IDYSM: Hey Gary, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. So, please set the scene, where are you as we do this?
GARY: I am at home in London, it’s Sunday morning, my wife and son have gone out to a kid’s birthday party. I am in bed in the spare room. The house is unusually quiet – there’s just me and the cat.
IDYSM: To get things started I can’t think of a more obvious question than quite simply…why adidas? How long have you been a fan of the brand, and why?
GARY: That’s a hard one to explain or rationalise. I loved adidas from an early age – be that through my Beckenbauer Super boots, Tango football or my Nottingham Forest football kit (even though I support Blackburn Rovers) – something about it resonated with me right away. I remember my brother getting a book about football skills from the local library and all the photos were shot in Germany and it was awash with the 3 stripes. I definitely found something exotic about its connection with Germany and France.
In my teenage years adidas was intrinsic to the identity of me and my peer group. We adopted it to our style. We got into lots of different brands but would discard them and move onto new ones after a few months – adidas was probably the only brand that we remained loyal to as they were constantly coming up with great product ranges.
I like a lot of things adidas do (I love the new Boost technology) but I am particularly a fan of the design legacy of the period from the late 70s through to the early 90s. With Spezial I wanted to specifically take elements of that design language and broaden its legacy by creating a modern collection.
IDYSM: How did you go from being a fan, to working with the brand?
GARY: While I was in London doing internships in 1997 I met a woman who worked on entertainment promotions for adidas. I was helping out one of the lads I used to dance with/against in my Hip hop days (Evo from Street Machine) to get hooked up with product, at the time as he was one of the best B-Boys in Europe.
She then asked me to link her with bands I knew in exchange for free trainers – I was broke and was finishing college so it seemed like a good deal. When she moved on from the company, adidas contacted me as my number was on some of the unfulfilled orders she had placed and they wanted to honour them. They assumed I was a music manager and when I explained the arrangement I had they asked me to come in and meet them.
They head hunted a couple of other people for her replacement but in the end came back to me and offered me the job. I was 28 and I suppose it was my first real job. I had a couple of jobs when I left school then had my first attempt at college in Manchester in 1988 which I dropped out from as I was too busy enjoying myself going to Acid House parties.
I’ll never forget the excitement of receiving my first letter with an adidas letterhead (I still have that letter). Working for adidas was such an honour for me – I have always been passionate about it – I find it hard to understand why anyone wouldn’t be?
The fact I am a fan of the brand has always been the driving force in my efforts. For me, adidas is without doubt the greatest sports brand of all time.
IDYSM: What does your current role with adidas entail?
GARY: I have done nearly 17 years with adidas and was an employee for many years. Nowadays I am retained as a consultant and work on specialised marketing projects based out of the London office.
Aside from that I have a contract to design the adidas Originals x Spezial range. Spezial was originally just a two season deal but adidas have extended it.
There are still a lot of countries where it has not yet been ranged, however, in the countries where it is available it seems to have picked up an almost cultish following. I heard someone use the term ‘mass produced secret’ and that is what it currently feels like in many ways.
IDYSM: At a time when a lot of product is arguably over-hyped, over-complicated, and often shrouded in un-necessary tech, how important is it that adidas Spezial celebrates heritage and authenticity?
GARY: Well the Spezial range is coming from a very different set of references to most of the sports and street wear that is currently out there. It primarily looks to Europe for inspiration. adidas Originals x Spezial is built on authenticity and I personally believe that authenticity is the strongest currency there is in what is fast becoming a very artificial world.
When promoters booking DJs based on the size of their social followings rather than the music they play then that cannot be good for our culture – especially when we are all aware that people can buy followers. I think people (and brands) are finally beginning to realise that quantity doesn’t always equate to value or quality.
I personally tread very cautiously around that word ‘heritage’ – with Spezial I like to look at our past without living in it. It is a modern collection. The approach on the footwear and the clothing is different. These are lifestyle products with sporting roots and by virtue of what they require the considerations are not the same.
For me an adidas Munchen SPZL is a design classic and has as much validity as a Brogue or a Desert Boot i.e. it is a timeless design that will still be relevant in 20 years time.
The clothing, however, needs more of a overhauling – whilst the aesthetic of an ST2 rain jacket from 1981 makes it an adidas design classic the fabric used is so outdated. We take the core aesthetic of the ST2, and rework it as the ST10 using Climastorm fabric and Primaloft insulation to make it more practical for modern living. I believe the ST2 is way too good of a piece of product design to be consigned to charity shops and vintage stores – it needed to respectfully modernised.
With the Spezial footwear range we always create a mix of hybrids and one to one reissues. On the reissues we pay a great deal of attention to getting the correct last and upper specifications – the shoes we choose are invariably design classics and if they are reproduced accurately then I believe we won’t need to rely solely on nostalgia and will have appeal to a whole new generation. With the hybrids we try to create new styles whose aesthetic is rooted in the era of adidas design that I am a fan of who I like to believe serve to broaden that legacy.
IDYSM: What is adidas Originals x Spezial, and what’s your objective your objective with the line?
GARY: adidas is a mega brand and speaks to so many different audiences through many different ranges and collaborations. The adidas Originals x Spezial range seems to attract an audience that is on the whole wary of hype and marketing and could be described as ‘difficult to reach’. Having said that, whilst it is a core adidas audience they are like myself specific in what they like.
If we can continue to win over the people who are currently buying it and use it to educate newer fans about the depth of this brand then we will be doing a good job.
IDYSM: Where do you see the current era sitting in the history of street culture and fashion? Is this a defining era, and what do you hope adidas Originals x Spezial add’s to the landscape?
Gary: Hmmmm . . . I have mixed feelings about the current era. I believe a lot of what is out there is formulaic. I believe the industry has become very consumer led rather than brand led which is feeding this homogenised look that we have in ‘key metropoles’ across the planet. How ‘key’ those metropoles are nowadays is questionable too given the cost of living there – any aspiring artist or musician is going to struggle getting started if they have to find £2000 a month for studio space so centres of creativity are becoming increasingly more provincial.
I believe we only need one Supreme and one Visvim and one Palace and one Stone Island, but what we get is a myriad of brands thinking they can get that degree of success by emulating the look of those labels which completely misses the point.
With adidas Originals x Spezial I set out to have adidas reference itself. All the equity is here. It’s the greatest sportswear brand of all time – aside from its cultural and sporting history I cannot name another brand that has anywhere near the same number of design classics in its archive.
IDYSM: Over the past few years adidas has been getting a lot of column inches from collabs with the likes of Kanye and Pharrell getting some headlines, but it seems that the brand’s rich history is lost on many newcomers to the brand. How important is it that consumers can experience the pioneering history and style that made adidas the brand it is today?
GARY: Those collaborations have their place and their value to a particular audience. The value of history is in many ways subjective. Some cultures/countries/people seem to value it more than others. As I said earlier I personally believe authenticity can only increase in value as the world we inhabit becomes increasingly artificial through social media.
IDYSM: Where does the inspiration come from for you?
GARY: The adidas brand and my pre-internet upbringing. I suppose I have a fantasy of mainland Europe that is based on my experiences Inter Railing there as a youth that I come back to again and again in my ideas.
IDYSM: You go to any lengths to celebrate OG adi love and product too (if you haven’t seen the amazing adidas x Originals x Spezial ‘Sole Searching in South America’ vid then check it below).
IDYSM: Just what lengths do you go to find these kinds of stories, and also what do you get out of them on a creative level?
GARY: That trip to Argentina just had to be done. We wanted to document the excitement of a ‘find’ and Carlos’s shop offered the perfect opportunity to do that. It’s an experience that people who weren’t old enough in the 90s will have heard about but probably never experienced so we wanted to try and capture that in some way.
It was a good way to show the mindset behind the Spezial range i.e. that the people behind it ‘understand’. Who hasn’t gone on holiday and hoped to stumble across an old sports shop like that? It’s a fantasy we all have.
Some people said online that it was a set up marketing scam . . . I only wish that was true – we’d be the greatest marketeers on the planet if we could set up and recreate that shop on the opposite side of the planet with the consequential story and emotion it conveys. How much would that cost to do? . . . and where would you find the stock?!?
IDYSM: The guys at Oi Polloi in Manchester were telling me that in 2014 the Ardwick shoe sold out in something like 13 seconds. How does that passion for your product make you feel?
GARY: Mixed feelings on the Ardwick SPZL. The plan was for it to go on sale in Oi Polloi the morning after the private view of the Manchester Spezial footwear exhibition to support its launch along with the rest of the range. It was supposed to be a bonus shoe for the die hards who had taken time off work to come to the exhibition on the first day. Unfortunately, there were production delays and it delivered nearly two months later. By the time they released the demand had way outstripped the supply and people ended up queuing for two days in December. I was in some ways flattered at that level of excitement as the audience that went after them were not a traditional ‘hype’ audience . . . but boy were there some disappointed people and complaints.
IDYSM: How much do you still collect yourself, and is there still a grail out there that you’re desperately looking for?
GARY: I still pick stuff up. I’d love a pair of adidas Brisbane in my size although I’d probably never wear them out. Nowadays I tell myself I am buying shoes for future exhibitions but we have never done an exhibition anywhere near the size of my personal archive. I lie to myself about these things.
Image courtesy of 032c
IDYSM: What does the future have in store for you and adidas Spezial?
GARY: That’s adidas’s decision not mine. The challenge now is breaking the range in countries that might not have the same cultural references as a place like the UK whilst retaining its core audience. Having said that, I believe it’s strength is in its difference. It didn’t set out to be contrarian but has become that by virtue of what it is.
IDYSM: It’s time to ask the time old question that I end all ‘In Their Shoes’ interviews with; what’s on your feet right now?
GARY: Nothing – I’m in bed and now I’m going to have a siesta.
A huge thanks to Gary and to adidas for this interview – the time taken to do this and the passion to share this story is greatly appreciated.
For more info on Gary and his love for adi, do yourself a favour and follow him on instagram; @gary.aspden