From the mid 70s, when he first got the first adidas t-shirts, to these days, as a curator of adidas’ Spezial range, Gary Aspden is, most of all, a fan of the brand. One of the pioneers of the whole collaboration concept as we know it, along with Kazuki Kuraishi and Bape, Gary Aspden is a brand expert, and a real authority when it comes to all things adidas. We had the opportunity to talk with Gary about adidas, the ‘Sole Searching in South America’ documentary and much more. Read below.
Can you please introduce yourself?
„Gary Aspden, curator of the adidas Spezial range.“
How did it all start? Your connection with adidas?
„It began in the mid 1970s when my mum would buy me and my brother adidas tee shirts from the mail order catalogue. In the late 70s my first branded football boots were Beckenbauer Super and my first branded trainers were adidas Kick. In 1978 on holiday me and my brother got an adidas Tango football. I got a full adidas Nottingham Forest after they won the European Cup (Blackburn were my team but we all loved Brian Clough in our house). I guess that laid the foundations for the 1980s when I would get my own taste and choose my own clothes. Everyone where I grew up in the north west loved adidas – in fact, they still do…“
How would you define your relationship with adidas (emotional wise)?
„adidas was certainly an intrinsic part of everything I loved as a youth – football, hip hop, acid house … I went to college to do a degree just before I turned 25 and after graduating my first job was with adidas. I have been there in differing capacities for 17 years and it has given me a great career. Whilst it was important for me to get an education I believe what I do is informed by my experiences much more than my academic qualifications.“
Just how do you explain the very special connection that English fans and even more those from the Northern part of England have with the brand?
„Hard to explain really …. Great designs by adidas, the popularity of football in that part of the world, a need to assert an identity that was distinct, the adoption and subversion of clothing and brands – you could write a book on it (a few have done). Taking sports products and wearing them for day to day life … Taking bourgeois designer brands and styling them with crew cuts and frayed jeans … I liked the fact that people couldn’t pretend back then. You were either they’re doing it or you weren’t.“
Talking about the ‚Sole Searching in South America‘ documentary – you shared about how you found out about the location, but just how was it when you arrived at Carlos’ store?
„Well we had no idea what was going to be in those blue boxes and we had convinced adidas to pay for the trip so it was mixture of nervousness and excitement. It was in many ways a gamble and I would not have wanted to go back and tell the people at HQ in Germany that after me badgering them to pay for the trip that there was nothing of any value there … Or that Carlos didn’t like us and wouldn’t have us in his shop. It turned out that he was disgruntled with adidas because someone who claimed to work for adidas had been in the shop a year or so before we arrived there. They had promised Carlos some products for his family and then hadn’t followed up. Whether this person with the false promises did work for the company we will never know but we soon rectified things with him. It’s very important to me personally that if I say I will do something that I do it.“
Stores like that are almost impossible to find these days, however do you still do that kind of “treasure hunt” nowadays?
„No idea … But if you find anyone who can answer that question then please have them DM my Instagram!“
For the latest Adidas Spezial collection you looked to the French Riviera for inspiration, why?
„I want Spezial to reflect my perception of what adidas is – what it represents to me. It is essentially a German brand and its core design language looks somehow European. Germany and Austria provided inspiration for my design references on the first three seasons and for this season I chose to look to France for a number of reasons. Primarily France played a key role in adidas’s history. I spent a bit of time in the South of France as a youth when we were out travelling on Interrail tickets and the style in that part of the world made a lasting impression on me. I don’t like the way that globally style has taken on a homogenised look through the rise of the Internet and I want to create something that is contrary to that.“
How did you select the clothing pieces for this collection? Just how was the whole creation process?
„I always begin my design process by scanning through the hundreds of electronic adidas catalogues that I have on my hard drive. Spezial has always been about adidas using itself as a reference for contemporary products so it is always the best place to start. I also have a couple of places that I go for vintage clothing where I sometimes find products that I use as inspiration pieces.“
Most of the footwear of the collection combines both the clear vintage inspiration of the original models and a modern feel, why that choice?
„Some shoes are timeless and in my view cannot be improved. Others like the Sevilla or the Newcombe have served as the foundation for hybrid shoes (the Albrecht SPZL and Lacombe SPZL respectively) that are better than the OGs. If I didn’t believe they were better then I wouldn’t put them out. adidas has an incredible back catalogue of footwear but creating new toolings is very costly so we have to operate within the constraints of what is available. Finding appropriate lasts to get the correct upper shape is another massive challenge. In my experience a lot of the people who criticise have no idea about building and creating shoes or the practical and business considerations that come along with that.“
adidas and all brands, are all going global, could there be an alternative to that? We all know that this is mostly due to financial reasons, still, could there be a solution in saving the natural diversity? Or do you think that the so called “global agenda” will simply just continue to take over?
„I sincerely hope not. Mass production and a global agenda is always going to be more cost effective for big companies – that’s business – but adidas understand that not everything they do will have global resonance. Spezial is a good example of that. Due to the cultural associations of some of the Spezial products it has steadily picked up a growing cult following here in the UK but gets nothing like that level of interest over in the US. The people at adidas understand and accept that there are some ranges that won’t be received globally. When I was a kid, adidas outside of Germany was on the whole handled by licensees which localised it more but that has changed now – things change and move on I guess.“