Oi Polloi

Interview: Gary Aspden on the new Spezial stuff

Published: Thu Mar 23 2017

As you probably already know, the new adidas Spezial stuff is heading our way very soon. Rather than ramble on about it ourselves, we thought you’d probably prefer hearing the story behind it all direct from the proverbial horses proverbial mouth.

So without further ado, here’s an interview with main-man Gary Aspden... 

Okay Gary, seems like these interviews are becoming a fairly regular thing. What’s been going on lately?

Work wise, we have just started planning next season's Spezial campaign and are just in the thick of launching Spezial for Spring/Summer — with all the online fun and games that comes with that. Oh... and I am trying to move house.

Am I right in saying that the Garwen SPZL is based on an old shoe called the Brisbane? Do you have the originals? What tweaks did you make to the design?

It is indeed. I personally don't own a pair of adidas Brisbane but Noel Gallagher does and he was kind enough to lend me his vintage pair.

A few years ago we did a trainer with Noel called the NG72, however the shoe we eventually created was actually based on the Training 72 and wasn't what he’d originally requested. He had wanted to do a low cut version of his Brisbane boots in another colourway and it was supposed to release as part of Kazuki's ObyO range. I was at an adidas shoot with Kazuki when he approached Noel about it (this was a number of years before I had even proposed Spezial to adidas) and as I was on the ground here in the UK I facilitated the project with Noel on Kazuki's behalf.

The Brisbane were built on the Bermuda tooling which adidas hadn't recreated back then, so we tried doing something similar but on the Handball Spezial tooling. Creating toolings for the sole units costs a small fortune, so adidas only do them if it is likely that they will sell enough of those shoes to at least make their money back. There are some practical and commercial realities to reissuing shoes that many fans of the brand know little about.

When we got the first round samples back on the Handball soles they didn't look good (I still have one somewhere) and as timelines were so tight on the release of Kazuki's range we went back to the drawing board. Noel is an adidas fan and we didn't want to disappoint him as he has been a supporter of the three stripes forever, so we proposed creating a stand-alone shoe with him a few months later. He brought a few shoes and ideas to the office and we made the NG72 loosely based on his Training 72s. The NG72 were relatively limited and have now become a 'grail' for many adidas collectors.

As Spezial is a niche range with limited distribution we don't manufacture anything like the numbers needed to make creating new toolings for sole units solely for this range a viable option. It's not like I sit down with the entire back catalogue and get to choose absolutely anything from it — there are a number of shoes that we would like to recreate that are not viable options for this very reason. 

I knew if I could convince the inline team to recreate the Bermuda tooling then this might give me the opportunity to create a number of leisure shoes including some along the lines of Noel's original Brisbane proposal (which became the Garwen SPZL). I had been wanting to see the Bermuda tooling recreated for some time and finally convinced them to do it. I am pleased to say they made a really good job of it too.

The agreement was that we would take the vintage pair of Bermuda from my collection to work up the new toolings from and they would use the tooling for a Bermuda re-issue whilst I would do some Spezial leisure shoes. The Garwen SPZL are deliberately unlined and are made in far nicer materials than the adidas Brisbane were. 

I came up with the name Garwen SPZL as a nod to a bunch of adidas collectors from my home town of Darwen who are all unfashionably called Gary. Getting legal clearance on names can be a pain so I invented the word. Neil Pestell of ATM once asked me if everyone from Darwen who collects adidas was called Gary, so it came from that.

Shoes like the old adidas Leisure stuff, Clarks Polyveldts and Mephisto stuff are a very north western thing. Do you think people in the south will ever get their heads around them?

I don't know — if I tried to anticipate what people I have never met want I would drive myself insane. If you go down to Brixton or Ladbroke Grove you will see plenty of Jamaicans who wear that style of footwear, and wear it really well. Having said that, I love how the north retains a distinct identity in men's fashion in spite of what happens globally. I love how there is almost a wilful rejection of that homogenised global 'streetwear' look. We have our own, often very misunderstood take on street fashion I guess.

Where did the appeal for sensible brown shoes come from around Manchester and the North West?

I can't say for sure, but the core of much early football casual fashion was about re-appropriation. Most of the fashions I grew up with were worn by older men and we just changed the context of how they were worn. It was all about the way in which we mixed and put our clothes together — in the 80s it changed too quickly to become a uniform. 

I started out with Slazenger v-necks and Fred Perry polos and from there we had a host of 'old men’s' clothing (amongst all the sportswear and ski wear) — Lyle and Scott sweaters, diamond Pringles with polo necks under, Farah slacks, Burlington socks, adidas Freizeit products, Gabicci, Pierre Sangan, corduroy, deerstalkers, Burberry, DAKS, Aquascutum, single breasted tweed jackets, Marks and Spencer's crew neck, Barbour... We would shop in places like Greenwoods and Austin Reed. It was all about that pre-1985, until we got into European casual wear brands.

I have been seeing a lot of online comments saying the Garwen SPZL look like Geography teacher footwear or 'old men's shoes' as though that is a negative thing. For me that is exactly the point of these kind of shoes, but I guess there are people who come from a different set of references who might not understand that.

Whilst to some people they can appear to be one and the same thing — 'lad culture' (which to me is a contradiction of terms) and ‘casual culture’ and the mindset/motivations behind them are two very different things. Your shop seems to seek out new labels and has in many ways continued the tradition of that style for the twenty first century.

Much of the foundations for what I see in Oi Polloi were born out of the era I grew up through — it's like a modern take on the offering of shops like Oasis above the Underground Market. Things have to progress — I guess it's about looking for some individuality within the confines of a style. I have no interest in dumbing myself or what I do with Spezial down to try and appease. I guess Spezial is about introducing new ideas through a classic adidas aesthetic.

What other shoes have you done this time around? Can you talk us through what they’re based on?

The Atlanta SPZL are a 1:1 of the adidas Atlanta — even down to the moccasin construction (which you can see if you remove the footbed).

The Wensley SPZL are based on a Russian-made fencing shoe I picked up a few years ago. I like the way they have that traditional gum sole and three stripes but have this odd asymmetrical upper pattern. They are very understated — trainers for grown-ups.

The Jogger SPZL is another 1:1 from what was a very important adidas shoe. The tooling existed from the Island series shoes but when I was a kid Jogger were way more important than Hawaii ever were. In the early conversations about the Manchester MRN with Oi Polloi last season, Nigel and Steve asked if they could look at doing something with the Jogger, only to discover that it had been faithfully recreated as a Spezial release.

The Mallison SPZL was inspired by the Japanese AS700 but as the tooling wasn't exactly 1:1 I felt more comfortable renaming them. The name was inspired by an adidas collector who did a lot of selfless work for other people but who was facing some huge personal challenges. The shoe was named as a simple gesture to lift the guy's spirits at what was an incredibly tough time for him, which I know he appreciated. Those who knew him will know what I am talking about.

The Trainer SPZL is an offshoot of a mid-90s shoe called the adidas Trainer. We changed a number of things — the height of the collar, the length of the toe box, the texture of the foxing. It really was a pain to get right — once you start changing the specifications of the upper it can unbalance the look of the whole shoe. I’m made up with them now though.

In the photos and general press stuff for this new range there was a bit of a Jamaican theme. Why do you think things like adidas and Clarks are so popular in Jamaica?

Jamaicans love football (Bob Marley loved playing) and adidas is intrinsic to football. Jamaicans were the first people to wear head to toe sportswear as part of their look/lifestyle — before hip hop, before scallies, before everyone as far as I am aware.

I got to know Chronixx (he supported the Stone Roses last summer) and for me he was the perfect ambassador for this range. 

What are the similarities with people from Jamaica and people from the north west of England?

Whilst my youth is a huge source of inspiration, what I do is not purely about the North West. It was Ian Brown who suggested I use some names that relate to other areas — hence the Forest Gate tracksuit. Having said that, Manchester's culture has had a Jamaican influence running through it for decades. One of my godfather's was Jamaican (he had a sweet shop in Oswaldtwistle), and he had come to the UK from the parish of Manchester in Jamaica so I personally was aware of Jamaica from a very early age.

When I got into my early teenage years we would come over to Manchester to visit my mates' mum in Hulme and for a kid like me who was coming from what is a predominantly white working class area I guess it broadened my outlook.

Like the original British casuals, Reggae culture is motivated by music, football and fashion. There is a great style that comes with it too. They take very conservative clothing and put it together in a way that looks super stylish. A knitted Gabicci style top, slacks and a pair of Clarks is like something my dad might wear but looks amazing when you see a Rasta wearing it. It's a similar thing with 'casual' style — much of it is very conservative but it doesn't look that way because of the style and attitude that accompanies it.

Have you spent much time over there?

I have been over there a number of times over the years and hope to go again at some point soon. My son loves Jamaica too. We had a great experience making the film and seeing the new generation of reggae artists who have moved away from electronic sounds to live instruments and are making new music that has echoes of that conscious 70s reggae sound.

There is a great night called Dub Club on a Sunday night in Kingston that we went to. It's held in the house where Augustus Pablo lived and has an amazing sound system, raw juices and ital food. I would recommend it to anyone who visits Kingston.

As Chronixx says, what he is doing is not retro but is simply an extension of something that went before. I feel that is the philosophy behind what we are creating with adidas Spezial. Making new products that acknowledge and extend an era in adidas's design history that for me is untouchable. I think that some of the best things to have come out of Spezial so far have actually been new products like the Lacombe SPZL and Albrecht SPZL.

On a slightly different subject, is the Buzzrock Polo named after the takeaway in Hulme, or am I just jumping to conclusions?

Buzzrocks make the best gravy in Manchester.

Yeah it’s top in there. What else is in the pipeline? Anything else you’re allowed to talk about yet?

Autumn/Winter 2017 is looking great.

Okay, thanks for doing this Gary, anything else you’d like to add? Any thank-yous or anything?

Thank yous? Not done this since the last Spezial book. Thanks to all who buy and support this range as they are the ones keeping it alive. Thanks to Rich at Bags of Flava and Bobby Dassler for their continued support, and thanks to Gary Watson, Portia Smith, Mike Chetcuti and the Spezial team over in Herzogenaurach. Lastly I want to send my personal best wishes to the many friends and family of Mark Allison. 

The adidas Spezial stuff goes online at 00:01 on Friday the 24th of March (GMT) (except from the Jogger, which goes will go online a little later).

Win a full adidas Spezial deck~out here.

Portrait by @oblessa, clothes photos by @adamhindmarch.