Wellgosh were granted an audience with Gary Aspden, adidas consultant, brand expert, and the man behind the new adidas Originals x Spezial range to be launched this season. We came away with more than a few valuable insights into Gary's personal relationship with the brand, his philosophy on how and why the UK holds it in such great esteem, the reasons for developing his new range, and why the Americans just don't get it...
WG: We are pretty excited about the forthcoming adidas Originals x Spezial range and are already optimistic about how it might be received by our customers back home in Leicester as well as in the UK as a whole. Can you give us your take on the current menswear landscape in the UK, particularly with regard to where adidas Originals x Spezial may fit in?
GA: I think wherever you go in the UK, particularly once you get outside of London there are lads whose style whether they realise it or not was born out of the old football scene. Those people have a strong affinity to adidas and a traditional idea of what they think it should and shouldn’t be.
WG: Yes, and some of those lads are quite sophisticated in their fashion tastes.
GA: Massively. It’s a subculture that the media for the most part have little understanding of. These lads are often incredibly sophisticated and knowledgeable in their tastes. They know their brands and product really well and are not easily swayed by marketing hype. That whole casual movement has had a far greater influence on modern British menswear than say punks or skinheads. It really did lay the blueprint for much of what we now know as men’s fashion in the UK. That style has now crossed over into other countries as well - particularly in northern Europe. I think on another level what is happening now is that there is a very cliched idea of what streetwear is. Certain brands such as Stussy and A Bathing Ape have pioneered streetwear and what they have done has seen other brands attempt to turn what they have achieved into a formula to replicate that success. In the UK, for me, I think that the whole casual thing is streetwear in the truest sense but unlike the traditional idea of street wear its roots weren’t born out of skateboarding and it isn’t a style that has been borrowed from American culture. It was never marketing led, it developed organically from the bottom up. In hindsight I’d say it was pretty subversive for kids in the 1980s from poor working class towns to be wearing Armani and Ralph. Some of the clothes were pretty conservative and weren’t aimed at people like us but the way we wore them changed their context could make it look brilliant. The kids that were obsessed by these brands bore little relation to the affluent audience those brands were targeting. Alot of the people that are into the casual thing are generally very cautious of marketing - especially when it is wide of the mark and shows little respect for the intelligence of the customer.
WG: With regard to adidas as a brand, why do you think it has such an important place in the development of the various subcultures, and how did this happen?
GA: When I interviewed Ken Swift from the original Rock Steady Crew in the late 90s and asked him why he thought that all the early graffiti writers and B Boys went for Adidas and Puma, his answer was that when him and his mates were growing up in the South Bronx, these brands had a European aesthetic and that gave them an air of sophistication and aspiration. Nowadays I see a homogenisation of global culture - a dilution of stuff that comes out of the US, a very literal attempt to replicate American styling that is filtering into global culture. I am without doubt a fan of some aspects of US culture but it is something that we always took inspiration from and made something of our own out of. I wanted adidas Originals x Spezial to be in many ways out of step with this, to go against the grain of it.
adidas conquered the US when it was doing what it did best, which was being a German sportswear brand making incredible products. So yes adidas has a Bona Fide history with Hip Hop culture, but that was something which happened by default. It was adopted by these kids rather than them being targeted or marketed at them. I realise we live in different times since the advent of digital communication but I am convinced that the appeal is the same. With a brand like adidas I believe that by sticking to the brand’s core personality you cannot fail. I also believe that when it comes to doing a range that is archive inspired it needs a person with an adidas sensibility to do that well. Whether it be reggae artists in the 70s, hip hop heads in the 80s, or indie kids in the 90s adidas always just seems to seamlessly fit in with popular culture. It’s still happening, even in the last decade we saw adidas become the brand of choice for the Grime scene here in the UK.
WG: So what were your own experiences with adidas growing up?
GA: Whilst the brand made offshoot leisure wear ranges like Freizeit they weren’t anticipating that those products would be picked up by football obsessed British youths. A lot of the Freizeit stuff looked like it was aimed at an older Germanic audience - leisure shoes and lots of knit, corduroy and suede in a muted colour palette - bizarrely this was a big part of its appeal to us. I guess we discovered clothes and put them together in what was a non traditional way - anorak or leather jacket with an untucked denim shirt, crew neck sweater, flared cords frayed at the bottom and a pair of suede, gum soled adidas trainers. adidas was primarily making great sports products (as it still does) that we adopted. People can easily forget that shoes like LA Trainer or Marathon TRs were at the forefront of sports technology at that time they were first released. We were all into football and without a doubt adidas make the best boots. In the 70s I had Beckenbauer Super and adidas Kick, I guess that in some way contributed to my affinity with the brand.
As the eighties went on it went way beyond this, and the thing with adidas was that it developed alongside the various looks that we got into. With the casual thing the fashion moved so quickly. I remember going on holiday to Spain with my parents as a kid and buying a Lacoste tracksuit with a big fat crocodile on. When I got back to show it off to the older lads (who would have been about 16 years old at the time), they were wearing deer stalkers Burberry jackets, flared cords, Sambas and one had gone as far as to be carrying a walking stick. I'd only been away for 2 weeks and things had moved on that much. adidas was a constant within it all - it was never discarded like many of the other brands we got into. It just evolved as things moved on. From the early 80s with the flat suede stuff like Gazelles, Monacos, and Sambas … through to the running shoes like TRXs … on to the first ZX range and then on to the second ZX Torsion range in the late 80s when we saw the colours all get brighter (which couldn’t have been better timed with the advent of Acid House). At that time I remember I had a pair of ZX5020s, it was a woman’s shoe - silvery grey upper with a turquoise sole and baby pink stripes - great colour way and perfect for raving. Whilst these German sportswear geniuses were thinking about Torsion shoes for the running geeks doing marathons, we were thinking about wearing them for marathon all night parties.
WG: On the eve of the launch of the first adidas Originals x Spezial range, can you tell us a bit about the story behind its creation and your reasons for wanting to develop it?
GA: I wanted it to connect with people like myself who have a very strong emotional attachment to adidas as a brand . When I started working on this I really started to examine this idea of identity. On a personal level, where I was born and grew up was massively influential on the person I am now, so I took that rationale and applied it to adidas in that same way. adidas and its brand identity was born out of Germany. I am a big fan of a lot of areas of German culture, whether it be Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Can or Kraftwerk, there's all this great stuff that’s come out of Germany culturally.
I wanted to try and capture the spirit of that and wanted to make something that almost felt "Super European", something that reflects a vision of the Europe I experienced when I was growing up. When I used to go Inter Railing, going through the different European countries, the kids in each country all had different looks. Now you have a look that has become globalised, so I wanted to tap the spirit of that Europe that I remember from when I was a teenager. The old adidas blue boxes with ‘the brand with the three stripes’ written in French and German, I loved all that. With adidas Originals x Spezial I wanted to echo that but at the same time wanted it to be a modern collection. I wasn't sure how the collection would be received by a younger audience, but when the lads from Palace saw the early samples, they couldn't say enough good things about it. I was very flattered that these younger guys who come from a skate background (and are from the opposite end of the country to me) could appreciate what I am trying to achieve here).
WG: Talking about opposite ends of the country, do you think that there is a North South divide in the UK with respect to how adidas as a brand has developed here?
GA: When I mentioned the term ‘casual’ earlier I winced slightly because I know that there are lads that will say that it's not casuals it's Perrys or it's scallys or some other term depending on where they’re from. It seems to me that here in the UK once you go outside of London there is a different take on menswear. Within London it seems there is more of an openness to try new hype brands but outside of London there are guys that have a particular style and who like a certain group of brands that has formed its own subculture. As I said earlier it's got nothing to do with the ugliness of football hooliganism. A lot of my mates have got sons who are 15 or 16 years old that are fascinated by the stuff that we were wearing in the 80s. It’s like when I saw Quadrophenia and thought that it must have been great to have been a mod in the 60s. I see gangs of young lads at Ewood Park with tight jeans and Arctic Monkeys type haircuts wearing Gazelle OGs, Handball Spezials and Hamburgs that have in their own way taken that look up. I don't even know whether they realise it themselves but if you grew up with it like I did you can see the roots of what they are wearing.
WG: So it’s not simply because of nostalgia that people still want to be seen in the classic styles?
GA: If adidas do a good reissue and get the specifications of the shoe right, then they dont to rely on nostalgia in the same way to sell it because those products are absolutely timeless designs. Good design will always outweigh nostalgia. There are a lot of things i wore when I was younger that I wouldn’t dream of revisiting but I still like many of those adidas products as they have been unaffected by time. If you look at the Topanga SPZL’s from this collection, that shoe will be relevant in 20 years time just like a desert boot or a brogue is relevant today. There is just something about the look of the shoe, the specifications and the way that it has been put together: it has a consistency about it and you know that it will run and run and that future generations will embrace it...it’s just classic design as opposed to a flash in the pan trend.
WG: We hear you have been working with various creative and sporting people in the initial stages of the development of Spezial as a concept. Who did you want to get involved with the project and why?
GA: adidas Originals x Spezial has been interesting because adidas have given me a lot of control over the marketing and a lot of what we have done is outside of the parameters of what adidas would normally do. adidas as a brand is iconic, classic and credible, and I wanted people involved that reflected this. A lot of the marketing has been very organic and based in the trust and long term relationships I have with people rather pulling out a cheque book to try and get people to appear in a brand campaign. A lot of my friends wanted to support me in what I was doing which I am super grateful for.I have known photographer Kevin Cummins for years and have a lot of his work around my house. When he heard about what we were doing with Spezial he really wanted to get involved with taking the photos of the range - we took those pics over the course of a few months as and when people were available.
The idea was to shoot people in their own environments and in a natural way. It was funny because we realised that after the first few shots, everyone we were shooting was over 50 which is in itself something adidas Originals wouldn't ordinarily do. I have nothing but respect for people like Bernard Sumner and Bobby Gillespie - their music has been part of the soundtrack of my life.I am a fan of both Stephen Graham and Vicky McClure too - they are incredible at what they do. It felt right to get a couple of current sports players involved as well. For me Lukas Podolski and Leighton Baines do not fit the public perception of the stereotypical, modern day footballer. They have personalities that seem to fit very well with what the range is about and were both happy to be a part of it. We also involved musicians Bill Ryder-Jones and Gabe Gurnsey from Factory Floor who are people that not only do I like as people but are artists that I have tremendous respect for. People who are super talented and are out there quietly doing really good stuff on their own terms.
Myself and my business partner Mike Chetcuti went over to Argentina buying deadstock and shot a film with Ian Brown, photographer Neil Bedford, and collector Robert Brooks who are all friends of mine and wanted to be part of it so there was something very organic about it.
WG: Have you shown Spezial to the US audience? If so, what was the reaction?
GA: I am told that adidas in the US haven’t ranged it over there. I think they must have just scratched their heads when they saw it which is a shame but is also pretty amusing to see the cultural differences at play. I believe it must have some relevance there but they aren't on it as yet. We had Samuel L Jackson came in to the office last week, saw the samples and ordered the entire range so some Americans get it! Ultimately I am just concentrating on working with that team in adidas Germany to develop the brand in what I feel is the right way rather than thinking too hard about who it should target, and if a particular country doesn't understand it, then I'm alright with that. It seems from the reaction it has had so far that the people from the UK are really into it. The feedback from the initial images that have gone out has been super positive and I'm really happy with the way it's been received so far. I was in Blackburn and Manchester last weekend for the Happy Mondays shows. We had Spezial posters up in the venues to advertise the range and the launch exhibition in Manchester. People were having them off the walls which is always a good sign.
WG: Finally could you sum up the feel of the adidas Originals x Spezial collection for us in just a few words?
GA: With adidas Originals x Spezial I wanted to identify the design language of adidas outside of the three stripes and create a modern collection that would have the comfort of sportswear but would be more mature and subtle in its presentation. Every piece uses vintage adidas products as a starting point but especially for the apparel it takes them somewhere completely new. Its not got the science of pure performance products, it doesn’t look to the high fashion of the catwalks and it doesn’t rely on the nostalgia of one to one reproductions. It gives a nod to all three of those areas but doesn’t sit firmly inside any of them.
adidas Orignals x Spezial will be launched in the UK on Saturday on 25th October.
Wellgosh will be releasing the adidas Originals Spezial Collection at 00:01am (BST) on Saturday 25th October 2014. Due to the high demand of this Collection, we'll be strictly limiting all Footwear to ONE PAIR PER CUSTOMER. Footwear styles include:
Wellgosh will be stocking the full adidas Originals Spezial Footwear and Clothing Collection.