Oi Polloi

An Interview with Gary Aspden about the new adidas Spezial stuff

Published: Mon Mar 05 2018

Anyone reading this here article has probably heard of adidas Spezial by now.

It’s Gary Aspden and Mike Chetcuti’s ultra-limited range of luxury leisure-garb — inspired by classic details from the archives, and updated for the modern age.

With the first wave of new stuff on the way very soon (the first wave touches down at 00:01 on Friday the 9th of March), we talked to Gary about the stuff that inspired it… 

Starting things off easily, what have you been up to lately? 

Bouncing between London and Darwen — working, looking after my son, seeing my pals — usual stuff.

I know a big theme this time around with Spezial is acid house. As someone growing up in the North West of England in the 80s, what were your memories of that time? Do you remember when it first hit?

That’s a big question ... acid house became key to the story as this summer is thirty years since summer ‘88 and we wanted to acknowledge the significance of that time and how it’s appeal has endured.

I moved from Darwen to Manchester in August 1988 to study Fashion Design at Manchester Polytechnic. I got a part time job in a shop on Bridge St called Carl R Twigg where I ‘worked’ with two lovely ladies called Fiona and Rebecca who both had jobs at the Hacienda.

Fiona worked on the door and later went on to become a comedienne on the telly. Rebecca was also friends with the Happy Mondays — she’s the girl with short, dark hair who dances with Shaun in the 'Wrote for Luck' video (which is possibly my favourite music video of all time).

Fiona always made sure that me and my friends got in the club okay as the door could be strict. A few lads who I knew from back home were coming over to the club as they knew a few faces from Manchester through the football and within a short space of time all of us from Blackburn and Darwen would be in the second section under the balcony next door to what later became known as ‘Salford corner’.

By early September 1988 Blackburn held its first acid house night in a basement club called C’est La Vie  (before it moved to Crackers and then the Sett End) and there was an all-night party afterwards in a house on Dukes Brow. I remember getting the early morning train back to Manchester the day after and going to bed for the day then back out to the Hacienda that evening.

As it turned out a number of the people who were at that first Thursday night would become the core of organising something much bigger with the Blackburn warehouse parties that took off shorty after that.

Six months later I dropped out of college and my job at Carl R Twigg was long gone as I didn’t want to get up on a Saturday morning. For the next 15 months, my time was split between the Hacienda (on Wednesday’s and Fridays) and the Kitchen in Hulme afterwards, with my weekends spent up in Blackburn with the warehouse parties. These warehouse parties grew in size really quickly. Up until the end of 1989 I only missed a handful of the Blackburn parties due to going to Ibiza on holiday and making the odd trip down to London to Energy and Sunrise.

The raves in London were great, but I preferred the lo-fi DIY approach that Blackburn had — plus all my friends were there.

How big of an effect did all this have? I remember you saying about how overnight, long-fought football feuds were put by the wayside.

Seismic... it revolutionised everything for a good year or so until the tourists and the gangsters started showing up. It’s like there was an unspoken code of conduct amongst everyone in those early days - it was communal - people’s attitudes towards everything seemed to change.

It wasn’t about money or fame - it felt really pure. There had been a lot of violence and racism prior to acid house which was eradicated - there was no time for that kind of nonsense. It was like, “If you’re in here doing this with us, then you must be okay.” It was in no way celebrity driven — the audience were the stars — that idea of superstar DJs didn’t start popping up until the 90s. It made a lasting impression on me.

Ibiza had been the refuge of the 60s hippies so it felt like an appropriate holiday destination for the 80s party people — I guess a lot of the hippy ideals were adopted by Acid House in its early days. The scallies certainly had a change of mind-set. 

What was an average night like back then?

None of the nights were average back then. We would go out on a Wednesday night and partying would then be the priority until Sunday afternoon. It was a laugh. 

Where were the main places you’d go?

In Manchester it was the Hacienda (I never went to the Thunderdome — I heard it was great but seemed to be more of a locals thing), and also the Kitchen in Hulme. I stopped going to the Hacienda as a regular in 1990 and when I went back on a Saturday a couple of years later it was very different — most of the faces had changed and it was more ‘dressed up’ and less of a sweatbox. 

The first Kitchen was two flats that had been knocked together on the top floor of Charles Barry Crescent. Eventually the police closed it down after an incident up there but then a few weeks later a second Kitchen sprung up on the second floor in the same block. 

"Blackburn was the number one destination in the North when it came to the illegal warehouse parties"

This second venue was run by a bloke I got to know called ‘Para’. He had turned up in Manchester from London after a spell living out in India with a cult who worshipped swans. The first time I met him was in the Hacienda and he was wearing a necklace with a round symbol on it that had an inscription of two swans head to head. He was a bit older than me and was certainly a character. People would head back to the second Kitchen on Friday nights into Saturday morning after the Hacienda and Tomlin and the Jam MCs would DJ it. 

In Blackburn the clubs moved from C’est La Vie to Crackers and then eventually to the Sett End. Blackburn was the number one destination in the North when it came to the illegal warehouse parties. There were some great early raves outside of Blackburn like Joy and Blast Off but Blackburn started to have them week in week out on a big scale. The Sett End car park at 2am on a Sunday morning was the meeting point for the convoy of cars to go the warehouse party afterwards. 

Very few people had mobile phones then so it was all word of mouth. I also remember going to the first acid house night in Blackpool on a Thursday in summer ‘89 in a club called Sequins on the sea front — the night was called ‘Frenzy’. I don’t recall having any idea why everyone chose to go over to Ibiza at the time but sure enough I went over to see what was going on with a gang of my mates. 

Often with history, the interesting stuff is blown up a fair bit – I suppose not everyone in 1969 was a hippy dressed in tie-dye and all that. How many people were actually involved in acid house?

Loads. It became huge... it grew so fast. Everyone was under 30, and most were teenagers or under 25. By 1990 you were seeing 10,000 kids in those warehouse parties in Blackburn.

No social media, no advertising, no PR, no mobile phones — it caught people’s imaginations. There were still people going out to regular clubs in shiny shorts and slip-on shoes who were dancing to Stock, Aitken, Waterman pop records and drinking and fighting but acid house offered a very clear alternative to all that.

For me, what happened in the 90s when lad culture came along essentially hijacked our style from the 80s and whilst it wasn’t all bad it was in many ways a massive backwards step in terms of people’s attitudes and ideals.

I know the outfits changed a fair bit around that time, but what were you wearing in 1988? What trainers were people into at that time?

Chipie, Chevignon, Replay, Paul Smith, Martin’s Evolution, C17, Best Company... a few of the European casual wear labels that were popular in the mid-80s had fallen to the wayside but there were a handful that people were really into.

Some of the grafters from back home were still into Iceberg but that was really a Blackburn thing. Armani was still popular as were Lacoste and Hugo Boss, and labels like Duffer and CP Company were starting to appear too.

"No social media, no advertising, no PR, no mobile phones — it caught people’s imaginations."

I saw people at London raves wearing Naf Naf — that was more of a London thing and didn’t take off in the same way up north. As far as trainers went, it was adidas running shoes and Reebok workouts, and you might have seen the odd person in Travel Fox boots (yes, really). I saw a few pairs of Kickers and Wallabees about too.

Clothing was generally worn oversize and the fits were very different — tops were much boxier with wider sleeves. It was long-sleeve tees, jogging pants, full tracksuits, hooded tops and Burlington socks with outgrown hair (or crew cut). Jeans were baggy and stonewashed.

People always talk about flares in relation to late 80s Manchester culture they weren’t such a big thing in the clubs at the time - they were more of a thing amongst indie kids (we wore them in 83).

What bits about that time do people overlook? What don’t people talk about?

Whilst Manchester was going through a vibrant time, how it was portrayed in the media wasn’t necessarily the full picture — history = his story. That media interest boosted the city’s profile which in turn boosted the economy there (student applications went through the roof) so that was a massive positive that I would never knock. Culture always drives commerce.

The city and the people it attracted (from all over the country) were far cooler than the caricature version that was played out in the media. Aside from the clubs the bands were untouchable. The Happy Mondays were brilliant. I admired them - still do - they were/are the real deal.

When was it over? Was there a point where it died down?

The ‘Live the Dream’ party in Blackburn in September 89 was the beginning of the end for me. Prior to that I recognised a lot of the faces when I went out but things began to change after that. The new people that started to turn up may have had the clothes and the haircuts but a lot of them didn’t have the mindset — the friendliness amongst people started to dissipate and the authorities became heavier handed in their attempts to stop it. 

Its first incarnation was over for me by summer 1990. The beliefs that we had collectively held started to show cracks as more money came into it and greed took hold. It was ruined from the inside as much as it was from the outside.

Without sounding daft or anything, how does all this translate into the new Spezial stuff?

Doesn’t sound daft. The fact that it is 30 years since summer 88 was the starting point (we even had the dates in some of the early graphic ideas) and we looked at the styling of that time as a starting point for inspiration. 

We discarded what wasn’t relevant for 2018 - we really didn’t want a literal translation. The footwear is not date accurate to 1988, but it doesn’t need to be as we weren’t making a nostalgia collection. 

It’s an honest reflection of the fact that in ‘88 people were still wearing plug shoes and indoor shoes that had released in the years previous. The colour palette is a clear reference to the late 80s, as are the graphics. We looked at several adidas graphics from that time and adopted elements of them that we felt were relevant to know to create something new. We incorporated ‘parties for the people by the people’ which was a popular phrase in East Lancashire in the graphic on the back of the pink Settend tee. We deliberately made that tee oversized, in a heavyweight cotton. 

With Spezial we try to make a modern collection, although that might echo stuff that has gone before. We glance at the past without staring at it.   

The Colombia has returned. What’s the story with these? What are your memories of these?

A lot of people in the UK give that shoe ‘grail’ status nowadays and whilst it was a widely available shoe in the 80s it seems deadstock pairs are hard to come by. People only really bought shoes to wear out back then, so I guess most were destroyed on foot along the way. 

We worked from a couple of different vintage pairs, one pair was very kindly lent to us by a Mancunian collector for comparison. If you compare them to the Barbour version from a few years ago you can see we have slightly tweaked the upper pattern, furthermore the suspension plugs have been produced in differing densities like the OG shoe. 

It will be interesting to see the difference in how this shoe is received in the UK versus other countries. Columbia were a huge shoe in Liverpool by all accounts although in my home town the Grand Slam were the most coveted of the ‘plug shoes’ at the time. Having said that, I saw a leaked pic of an early Columbia prototype and based on the response to this I suspect that this reissue is likely to be far more popular than the Grand Slam (GS SPZL) we did for Spezial ever was. You just never know — some of my personal favourites from Spezial haven’t been the most successful commercially. 

What else have we got trainer-wise this time around? Any interesting stories behind any of these?

The Glenbuck SPZL is a runner that we based on an unidentified vintage shoe. One of the details we worked hard on is the ‘ledge’ at the back of the shoe where the tooling meets the upper. I own a few OG shoes that have Dellinger web and I have noticed this lip on a few of them, yet I have never seen that reflected in any of the previous reissues of web based shoes. 

When I dug a bit deeper, the team in Herzo explained that it was the result of a practise called ‘grouping’. Grouping was a cost saving exercise where adidas licensees would reduce the number of moulds they would produce — so they might use a 7, 7.5 and an 8 on the size 8 tooling. As a result, a 7 upper on an 8 sole would create a gap — a ledge around the heel of the upper where you could see how the webbing was wrapped all the way around the midsole. 

We very deliberately set out to recreate that and the developer had some interesting conversations with the factory when she explained that we wanted to put uppers that were half a size different to the midsoles together in order to get that authentic look. I like to believe that there are others out there who appreciate these kinds of things. We loved how the shoe came out, so we did a second pistachio/pink pair as it felt appropriate — many of the ZX Torsion runners that were popular in the late 80s came in bright pastel colours. 

We looked at some of the AS styles for inspiration on the Padiham SPZL — the shortened toe box, flock stripes and bigger perforations between the stripes differentiate these shoes from a lot of the existing flat gum sole shoes that are currently in the market. Again, those details are subtle, but I believe they make a difference to the final product. 

Although people will always go mad for trainers, I know you put a lot of effort into getting the clothing right too. What have you cooked up?

It was about balancing the story and inspiration against what is wearable and relevant for now — we have always positioned Spezial as a modern collection. For example - the embroidered graphic of the Balearic scene on the back of the Cardle track top is tonal where if it had been produced in the late 80s it would likely have been multi-coloured to call it out.

With the graphic tees, we did the Settend tee in a heavy-weight cotton with an oversized fit as it makes a statement about the range (and gave more space for the graphics), while we kept the Finnington graphic tee to the traditional Spezial tee sizing. 

I think I’ve run out of questions now. Nice one for doing this. Anything else you’d like to add? Any wise words or thank-yous you’d like to put here?

Thanks to all who support Spezial as that is what ultimately has enabled it to continue. When it started in 2014 it was only initially planned for two seasons but it’s the positivity in the response to it (particularly here in the UK) that keeps it moving forward. 

The first wave of the new adidas SPZL stuff launches here at 00:01 on Friday the 9th of March - SEE IT HERE.