The Manchester exhibition has finished now (but it’s heading to Paris), but the SPEZIAL project gave me a welcome excuse to chat with Gary Aspden — a man who bleeds adidas blue — on record, because I always fail to document our discussions. It was heartening to see the project succeed, because it’s a perfect case study in distilling a brand’s appeal and giving the diehards what they want rather than shape shifting the offerings to cater to a fickle customer. This interview ran on 032c.com (an appropriately Germanic outpost) a few days ago. Alongside the unveiling of the unreleased John Carpenter soundtrack compilation (complete with an excellent-looking website) and the trailer for the Music Nation Open Mic documentary by Ewen Spencer (based on his adidas-affiliated book), plenty of labours of love seem to be coming to life. It’s a good time to be a nerd.
Was the trip to a store in Argentina in the film more than just a video opportunity?
GARY: I was just beginning the look for the second season of SPEZIAL when we went to Argentina. Now I buy vintage pieces and archive them — there’s pieces I’m sitting on now that might not make an appearance for another four seasons — and I don’t know how long SPEZIAL’s going to run for either because the decision isn’t in my hands — but what Argentina was about was amassing products for research purposes, but also for finding interesting footwear to enhance what we were doing with SPEZIAL Manchester. What it does is enhance context — it helps to communicate the philosophy of the collection. It says a lot about the person curating the collection because, let’s face it, for anyone that’s a hardcore adidas fanatic, that trip is something we dream about. It shows that the collection has genuine roots, speaks for our mindset and if you’re going to say something’s archive-inspired, show me how you got from A to B. I wanna know! I don’t like to see stories attached to products unless they’re authentic. It starts and ends with product. The marketing stuff is the icing on the cake — the magic dust — but if the product isn’t fundamentally right, it’s unnecessary.
adidas was still broken into some rogue regional licenses until relatively recently — was Argentina the the last adidas license holder?
I think it was either Argentina or South Korea. Japan’s license ended in 1998. In Argentina the license holder held on to the death and when adidas started its three divisional structure in 2001, they needed to clear up adidas Originals. In 1999, when I started, there was no trefoil clothing available over here. They’d rinsed it out in the mid 1990s with Britpop so they just weren’t doing it at all, but they were doing it in America for some reason. So I was doing swaps. I’d go to adidas global marketing meetings looking out for people from licensee countries so I’d send them something signed by a band and they might send me a box of adidas New York made under license for Argentina.There was no system internally and you couldn’t order from the licensed countries so I used to do this bartering and trading.
Now you can buy the same thing everywhere. Those differences had a certain charm.
There weren’t global brands then like you see now. You don’t see so much branded clothing on people in the 1960s and 1970s. adidas was an early global brand, so licensees was probably a good way of getting out there. Then the money men realised that it wasn’t that cost-effective, so they wanted to centralise. I’m sure money men would see me as a hopeless romantic. There’s a generation who think that 1980s adidas was the ultimate sportswear — you had the ZX series, the city series…in adidas’s history it’s seen as a difficult time for the company. Karl-Heinz Lang, who worked as a developer for Adi Dassler, used to roll his eyes when you mentioned the city series. He worked on the development of the Marathon TR in the late 1970s and those city series shoes were just done to make money for licensees. adidas’s commitment to performance was way ahead of those gum-soled city shoes.Things like the adidas Waterproof and Zelda were pushing the envelope.
The rest of the interview is OVER HERE.