adidas SPEZIAL: A Chat With Gary Aspden

The man behind adidas' forthcoming capsule collection discusses his ongoing love for the brand...
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The man behind adidas' forthcoming capsule collection discusses his ongoing love for the brand...

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If you’ve got the Internet, or buy those big lovely magazines with bowl-headed girls and not-that-well-looking boys in, you might have heard of this adidas SPEZIAL thing that’s happening. Essentially, after a few decades of letting the rest of the world play sneakers with the brand, the German-born behemoth has relented and let someone from the North West of England – where training shoes were, of course, first invented by a cagoule-wearing scientist in 1981 – have a go.

Gary Aspden, adidas employee, trainer obsessive, really nice man and the curator of the SPEZIAL collection spoke to us about taking adi’s garments back to their European roots…

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Where was the inspiration for SPEZIAL as a collection, rather than the exhibition, born?

I had been working on a proposal for adidas about a new top tier collection as I felt there was an opportunity to create something new that might appeal to those adidas purists and collectors who have a very traditional idea of what the brand should and shouldn't be. I was aware that there were audiences out there who have a very strong affinity and emotional attachment to adidas and the Trefoil. I felt those people might want a premium offering that was a bit more mature in its aesthetic whilst maintaining a strong adidas personality. This led me to examine the idea of personality and identity. I questioned what were the main factors that formulated my personal identity and much of it came back to where I was born and how I was brought up. I took that and applied it to adidas. It is a German brand and much of what I love about it is that historically it has always had a very European identity and aesthetic. That became my starting point for my design inspirations and references. I am a huge fan of German design, art and music and can see just how extensive its impact on culture globally has been. Let's face it - no Kraftwerk no Hip Hop.

I had to find a name for the range - the criteria was that I wanted a German word that would easily translate into English and it needed to have some authentic connection to adidas's history so SPEZIAL worked perfectly. It is a word that I associate with classic adidas design and that bears little relation to the references of the 'sneakerheads' that are on the whole born out of the US.

I don't recall the exact chronology but I seem to remember that there was a bit of back and forth about my proposal for the adidas Originals x SPEZIAL range and in the midst of all that I was planning the first trainer exhibition in London. I loved the name SPEZIAL so decided to use it for the exhibition as well. I felt the exhibition in many ways catered to the tastes of adidas purists like myself and should adidas give the green light on the adidas Originals x SPEZIAL range it would build some equity in that brand name.

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You've spoken passionately about adidas - in the beginning- bridging the gap between sports and lifestyle, which is how I associate with the brand, how did you attempt to bring this into your collection? Was it just a case of raiding the archives, or was it more like taking an ethos and working from there?

It¹s actually a bit of both. I haven't been in the adidas archive itself for many years. I had some involvement with the archive in Herzogenaurach just before the launch of the adidas Originals division in 2001 but not much since then. I relied on my personal archive and pieces that I have picked up in the last year or so for inspiration points on the SPEZIAL clothing. I have a strong adidas sensibility - I have worked with the company for many years and have been wearing their products since I was a child in the 70s. I believe that is the most valuable element that I bring to this but there is a team of people behind the scenes in Germany who have massively supported (and educated) me in how to put a range together.

I wanted the collection to be as honest as possible hence why I chose to avoid describing it as sportswear as I don't feel that would represent accurately what it is. Sportswear has always been at the root of everything adidas does, but I wouldn¹t call this first collection that as that would do a massive disservice to the teams of industrial engineers who work in our innovation team. I feel that the actual term sportswear is becoming increasingly more diluted nowadays especially now that every high street chain and fashion designer is attempting to do it. It seems to have been adopted as a catchall term for casual clothing or anything that is deconstructed. For me - and it¹s only my personal opinion – it’s only companies that invest in and dedicate resource to innovation and technology that are really qualified to use that term.

In the 1970s adidas tracksuits came boxed as full tracksuits with the slogan “sports and leisure wear” on them - adidas produced ranges like (“Freizeit” a German term for free time) which were dedicated to 'off the pitch’ activities. Freizeit clothing was in a muted colour palette used a lot of knit, corduroy and suede and the footwear looked pretty ‘Geography teacher’ inspired. That range had the relaxed fit and comfort of sportswear but was much more sophisticated looking in its aesthetic. I wanted to take the spirit of that and do something contemporary with it.

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There was a real danger with something like this that it could seem like it was for trainer geeks or forum-bound super casuals, how did you go about avoiding that?

It really isn't aimed at anyone specifically. I believe that trying to categorise people and second guess what companies think they want is a big part of why things become clichéd and formulaic - it¹s the same in the music game. The market in general has become very consumer led where I wanted this range to be brand led. I see myself as a SPEZIAL customer so of course my personal taste has a bearing on some of what¹s in there. I have little interest in overly second guessing what I think people might want so I tried to focus on the elements that I have always found appealing about the brand¹s personality in the hope that would connect with others.

I grew up in an era where we adopted brands and styles and changed the context of them and I guess that has never really left me. Fifteen-year-old kids in 1984 with crew cuts, Burberry jackets, flared corduroy trousers and suede adidas trainers were all about re-appropriation. I didn¹t realise it at the time but I have had a few decades since to think about it. Life is lived forwards but it’s understood backwards. I personally find something a little uncomfortable about the idea of being targeted. I really hope that the range resonates with people like me who have loved the brand for years but I¹d be made up if it appeals to a variety of audiences beyond that.

Argentina looked mental. Was it as mental as it looked?

It was more mental than it looks! Good people. A great trip.

Whilst SPEZIAL is very much about looking at adidas' heritage, and a classic aesthetic, you've brought some exciting new aspects to the garments. Tell us a bit about that, and how important this was to you and adidas as a brand.

Further to what I said about sportswear this range is not solely about the science of performance sportswear, nor is it about the high fashion of the luxury brands, nor is it purely about the nostalgia for vintage. It actually references all three of those areas without belonging to any of them. For example the Beckenbauer jacket references all of them. It takes the block of an iconic adidas apparel piece, uses a high performance, reflective fabric on the underside of the collar with the jacket itself in lined luxury wool with velvet-lined pockets.

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It must be difficult to take yourself out of things for a moment, but how does it make you feel - as a lifelong fan of the brand - to be able to look at an adi garment, or shoe and go 'that's mine, that'?

I am still getting my head around it all. I felt quietly confident about it but didn¹t anticipate the scale of the reaction it has had.

What's next? Don't tell us that this is it....

There is a second collection coming in the first quarter of next year.

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The adidas SPEZIAL exhibition is on at 7 Dale St, Manchester from Friday 24th October

@danielsandison