Oi Polloi

Gary Aspden talks adidas Spezial

Published: Wed Oct 11 2017

A few weeks ago adidas Spezial main-man Gary Aspden was down at our London shop talking about trainers and stuff.

For those who couldn’t make it down, here’s a few choice nuggets…

On Spezial

What I try to do with Spezial is do something that is the antithesis of everyone else that’s happening with global ‘sneaker’ culture. And when I say that, I don’t want to be derogatory about that, because it has its place, but it feels like it’s become quite one dimensional. Sportswear and culture cross over on so many different levels, and this thing of ‘sneaker culture’ seems to have become intrinsically linked with hip hop culture.

I grew up with electro and hip hop, and saw a lot of early rap concerts, but I just feel that there’s more to sportswear than purely hip hop. It’s a very important facet, but it’s not all there is.

So what I try to do with Spezial is highlight all these other areas where there’s a synergy between sports apparel and athletic footwear and popular culture.

The other thing about it is that along with sneaker culture, there’s a very homogenised, globalised look within streetwear. I wanted to do something that wasn’t dependent on bringing in a fashion designer or a rapper or an ‘it girl’ — something that was still desirable without playing to the tune of what I saw as being quite formulaic.

On subcultures.

I’m a big fan of localised subcultures. When I go to a new city, most major cities you go to in the world will have the same shops on the high street, so you’re always looking for that thing that has that localised flavour to it. If you think about everything from Supreme in New York to Gosha Rubchinksiy in Moscow or Visvim in Tokyo to Acme in Scandinavia, they’ve all got this localised identity.

In Blackburn, where I’m from, there was a massive subculture of youths going to Switzerland and Austria and bringing clothing back. The big thing for Blackburn was Iceberg. I didn’t see football fans from anywhere else wearing Iceberg.

One thing about the 'casual' thing, as Kevin Sampson says, is that there was nothing casual about it. You were constantly onto the next thing. It was forever evolving and forever changing.

On breakdancing, acid house and early inspiration

It was the first hip-hop all dayer in the North of England, and it was my first time setting foot in the Hacienda. I was into electro and hip hop and I was about 15 years old. London turned up, and within hip hop they had a stronger connection to America and New York — they had the Triple Fat Goose Down jackets and the flying hats, but they got absolutely annihilated when it came to dancing and beat-boxing.

Broken Glass were Manchester’s first breaking crew, but they’d been away on this tour so Street Machine had surpassed them a little bit. I remember Benji Reid walking in and he had a red duffle coat on, with checkered baggy trousers, a pair of lime green and white Gazelles and a denim shirt hanging out. He just looked amazing and he was an amazing popper. I remember thinking, “You’ve got it.”

When I was going to all dayers there was a lot of the UK soul scene — these guys from Birmingham and Sheffield who were immaculately turned out.

When you were into hip hop in the 80s there was the odd hip hop event, but most of the time you’d go to soul nights and there’d be half an hour where they’d play electro and people would break. And then it would go back to playing Loose Ends.

There’s moments which were touchstones for change. When I went to art college in Blackburn I had to have eyes in the back of my head because I was from Darwen and I liked clothes. Every area of Blackburn had its own gang and there was a lot of trouble. And then in September 1988 we went to C’est La Vie in Blackburn and I look around and there’s all factions from different places in Blackburn. And I’m thinking, “When’s it going to kick off?” But it didn’t. Literally, overnight everything changed. It was the beginning of another era.

I always think Pink Floyd at Maine Road in 1988 was, for me, the end of one era and the beginning of another. I remember being at the gig and having my mind blown, and then at the end of it seeing all these Manc lads mobbing up going, “There’s loads of Scousers here.” I remember thinking, “You’ve just watched Pink Floyd on a quadrophonic system and now you want to go and beat each other up outside? What are you doing?” So I don’t have that romanticism about the 80s that some people have. There was a lot of the 80s that wasn’t as cool as some people make it out to be.

On nightclubs

The nightclub that I had the most fun in was the Sett End in Blackburn. I’ve got to tell a story about the Sett End… the guys who organised the Blackburn warehouse parties, who called themselves the Blackburn Self Help Leisure Group, went to this man who owned this strip club and said, “We can fill your nightclub every Saturday night.” And so that’s what happened. It was one of those sticky carpet nightclubs, but then it became the place everyone would meet.

The local authorities in Blackburn were so adamant about stamping out acid house that when it came for the owner’s license renewal, they wouldn’t renew it. So we all turned up there one night and he told everyone, “They’ve taken my license off me, so I’ve just smashed the place up.”

So to this squelchy acid house soundtrack it was the most surreal night ever. We were in this night club with the night club owner giving us free reign to wreck the place, and that’s exactly what we did. All the tiles were out the ceiling, the backs were off the cigarette machines, it was bedlam… not that I was any part of it.

On re-appropriation

I had an argument with Peter Saville about this. He was saying that trainers were just things that people wear to do cultural things in, but I was saying that trainers are part of our culture. We re-appropriated something that wasn’t meant for us. Trainers were meant for geeky runners or handball players, they weren’t meant for working class kids from housing estates and terraced houses.

It was done in the same way we took designer clothing and wore it in way that wasn’t designer. If you saw Armani adverts in the 80s, it was straight jawed guys on Italian beaches, not weasely looking kids from Salford with crew cuts.

Adidas spends a fortune protecting its brand marks, and that’s understandable, but you see people making pin badges in the colours of particular adidas shoes, and it’s because they feel a sense of ownership of it.

On queuing for trainers

I remember when I saw the pictures of Oi Polloi when there was a queue for the Ardwicks, and there were all these comments underneath saying, “Imagine queuing overnight for a pair of shoes.” And I thought to myself, “Lads I know used to risk going to jail in other countries for a pair of shoes. They’d go to Switzerland and back, sleeping on the floors of train stations, and people think it’s a big deal someone staying overnight outside a shop?”

It’s passion, and that’s the root of everything we do with Spezial. What we’re doing is not for everybody – adidas is a very broad church, but Spezial is quite a specific thing.

It goes over a lot of people’s heads, but if you know, you know. It’s a passion project, but I’m glad to know that there’s people out there who support it and are as passionate about it as we are.

See what's left of the adidas Spezial stuff here.

Photos courtesy of Liam Daly.