabee/leisure shoe sort of vibe but all intertwined into one. Regardless of what’s popping on the apparel side of things it always seems to remain relevant.

Above: Martin Michaleli, the original designer of the Mephisto Rainbow.

Designed by the German born designer Martin Michaleli who studied Footwear Technology with the desire to create a shoe like nothing before it, the concept of the Mephisto Rainbow was a walking shoe that could be used across various terrains. A leisure shoe that looked good, was super tough and also proper comfy. Boasting the latest ‘soft air’ technology of the era, the Rainbow had a certain continental charm about it. First introduced in the 1970s when adidas were also doing similar ‘leisure shoe’ inspired styles such as the Alicante or the Sevilla from the original ‘Freizeit’ (leisure time) range. The latter a silhouette that Gary Aspden would revive as part of his SPEZIAL line back in 2016.

mephisto x oi polloi 2022
Above: The Oi Polloi x Mephisto Rainbow from 2022.

A fan favourite of the original Casuals, the Rainbow tapped into that rare Continental thing, it also looked pretty fuckin cool with a pair of cords. Move forward to the late 80s & early 90s big outerwear trend courtesy of the whole Madchester thing and the Rainbow had firmly found its home. Casual designer clothes, music & Manchester became united (not citeh) as one thanks to this new substance called E & the legend that it is Mr Tony Wilson. All that sadly wasn’t to last as the Salford & Moss Side gangs started muscling in on the nightclub doors & the lucrative pill trade. The sounds of Madchester had become more the clat clat of the 9 mil than the clap clap of the 808.

Mephisto Rainbow History
Above: The Mephisto Rainbow Mid in Loden Green now available from mint.

Moving into the mid to late 90s Manchester really became the globally recognised city is it today. Man United took the treble in 99. David Beckham even endorsed Mephisto for a brief period alongside his Brylcream & BMW’s. The Gallagher brothers took Mancunian fashion stateside & the IRA “phoned it in” that day we probably want to forget about. Ironically the contractors hired to do some of the work were O’Neills. Had that bomb not gone off that day would what was a decaying and drab looking 70s town centre become the contemporary city hub it is today? Maybe not, but we’re still talking about the Mephisto Rainbow here. Thanks to legendary retailers opening in the city like Oi Pollloi in the noughties the classic 70s leisure shoe has remained a mainstay for the constantly evolving Manc style. Big military inspired jackets still remain key, cords, overshirts & quality knits all massively compliment that Manc “Casual” aesthetic. I bet Pyscho Paul played by Ryan Pope from BBC 3’s Ideal had a few pairs of Rainbows knocking about his wardrobe.

Mephisto Rainbow History
Above: The Mephisto Rainbow in brown now available from mint.

A cult classic of the footwear world with its signature stitching & soft-air technology we caught up with an avid wearer of the Mephisto Rainbow, Professor Andrew Groves (Westminster Menswear Archive) to talk about his affiliation with the iconic leisure shoe.

“I’ve been wearing Mephisto’s for years. As someone that lives in Manchester but works in London, they are the one thing that Londoners don’t seem to get. Which is fine by me. I’ve probably got about ten pairs in various colours; at the moment I’m wearing the chestnut ones a lot but funnily enough I’m wearing the Mulberry colourway in suede today.  Years ago, there was a twitter account called The Orthopaedic Shoe Gang, (@OrthoShoeGang) which was for football lads that liked their footwear slightly European and healthy, Mephisto’s were almost the gateway shoe for that. Before you know it, you’re wearing Jacoforms and taking freezing cold baths.”

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