NEW YORK — Paul Van Doren started his Vans sneaker company in 1966 out of a corner shop in Anaheim, California. The store offered three canvas styles of vulcanized-rubber-soled shoes, at prices ranging from $2.49 to $4.99, but when a dozen customers tried to buy them on opening day, they found that only display models had been made. Van Doren and his partners had to close the shop for a few hours to have the shoes made at their nearby factory. Later that afternoon, when the customers returned to pick up their orders, Van Doren realized he had forgotten to have cash available for change.

It didn’t take long for the sneakers to become cult favorites among skateboarders, BMX riders and beach kids in Southern California. But after Sean Penn’s iconic depiction of Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” the shoes became a more widespread trend. For “alternateens,” Vans were a cultural phenomenon on par with MTV — a brand keyed into skating, music and the cult of cool. And, again like MTV, the company has kept a loyal following among the adults who grew up with it, and has managed to stay current at the same time. Despite, or maybe because of, its lackadaisical beginnings, the company has grown into the dominant brand for the alternative-sports crowd. But the shoes are also sported by the likes of Gwen Stefani, Avril Lavigne and Pink. Meanwhile, discontinued styles can command as much as $300 on eBay or in vintage stores such as L.A.’s Resurrection. Seeking to capitalize on this, the firm will introduce the Vans Vault in June, a shoe line that features unique twists on the popular classic styles, luxury materials and collaborations with fashion designers.

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