Oi Polloi

Interview: Gary Aspden and the adidas New York

Published: Fri Nov 27 2015

Gary Aspden is the man behind that adidas Spezial stuff that we’re always going on about. Working in cahoots with his partner in crime Mike Chetcuti, Gary takes all the best bits of adidas's back catalogue, throws them in a metaphorical wok and serves up a storm. 

We did a fairly extensive interview with him a while back, but with his striped brainchild now a year old, and the launch of the adidas New York SPZL on the horizon, now seemed like the right time to pester him once again…

Okay Gary, how are things? What have you been up to lately?

I had a good night watching New Order at Brixton on Tuesday. This last year or so I've been relentlessly working on trying to build adidas Originals x Spezial whilst maintaining its integrity.

I need to take a holiday. I’ve not had one so far this year which isn't smart. I plan to go over to India for the first time in January with an old mate who has been out there a lot.

The adidas New York SPZL is coming out soon. Why did you want to bring these back?

After that first trip over to Carlos's shop in Argentina we knew we wanted to find a way to somehow acknowledge him and repay his goodwill. As the people who have travelled there since have discovered, he won't sell his shoes to just anybody — he invited us in because he knew from seeing images of the London Spezial exhibition that we were passionate like he is. I think he realised that those products were going to get a second lease of life with us.

I have to admit we had a few laughs about the 'experts' who were going around saying the film was a marketing hoax. When Mikey heard that, he said, “I really wish that was the truth, if that trip had been staged by us and we had been able to authentically recreate a shop like that on the other side of the world with that level of vintage stock then we would be marketing geniuses.”

Of the shoes we purchased from Carlos there were a few pairs of Argentinean made New Yorks. The New York was a popular shoe in Argentina back when adidas was being produced under license in Argentina by a company called Gatic. Gatic lost the adidas license after they went under during Argentina's economic crash. There were adidas shoes in their range made under license back then that you couldn't get anywhere else in the world.

On a visit to Head Office in 2014 I discovered that they had begun developing the New York (the version that many people call the European version) with a view to re-issuing it. The guy who was leading that had just left the company and the project was up in the air, so I asked if we could pick it back up as a potential release in a future Spezial range. There had been a previous New York re-issue that wasn't very accurate and I could see that this one had the potential to be way better. Whilst the guy leading this had moved on to work elsewhere much of the hard work in development had been done.

I proposed that we bring back two versions. One in the original grey colourway with a Spezial footbed, swing tag and box, alongside a collector’s edition in Argentina blue dedicated to our friend Carlos the shop keeper. We had picked up a few pairs of light blue(ish) New Yorks in Argentina so I liked the idea of marrying the European New York silhouette with a South American inspired colourway. It felt like a mix that fitted with the story. We tweaked the light blue that was used on the South American made pairs we had found over there (which has a hint of lilac in it) for a blue that is closer to the one in the Argentinean flag.  

For those unfamiliar with Argentinian shop owners, can you explain who Carlos is?

Carlos Ruiz owns a sports shop on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. We originally travelled down to his shop in February 2014. It is stacked high with Argentinean made adidas products and looks like a sports shops from the 70s that has been preserved in a time capsule. We purchased a number of these products from him and some of them have been used as a resource for the Spezial range. Put in a Youtube search for 'Sole Searching in South America' and 'Sole Searching in South America 2' and you can get the full story there. 

What did he think of them?

Carlos loves them. We contacted him to get his blessing prior to producing them and he was pretty overwhelmed by the gesture. He has spent much of his life selling and working with adidas products so having a shoe dedicated to him is a huge accolade in his eyes.

He sent us a size run that he wanted us to produce for his friends and family. We also organised some stock for his shop as a gift from adidas. When we travelled back to deliver them, we all signed and numbered 10 of the boxes from his stock. God knows whether he will actually sell any of them — he seems to like to hang on to his stock.

Carlos has had a tough time in his later life (the details of which we didn't go into in the films) so this whole scenario has been a positive, life changing experience for him. None of us could have predicted the impact it has had on his life, although we are really pleased things have turned out the way they have for him. His standing in his local community has been raised and he gets visitors from all over the world on pretty much a daily basis now. His family and the people in his locality are really proud of him as he has been on national TV, radio and in every major Argentinean newspaper. His shop has become a destination for adidas fans to make a pilgrimage to.

What are your memories of these trainers? When did you first see them?

I remember them but they were one of a ton of great designs that were released at that time.

The 1980s were not a good time for adidas business wise, but they certainly designed some amazing products back then. adidas continues to create interesting products and currently have by far the best footwear technology in the industry with Boost, however, I personally am a massive fan of that adidas aesthetic from the late ‘70s through to the early ‘90s.

Some might put that down to nostalgia for my youth, but the fact that there is a whole new generation of teenagers who are into those products tells me that their appeal goes beyond that. I believe that many of those designs will still have validity in 20 years’ time.

How much effort went in to getting these new ones right? How close are they to the originals?

There are a number of versions of the 'original' New Yorks that were produced under license in different countries. I think that the New York SPZL are a good representation of the original shoe. They are way better than any of the previous attempts at re-issues by adidas.

Prior to my involvement the developers had borrowed a pair of vintage New York from a German collector who had a particularly nice pair, plus we looked at a few other versions.

With such a cult around adidas trainers, do you feel there’s a lot of pressure to get these reissues right? 

Firstly I have to say that every Spezial footwear range is not solely made up of re-issues, it's a combination of re-issues alongside new hybrid shoes that we create. We are aware that there is a big audience for the flat, suede stuff in bright colours, so we usually put a bit of in the Spezial range, but what excites me personally is when people get into the hybrid stuff. Shoes like the Albrecht SPZL, the Mounfield SPZL and next season's Lacombe SPZL are essentially new shoes that are true to and born out of a particular adidas aesthetic that I love.

We are creating new shoes that would sit seamlessly in any catalogue from that era of adidas footwear design that I grew up with — an era of adidas design that is on the whole timeless.  

Pressure from the cult following around adidas doesn't worry me. I guess I consider myself to be a part of that cult on some level, even though I am so intrinsically linked with the company. It's hard to judge what's real from online comments and criticisms — although the internet can be pretty vile at times. I am aware that I put my reputation on the line with everything we put out under Spezial. I can't hide facelessly behind the big brand which is both a blessing and a curse.

The biggest challenge for me is making sure that I personally am happy with the output, I am my own worst critic and can put myself under a lot of personal pressure to do things 'right' as working on this means a lot to me.

When it comes to re-issues it's often the simplest looking shoes that can be the hardest to recreate. If the right last is no longer available in order to get the upper shape correct then no amount of pattern tweaking is going to make that shoe true to its predecessor.

adidas are also bringing back the elusive Jeans. What are your memories of these?

I remember a girl I was besotted with in my early teens used to go out with a lad who had a pair of Jeans in red with navy stripes and I hated him… They were popular in Blackburn but I remember at the time they were especially popular in Manchester. I have a couple of vintage pairs of them in my lock up. All credit to the team who developed these — they really have pulled off an accurate re-issue. 

What next for Spezial?

Nothing until next Spring, but I am super happy with the next range — it's possibly the best Spezial range yet. 

What do you get up to when you’re not working on Spezial?

I spend time with my eight year old son and try and look after my mum and dad in Darwen as they aren't getting any younger. I also get to a few gigs, exhibitions and football matches when I can. 

The adidas New York SPZLs go on sale at 00:01 on Thursday the 3rd of December. See them here.