Gary Aspden has every sneaker fanatic’s dream job. He started working for adidas during the 1990’s in Entertainment Promotions where he rubbed elbows with several of the world’s most prominent artists. In 2003 he orchestrated a collaboration with A Bathing Ape that set the standard for co-branded footwear partnerships. Last year he traveled to Argentina on an expedition seeking out deadstock trainers in a small shop that had been preserved for the past thirty years. That trip lead to his Spezial Exhibition which showcases over 600 pairs from the adidas archives and shares the name of his own adidas collection. With a resume this impressive, I had to reach out to Gary and ask for an interview. Here is what he had to say.
Nick Santora: How did the idea for the Spezial exhibit first come up?
Gary Aspden: Over my years at adidas I had kept various PR samples in my size (UK8.5). While working on Entertainment Promotions I would seek out dead stock for some of the bands I worked with and put them with our inline products as a surprise. I would speak to our sales team and see if they could get me introductions to small independent sports shop owners who might want to trade their old [adidas] stock for the latest shoes. I purchased a few pairs of these for my own collection along the way and had built up quite a hoard – I assumed at least 300 pairs. When we pulled everything together I soon realized I had over 800 pairs. I had the idea for an adidas footwear exhibition originally around 2007 but after a couple of failed attempts to get it off the ground with galleries in the north of England we shelved it.
What came about that you’re doing it now?
We wanted to give a snapshot of the depth and breadth of the brand. On one level it shows an ongoing commitment to footwear technology and innovation and on another level it shows just how intrinsic the adidas brand is and has been to popular culture outside of sport. The exhibition includes the latest Boost and Primeknit technologies so all the older products show the lineage that lead up to that – everything from Micropacer to Torsion to Tubular to the adidas One. We were in discussion about the adidas Originals x SPEZIAL collection at the time and I felt the exhibition would give it some context and build some equity into the SPEZIAL name with adidas fans and connoisseurs.
How long have you worked for adidas?
I was employed by adidas UK in the late 90s to work on what was known then as Entertainment Promotions. It was my job to build and maintain relationships between adidas and the entertainment industry. It was also my job to be the arbiter of what adidas should not be associated with. I had my own No Boy Bands policy which as a music fan I enjoyed enforcing at the time. I saw adidas as an iconic, credible brand and felt it should only associate itself with iconic, credible people.
After a year I was promoted into the Global team (still based out of London) by a guy called Hermann Deininger. Hermann very sadly passed away last year and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to him because he saw potential in me that others maybe didn’t. He was in a very senior position in the company and somehow he seemed to always champion the misfits.
I spent nearly 10 years as an employee working on entertainment related work. I eventually headed it up globally, working on marketing projects for adidas that sat outside of what the ad agencies of the time traditionally did (print and TV ads). I was instrumental in bringing together a number of early collaborations like the one with Bathing Ape in 2003 and projects like the Consortium and Music Series in the Superstar 35th Anniversary series. Along with Mike Chetcuti we did a number of events and experiential projects. Around 2008 I started working for myself and am now retained by adidas as a marketing consultant. I put forward an idea in 2013 about working on a capsule range called adidas Originals x Spezial and am pleased to say that my colleagues in Herzogenaurach saw some value in that and gave it the green light.
What is the Spezial Collection?
We have always been very clear that Spezial is a Leisurewear range. We felt that calling it sportswear would do a huge disservice to the industrial engineers who work in the adidas Innovation Team. AIT is essentially where the future of Adi Dassler’s original vision lies – sport performance has always been the soul of the brand. It always has been and I hope it always will be.
The job on the adidas Originals x SPEZIAL footwear is to focus on getting the correct specifications and an authentic look and feel – we know that no serious athlete or sportsperson would use these products for their original intended purpose in 2015 (even though many of these products were regarding as cutting edge when they were first released). The Spezial apparel takes a slightly different approach.
The apparel is much more about reworking classic adidas clothing pieces in luxury and/or technical fabrics to create something that looks and feels modern. Modern is the key word – I have never wanted this to be a retrospective range. I wore adidas Firsts and Colorados as a youth but I don’t dress like that now, whereas I still wear some of the footwear styles from that era because many are design classics in the same way a brogue or desert boot is. On that premise the considerations in the approach needed to be different.
A great example of how we approach the clothing is the ST9 rain jacket in the Spring/Summer 2015 range. The ST9 takes it’s lead from the ST1 rain jacket from the early 80s but it’s reproduced in the highest quality Climastorm fabric. The ST1 anorak is a Bona Fide adidas classic but until now that iconic piece had been consigned to dustbin of history due to advances in fabric technologies. It’s taking the good bits of the past (the design) and mixing them with the good bits of the present (the execution).
The footwear shouldn’t be addressed in the same way as the apparel. I believe many of adidas’ footwear styles are timeless and if those designs are represented accurately and without compromise then I believe that they have the potential to resonate with new audiences without any reliance on nostalgia. With adidas having such a strong design archive and brand identity those elements will always serve as the starting point for Spezial. So everything starts with looking back to find adidas products that provide the aesthetic foundations for the range.
Have you always worn adidas?
I wore adidas throughout the mid to late 70s as my mum would buy me and my brother the Europe tees from the Grattans Catalogue. My first football boots with screw in studs were Beckenbauer Super and my first branded trainers were adidas Kick. Playing football was all we ever did – it kept us out of mischief.
My first football kit was an Admiral England kit – a couple of years later I got the adidas Nottingham Forest European Cup Winners kit (we supported Blackburn but my dad was a huge fan of Brian Clough). That adidas Forest kit was a different class – the fabric, the cut, the flock logos – it was on another level to my itchy England number with the crumbling transfers. On holiday in Spain in 1978 we got an adidas Tango football – as far as I am aware these were not available back in Lancashire and it was immediately our most prized possession. We would only play on grass with it which helped with its preservation. That ball became a local legend in its own right.
It wasn’t until about 1980 that I became aware that there were such things as trends and fashion. My love of adidas as a child was purely connected to sport. It was only in the 80s that I started to buy my own clothes and trainers. I wore other sportswear brands but my connection to the adidas brand is difficult to explain or verbalize. There was something about growing up in the north – I guess we wanted to assert our own identity and not somebody else’s and adidas was a part of that. Wearing sportswear and designer labels was about re-appropriation and in hindsight there was something subversive about that. It was a code of dress that very deliberately excluded outsiders and the fact it was constantly changing meant we had to keep pace with it so as not to be excluded ourselves. We would adopt and discard brands and looks but adidas was one of the only brands that managed to stay consistently relevant because it’s range of styles was so broad and it’s products were so good.
What’s the next phase of the Special exhibit?
We are planning on taking it to Moscow. adidas Russia are big fans of it.
What are you excited for with adidas for 2015?
I always find something to get excited about in adidas and I hate to spoil surprises.
some pics courtesy of Hypebeast, Resole UK and We Are Cow