Following on from the success of last year's SPEZIAL exhibition in Hoxton - a showcase of adidas footwear from a host of different collectors including Noel Gallagher, Robert Brooks and Goldie, and curated by long time three stripe devotee Gary Aspden - last Thursday 23 October 2014 saw the opening of a second, bigger and better SPEZIAL exhibition as part of Design Manchester 14. The show accompanies the launch of adidas Originals X SPEZIAL, an archive inspired capsule collection of clothing and footwear curated by Aspden.
As well as including hundreds of shoes from avid collectors and celebrity fans alike, this year's showcase also included deadstock collected by Aspden and a team of sneaker fanatics from a fabled shop in Buenos Aires stacked high with vintage adidas. Their journey was documented in Soul Searching in South America, which premiered exclusively on SHOWstudio.
A must-see for all sportswear obsessives, the adidas SPEZIAL exhibition ends on Sunday 1 November 2014. We asked curator Gary Aspden a few questions about the motivations behind this fan-centric celebration of the adidas brand.
SC: You've likened this exhibition in Manchester to a 'homecoming' for adidas, could you expand a bit on your ideas about the relationship between adidas and the North?
GA: Whilst adidas is popular in most places there is a particularly deep love and affinity for the brand in the north of the UK. The 'brand with the three stripes' has been intrinsic and adopted by northern cultural movements for over four decades. adidas was popular with the Northern Soul fans of Wigan Casino, the Perry Boys of Manchester and the Scallies of Liverpool, as well as being hugely popular with Acid Ravers and nineties Indie kids. It was adopted by a number of great bands from this part of the world too - from New Order to Ian Brown, from Oasis to Echo & the Bunnymen, from The Verve to The Coral and The La's...
SC: How do these ideas sit alongside the collection you brought back from Buenos Aires?
GA: The concept of these exhibitions is that the content is for the fans by the fans. adidas support the idea financially (with all the proceeds going to charity) but we don't borrow anything from the company's archives. It is ultimately a showcase of people's passion for adidas. We always said that if we were to do the exhibition again we wanted it to have new content. The discovery of the shop full of deadstock adidas in Argentina gave us a great opportunity to document the lengths people (us!) will go to to find rare pieces of vintage sportswear. I feel this documentary (which was launched exclusively on SHOWstudio) gives context and has added gravitas to the physical exhibitions.
SC: In what ways has this exhibition built on the first one last year in Hoxton?
GA: We were invited by Malcolm Garrett to include the SPEZIAL exhibition onto the roster of the Design Manchester 14 festival that he curates. Malcolm loved the idea that the exhibition works on so many levels - it is an incredible showcase of product design but due to its cultural and sporting connotations its appeal is very broad. From what I have seen of the north of the UK (particularly Manchester and Liverpool) it has the highest concentration of adidas collectors on the planet. Whilst these people love trainers they would never describe themselves as 'sneaker heads', as it is an American term that represents something that bears little relation to their culture. The popularity of adidas in the UK is born out of a host of localised subcultures and that is something I personally have a lot of time for.
In Manchester we have invited a number of these local people to exhibit. Hoxton last year had just over 500 pairs - in Manchester we have over 800 pairs. We haven't used as many of my personal collection as we did previously because of the quality of contributions from the other collectors and ultimately there are limitations on space/shoe capacity/budget. We also have a new Kevin Cummins photographic exhibition which adds a new dimension to the event. We have produced a limited edition exhibition book and are once again giving proceeds from the exhibition to the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Once the Manchester exhibition finishes on 2 November we begin preparation to take it over to Paris where it will open at No.42 on 13 November - again working with local collectors.
SC: What is it about adidas that provokes this avid need to keep collecting?
GA: As adidas's popularity expanded globally in the seventies and eighties much of what was produced was handled by licensees who manufactured adidas products locally. As a consequence there are a lot of random licensee manufactured products out there and despite the company having thousands of old catalogues there is no definitive history of the company on a product level. We found some vintage running shoes called ZX390 whose soles were completely disintegrated in the store in Buenos Aires. When we got back we asked adidas Germany to resole them and it turned out that they didn't know which midsole to use as they had no record of this style in any of the old catalogues in the adidas archive for reference. The brand's history really is like a bottomless pit. Aside from all that I cannot think of another clothing/footwear brand that has the same number of bona fide design classics in its back catalogue which is another reason I love it.
SC: And of all the pieces in this year's exhibition, any highlights?
GA: Too many. There are some incredibly well preserved vintage shoes in there. There are also a one off pair of hand painted Stan Smiths from the Chapman Brothers which they donated to an exhibition called Platform Six. These were auctioned off to raise money for Stonewall and me and my friend Mikey managed to buy them.
This SPEZIAL exhibition also ties in with the launch of the first season of the adidas Originals x SPEZIAL range that I have designed. To showcase the range there will also be a photographic exhibition. Kevin Cummins has shot a group of musicians, actors and sports people wearing the clothing range and these photos are presented in the space alongside the cases of vintage footwear.