Interview: Gary Aspden on adidas

published on 18 July 2013

Lou Stoppard talks to brand expert and sportswear obsessive Gary Aspden about his passion for adidas sportswear and the thought process behind the Spezial exhibition.

Lou Stoppard talks to brand expert and sportswear obsessive Gary Aspden about his passion for adidas sportswear and the thought process behind the Spezial exhibition.

Image from the Spezial exhibition, 2013.

Lou Stoppard: Tell me where the whole idea came from? There must have been a spark moment?

Gary Aspden: I had conversations a few years ago with galleries in the North of England because I wanted to talk about the relationship between Adidas and the North. For whatever reason those that I pitched the idea to didn't have the same opinion on the idea that I did. Then, the V&A did a sneakers versus fashion exhibition where they borrowed some of my shoes from my collection for it. Then there was an exhibition last year in Covent Garden which was all about the relationship between sportswear and fashion. What I felt, from both of those exhibitions, was it kind of did its job but for someone who is seriously into trainers, they only really gave an overview. Which, to be fair to them, they had the limitations of the gallery space and what they could actually get access to. So, I felt like doing an exhibition that would really get under the skin of trainer culture and I felt that the only way to do that really was to take it from a one-brand perspective. I had this huge collection of Adidas - to be honest, I didn't realise how big my collection was until it came to doing this. It was stored in various attics and garages in the North West. So basically, I got together with a friend of mine and we just travelled around in a van, collating my shoes and putting them all in one place for the first time. We filled a friend of mine's garages, a photographer. He was in a panic because he was like, 'I don't want anyone knowing what is in my garage - the value of what is in my garage.' So, we set up a kind of ad hoc studio in his house, proceeded to start photographing the shoes - which was a task in itself. From that, I then spoke to another good friend of mine, who is an Adidas collector, called Robert Brooks and asked him if he would be interested in getting some of his shoes out of his archive. Then I spoke to Noel Gallagher, just various people, Mike Chetcuti, Jason Place...

LS: Ian Brown…

GA: The thing is, Ian has got a humungous Adidas collection but he was on tour with The Stones and I just didn't want to bug him. Ian is coming to the private view, tonight. The thing about these people who have donated shoes for the exhibition – they are not trainer collectors. They are Adidas trainer collectors.

LS: What is so special about Adidas, because you have only ever collected Adidas. Do you like trainers in general?

GA: Yeah. Sure enough I have worn various brands. But, there is just something about Adidas. I have worked for the company for fourteen years in different capacities. I was an employee for ten years, and have been working with them as a consultant for about five years. For me, Adidas is the one, from a design perspective, I just think there are so many design classics in Adidas' archive. For me, Stan Smith is like the great shoe of all time. But, on top of that, there is the elements of Adidas that no other brand really has, eclectic sportswear. Adidas' vision was to create products in a way that were going to enhance an althea's performance. Along the way, a byproduct of that is that these shoes that they designed were being adopted by people who were wearing them and had absolutely no relation to what they were designed for. So you know, you had Keith Richards wearing Adidas SL 72s for the Exile on Main Street tour. I mean, Bob Marley was a football fan, but Bob Marley wore Adidas. There is this really big heritage. David Bowie wore Stan Smiths for his Station to Station press shot in 1976.

LS: Trainers are just so fashionable now...

GA: Once you get in to the nineties, sportswear gets drawn more in to the mainstream and this thing that was worn by someone desirable in the eighties, everyone is wearing in the nineties. I remember studying fashion in Manchester in the eighties, and on my fashion illustrations I used to put trainers on them. The lecturers just thought I was from another planet, because at that time it was all kind of Jean Paul Gaultier. Now, when you have got all of these fashion companies who are doing sportswear. The amount of fashion reviews that I read when they say, 'oh, it's very sporty,' or 'it's sportswear.' The one thing that is really important to remember about all of these Adidas shoes is, at the time they were produced they were the ultimate in sporting technology. So if you look at the shoes we have on display here, some of them were designed in the late seventies, it was the last technology that Adidas himself actually worked on. People ran marathons in those shoes. A marathon runner wouldn't dream of wearing those to run the marathon right now, but that was as good as it got and you were a marathon runner. All these shoes were designed with a sense of purpose and function, which gives them an authenticity that fashion products cannot really have. Even with this, there is a lot of historical archive shoes so you have got either the Climacool technology or the Adidas boost technology. Adidas has factories in Germany which are constantly pushing the boundaries and developing these things. When fashion companies start throwing around the word 'sportswear', I think just because something is made of fleece and it is bright, doesn't mean it can qualify as sportswear as far as I am concerned. That is the difference between footwear that is developed by true, real sportswear companies and the amount of spin-off stuff that fashion companies produce and then put huge mark-ups on it because they have their branding and the desirability that comes with high fashion. That's what's interesting about Yohji Yamamoto - Yohji wanted to use these technical Adidas shoes. When that collaboration basically came about there seemed to be a certain amount of, there were a lot of parallels between Yohji and Adidas. Because Yohji describes himself as a craftsman, more than a fashion designer, which is the same mentality that Adidas have. The ones that Ian Brown wore in the Fear video when he is riding the bicycle - those were the Yohji shoes.

You can see a photograph of Madonna being papped walking down the street dressed head-to-toe in her Adidas tracksuit at the same time as you see a guy leaving a club wearing that same outfit. There is something very democratic about it.

LS: I want you to tell me about every pair now, but I don't think we have time!

GA: There are so many stories. The thing is, we have tried to reflect how broad Adidas' fan base is. I was saying this to someone yesterday, there is something very democratic about sportswear. You can see a photograph of Madonna being papped walking down the street dressed head-to-toe in her Adidas tracksuit at the same time as you see a guy leaving a club wearing that same outfit. There is something very democratic about it, it cuts through all different strata of society. What we wanted to do with this is was try and reflect all the different elements of Adidas, from your streetwear fanatic to your football kind, your hip-hop head to your high fashion people. Really, anybody who is just interested in design, certainly footwear design, is going to take an interest in what is happening here.

LS: Tell me about some of the collaborators involved in the exhibition.

GA: Robert Brooks has got some really interesting vintage stuff. I mean, I have got a lot of interesting vintage stuff, but some of Robert's stuff is like the creme de la creme. Robert grew up in London, he had a completely different background to mine… but there are so many parallels. He doesn't come at it from it from a hip-hop perspective, he doesn't come at it from a football perspective, he just loves the Adidas brand from when he was a kid, listening to reggae culture. Convincing Robert to do this, he gets asked to lend his shoes too much, all the time, and he will just not lend them out. When I reassured him there was 24 hour security, when I told him they were going to be in locked cases, when he knew that it was me that was curating the exhibition. He told me yesterday, 'The fact you were curating it made me want to lend shoes to it because I know you understand the value of these, too. You understand how much they mean to me.'

LS: Yes, that is what works really well here. Even when you were pointing at individual pairs - that one is for a marathon - it is that personal connection, not the price. What you were saying before about how democratic it is, it is not about how much it cost, it is about the experience you get when you wear it, not the feeling you get when you buy it.

GA: At the end of the day, you have got to remember what Adidas started as. One man who had a total passion for sports, who wanted to develop products in any way he can. The fact that he made the best products, is why the company became as big as it is.

LS: Why do you think so many people feel an affiliation with Adidas?

GA: It’s interesting because I remember interviewing Ken Swift from the original Rock Steady Crew many years ago and we were talking about Adidas and he, him and his friends were wearing kind of Adidas superstars and you know, we had absolutely no connection, but the thing they loved about Adidas was the same thing I love. I said ‘Why Adidas?’, and Ken’s answer was that it seems exotic to them, for those young kids in growing up, the fact it was European seems really exotic to them and I completely identify with what he was talking about. You know as a child growing up, I remember the fact you have the shoe box with the Germanic writing on it, the French, Germanic and the British translation for me was exciting. There’s something really exotic about that and you know my older brother told me you know the guy that made this is called Adi Dassler, you know it was almost like the wizard or something. It’s like, no one I knew had a name like Adi Dassler, it sounded so exuberant and exciting.

Interview by:



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