The success of the SPEZIAL collection is not just a reflection of current trends or the story of a designer picking the right silhouettes or color palette. It’s important to understand that the unique perspective of this project is that of a fan looking at the brand, rather than that of a brand looking at what its consumers may want to buy at this very moment. And that fan paying homage to his favorite brand by “curating” the collection, mostly based on his own obsession with the history of it, is Gary Aspden. As the SPEZIAL collection comes in its 5th installation this Fall/Winter, we want to know more about his background, his history with the brand and the special angle that makes SPEZIAL so valuable in our time.

Gary, thanks for taking the time. Can you briefly introduce yourself with a little story on your background?

I am from a town called Darwen in Lancashire, which neighbors Blackburn. Clothes and trainers were really important to us. The older generation from Blackburn would regularly go abroad on “shopping” trips to Switzerland, Austria, and Germany so their younger brothers – who were our age – were way better dressed than us. They would be wearing clothes that were stolen from abroad that even if we had access to we couldn’t get anywhere close to affording. There wasn’t a lot of money about in the North West in the 1980s – my father worked in a factory and my mother worked on the market. So I had to use my ingenuity to get the money to keep up with the fashion at the time. There were lots of gangs in Blackburn from different areas of town and while they fought amongst themselves, the one thing they all agreed on was that they didn’t like people from Darwen. Things got pretty hairy at times growing up.

What was your first pair of adidas and what kind of clothes were you and your peers wearing at the time?

My first adidas trainers were adidas Kick, and my first football boots were adidas Beckenbauer Super, both in the late ‘70s. And I wore adidas Europa tees from a very young age. Around 1980, we all looked and dressed very much like Carty’s gang in the [football hooligan] film Awaydays. We wore Fred Perry polo shirts, a brand which none of us would be seen dead in after 1982 when Lacoste took over, and acrylic Slazenger V-neck sweaters or V-neck knitted tank tops, usually in burgundy. Also Polar Gear bubble coats, Yale cardigans from the local market, and white socks with adidas trainers like Mamba, Bamba, Samba or Kick. Jeans were worn skintight and there were a host of denim brands like Superbrat, Dollar, Razzy, Second Image, and so on. Jeans were generally purchased from the local market.

“I am a fan of the brand and I believe that has always been the driving force in my efforts.”

Any particular moment or experience that got you hooked?

One evening I had popped to the corner shop near the local park and I could hear music coming from an adjacent street. What I heard sounded like music that had come from another planet. I was curious as to what was going on and when I got there, I saw a big circle of local kids watching a group of lads who were a few years older than me practicing break dancing and body popping on a huge piece of linoleum or cardboard. The music was coming from a huge portable stereo – I discovered later that it was the “Street Sounds Crucial Electro” album. The lads who were dancing were all notorious faces around my home town, they were all known for being well dressed. I remember there was one Italian lad there called “Beans” who was wearing a Cerruti track top – great logo! – and a pair of grey adidas Trieste.

Classic! Just how important was adidas in the British B-Boy scene back then?

All their trainers were adidas except for a lad called “Cockney Paul” who wore Nike Legend, which I wasn’t a big fan of. These were not only smart lads but some of them were really tough lads, too, who me and my mates looked up to. The whole spectacle had such an impact on me at the time!

When did you go from watching others to throwing down your own moves?

I lived in a two-bedroom terraced house with my older brother and my mum and dad, and whilst we had a nice living room and kitchen, my parents never got round to decorating and carpeting the front room. So I began using it as a space to practice break dancing. Around that time, three brothers from Hulme were adopted by a local family as their dad had gone back to Nigeria and their mum couldn’t cope on her own. They had also got into the Electro and the B-Boy thing so we had the beginnings of a crew.

“When I see that people are making up their own SPEZIAL banners to hang in football stadiums, it doesn’t really get much better than that. “

What did you do without access to American imports?

At that time in the North we had no access to goose down coats and gilets, heavyweight fleece hooded sweats, decent baseball caps, shell toes, name buckles, fat laces, even that Gothic looking lettering you saw people like the Rocksteady Crew had heat transferred onto their clothes. Everyone wanted Kangol hats, especially after the release of [the] Beat Street [movie], but they were impossible to find. So the Deerstalker, beloved of football casuals, became an alternative to appropriate the look. I found out years later that Kangol hats were manufactured in the Lake District and were exporting bucket loads to the USA, while we were just down the motorway and desperate, but unable, to get our hands on them. We had no idea or access to that sort of information – we were just kids and it was way before the Internet.

What about footwear?

adidas Gazelles were the number one B-Boy trainer in Manchester and due to the closed eyestays it was pointless trying to put our home made fat laces, which we got from haberdashers shops, in them. It didn’t look at all right. The adidas Century were the closest thing we could get to Superstars, but they were way too heavy to dance in. It became all about getting the lightest shoes you could that still had some grip. Street Machine would dance in black martial arts slippers with their track pants tucked in their socks.

“For me, adidas is without doubt the greatest sports brand of all time.”

Sounds reasonable! Gary, your history with adidas is impressive and it turned into a job. Can you tell us about your first point of contact with the company?

While I was in London doing internships I met a woman who worked on entertainment promotions for adidas. I was helping out one of the lads I used to dance with – or dance against – to get product. His name was Evo from Street Machine and at the time as he was one of the best B-Boys in Europe. She then asked me to link her with artists I knew in the music industry in return for free trainers. I was broke and on my way back to finish college in Preston so it seemed like a good deal to me. She eventually got fired and adidas contacted me as my number was on some of the unfulfilled orders she had placed that they wanted to honor. They assumed I was a music manager and when I explained the arrangement I had they asked me to come in and meet them.

Sounds like the right place at the right time.

They headhunted a couple of other people for her replacement but in the end came back to me and offered me the job. I was new out of college with a lot of debt so it worked out well. When I got my first letter with an adidas letterhead I was blown away. I still have that letter. The first time I set foot in the London office was a massive deal to me. I remember walking in and seeing the linear ”adidas” logo cut out in steel letters on the blue wall. I am a fan of the brand and I believe that has always been the driving force in my efforts. For me, adidas is without doubt the greatest sports brand of all time.

“I always operated on a ”no boy band” policy as I saw adidas as a credible, iconic brand and therefore only wanted to align it with credible, iconic people.”

How do you work with adidas now? Do you have your office at there?

I ceased to be a full-time adidas employee a number of years ago. Nowadays I have my own company and am retained by adidas as a consultant. I can do other work with their prior blessing – provided it is seen as non competitive. I work out of the London adidas office most days and on occasion I sometimes work from home.

Sounds like a sweet deal. Finally, here’s the hardest question: Your favorite 3 adidas sneakers of all time?

Stan Smith, Gazelle, Marathon TR.

THE FULL LENGTH INTERVIEW IS PRINTED IN ISSUE 28