Oi Polloi

Interview: Nigel Lawson and the story of the adidas Ardwick

Published: Tue Dec 09 2014

By now you’ve probably heard that Oi Polloi has made some trainers with adidas. You might even know that they’re green, that they’re made out of suede and they have stripes down the side — but what else? What are they based on? How did they come about? And why are they named after an often-overlooked district of Manchester?

I sat down with OP big cheese and Ardwick instigator Nigel Lawson in the stockroom to get the story from the horse’s mouth…

How did the Ardwick come about, what’s the story with them?

A good friend and like-minded soul called Gary Aspden came to talk about a range of clothing and trainers he was doing with adidas. With him being a similar age to me and Steve and having similar memories of music and clothes and football and trainers, we knew it would be a good thing.

So we had this meeting and when he was showing us these photographs of all these shoes he was making he cast a small printed out photograph of a pair of trainers in a catalogue from around 1970 and said, “Oh yeah, I’m doing California.”

I said, “I’ve got a pair.”

“Can I have them?” he said.

“No you fucking can’t.” Now we’d already talked about Oi Polloi having our own shoe, but then this California thing came up. As the weeks went on I realised that I wanted to do a certain colour of this California. And then I realised that if the Oi Polloi shoe was going to be the same shape as the California, or Topanga as it’s now known due to trademark issues, then he’d need my old shoes to get the shape right. If I didn’t give him the shoes to copy then we’d have a pair of really crap shoes.

So I was in a real quandary — I’d heard scare stories of people’s shoes going missing or getting cut up. I thought, “Do you know what, I don’t really care about this collaboration, all I care about is my shoes.”

I was starting to get a bit weird about it. But then Mikey phoned up and said, “Listen, get on the plane yourself and take them to Germany.”

A few weeks later I drove down to Stanstead, got on the plane with my trainers as hand luggage and made sure they got right to Otto, the man who does all the top end stuff for adidas. I did eventually get my trainers back, so thanks for that Gary.

Why did you decide to call them Ardwick?

We wanted a local name for them — Mersey was one of the names banded about, but I’m not going to call a shoe the Mersey because the owners of the mouth speak very loudly, as we all know… Then we thought of Ancoats because it’s close to where Oi Polloi is in Manchester, and then I suddenly thought of Ardwick.

The first Perry Boy I ever saw was in 1977 when I was nine years old. I was on my way to my cousin’s in Failsworth and there was a lad walking past Ardwick Green with straight leg bleached jeans on, a pair of Stan Smiths, a Fred Perry polo shirt and a fishtail parka. So my first recognition of this style thing that I became obsessed with seemed to span from Ardwick.

I also liked this idea of giving it a name, and then a colour name, like Tahiti Marine. And one of my favourite colours was green so Ardwick Green all made sense.

Another reason is that Steve is from Ashton and I’m from Stockport, and the Apollo — Manchester’s most famous gig venue — is where the roads from those two places meet.

How much effort went in to making these? What bits did they have to get right?

The toe shape — that’s the hardest part. It’s the part that has grown and grown and grown on adidas shoes and it’s sort of like the front of a car getting fatter and uglier. It’s the most important part of an adidas shoe — not just any old shoes — but adidas shoes. They’ve got a very particular shape on the toe and it just got lost.

Another thing was the fabric on the stripes. I wanted them to be velvet because the Hawaii, Samoa, Jeans — all of the famous cultural shoes for the North West — they all had velvet stripes. This was some weird, luxurious, opulent thing that was added to these trainers that weren’t meant for any training. As my mum used to say, “You’re not doing any sport in them, you’re just posing.”
They’re not going to be made out of velvet unfortunately, but they’re made out of a soft, velour fabric which is still very nice.

Where did the colour come from? Was it referencing another trainer or was it just something in your head?

A few years back before Oi Polloi started, I got it in my head that I wanted a Lacoste polo shirt. I’d grown tired of the long hem on the back of the Ralph Lauren one that I’d worn for years and wanted something different. So I bought this Lacoste polo and the one I chose was this green colour — you could call it apple green, you could call it grass green — it’s a very, very fresh green without being a manmade green. If someone showed me a list of colours it would always be the one I chose first. Otto showed me all the suede colours and there it was.

How long did it take to get them right?

When I got to Herzogenaurach there was a sample there of the California. I put my California next to this California and it was like putting a 1940 Volkswagen Beetle next to a 2002 Beetle. It looked ridiculous. But when I saw the working sample four months later of the California I was pretty gobsmacked and I knew the Ardwick was going to be sweet.

A friend of mine called John Poland, the man who brought flares to the Stone Roses, had a pair of green adidas Gazelles in the late 70s. And when he saw the Ardwick he went, “Oh fucking hell! It looks like the green Gazelle.” He’s an old guy who doesn’t wear trainers and he flipped, so I knew I’d hit the nail on the head. But if you don’t like green… tough shit.

Being a mad adidas fanatic, how does it feel to have your own?

In my list of things to do before I die, it’s definitely near the top. I’m very proud. adidas is my favourite brand so doing the Ardwick is like when the Nazis opened the arc of the covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark — it’s the golden chalice — the Holy Grail.

A high quality scan of the Ardwick that got away.

What is it about those old adidas trainers you like so much?

It’s hard to say what it is. Variety, quality, originality, the tones, the textures, the gum, the suede, the infinite diversity of these simple shoes. It’s the shape when you wear them. That was the thing as a kid, a nice pair of cord trousers and a pair of suede indoor squash shoes. It was the shape, the toe and the stripes.

You’d have a pair of Lois bleached jeans with the little cut up the in-seam, spreading over a pair of pale blue adidas Jeans trainers, a Wrangler shirt and slightly long hair with a certain walk, the way the feet turn out 35 degrees — a stroll — one hand in the back pocket and the other outstretched. So yeah, it was around me a lot. It was the most important part of the whole outfit.

You used to sell vintage adidas trainers here at Oi Polloi. How did you go about finding them? Is it harder now?

It was a hell of a lot easier than it is now. It was still impossible but there was the last remnants of old stock in sports shops. In the late 80s and early 90s you could go into sports shops and find big piles of things. I used to go to Bourne Sports in Stoke and find old Nike, New Balance and adidas running shoes. By the time we started Oi Polloi it was impossible, but a new tool had turned up called eBay, so we started searching around the world on that.

In 2003 I found a shop on eBay in Copenhagen that sold rare bits of vinyl and had a sneaker store in the back that sold deadstock, boxed shoes for around £70. So I got £3000 in cash and got the next plane over. When I first got there I left my bag at the hostel and walked across the city at about 1 in the morning. A couple of miles later I found the address and sure enough the store room light was on and there was a kid in there.

So I knocked on the window and the guy said, “What do you want?”

I said, “I want to buy some trainers.”

He said come around the back and sure enough there were these amazing trainers, some I’d never seen before. He said, “We haven’t got that much here, how long are you around for?”

I said, “Three or four days, whatever it takes.”

He said, “Okay, hire a car and come back here tomorrow morning and me and my pal will take you to buy some more.

The next day I hire the car and turn up. The man from the night before went to Christiania to buy a nice block of ‘cheese’ and we set off on this road trip. It was almost like going from Manchester to Scotland, but I didn’t take any notice of where I was going as I couldn’t read any of the signs.

They took me to this old hunting shop that was somewhere north of Copenhagen by about four or five hours. They had Fjällräven, they had Norrona, they had Swiss army knives, they had camping equipment and they had adidas trainers, it was a little bit like Oi Polloi.

The guys that took me there said, “Go and wait in the car, we’re not going to introduce you to the guy who owns the store.”

So about an hour had gone past by which point I’d gone to sleep in this estate car when they knocked on the door. They had 60 boxed pairs of deadstock made in West Germany, made in Yugoslavia, made in France adidas trainers. It was a brilliant haul. I got 20 pairs. I gave them 35 quid for each pair and then carefully flat-packed all the boxes down into a holdall.

I got back to Manchester a couple of days later, put all the shoes out and sold them all within a week. The money went back into buying Fjällräven coats and was the foundation of Oi Polloi. It was a great haul and my favourite haul.

This seems like a good place to end, anything else you want to say?

I saw a friend I’ve known for many years, a guy that bought Mephisto off us on Tib Street at the time when there was only about four people who bought Mephisto off us, on the street. I said, “Check it out, we’re doing an Oi Polloi adidas called the Ardwick.” and he went, “Oh, you mean like the Manchester Man? The Cottonopolis?”

The Manchester Man is a book about the industrial revolution and Ardwick Green was the centre of what was at the time known as Cottonopolis. Cottonopolis is the name of my in-house clothing brand, so it all connected, but it was something I hadn’t thought about at all.

It was kind of a fluke, or a bit of magic, it depends how you look at things.

We’ve got 200 pairs of adidas Ardwicks, they’ll be available from our Manchester shop and they go on sale at 8am on Sunday the 14th of December. It’s first come first serve and it’s strictly one pair per customer.