I remember that last time I interviewed Gary (Aspden), I asked his friend Ian Brown to tell me what he thought about his Spezial range and he said:
"In my opinion, his Spezial range is the best clothes range Adidas have ever made. Gary's attention to detail and choice of fabrics/styles make him a great designer. Really Adidas couldn't have chosen anyone more passionate to design the Spezial range." (Full interview HERE)
Once again, Gary Aspden's new collection is full of classic designs and high quality stuff. This time we chatted about his new F/W Spezial range, which is Out Now, his top pick, collaborating with Noel Gallagher on the SPZL Garwen, his mod influence, working with Nick Knight and more.
Read my interview below
KB: What would you say was your biggest inspiration behind the new SPZL collection Gary?
Gary Aspden: adidas Spezial is essentially adidas referencing a timeless era of adidas design history to create something modern. For this season we looked at a couple of iconic adidas footwear colourways as the basis for the colour palette of the apparel.
KB. how has your work evolved since you began your own spzl range?
GA: In all honesty it has been a steep learning curve but I work with a great team in Herzogenaurach and have learnt a lot from them. Creating a small range that has a diverse appeal and will merchandise together is challenging - as is getting good enough quality materials and build for a price point that is accessible.
I studied design and also have a lot of knowledge about the brand - I grew up wearing it and have been working with them for nearly 18 years but there have been learnings for me personally since we started Spezial. Fortunately there are others inside adidas who believe in what we are doing with Spezial and see the value in the fact that it is contrarian to most stuff that's going on in the sportswear industry - it's references are deliberately very different to much of modern 'sneaker culture'.
KB. What’s your top pick from the new collection then?
GA: Ahhh! That's a hard one - it changes from week to week ... I currently love the Winterhill SPZL and the Lapskaus tracksuit. I am really into the GT Wensley SPZL which are a follow on from the Wensley SPZL. Both of these shoes were based on vintage adidas shoes (the Universal and the Rapier) that were manufactured under license in 80s Communist Russia. Both used a totally neutral colour palette for the upper on a gum sole. The neutrality of their look and the context in which the OG's were made is the beauty of them for me. Whilst these two shoes would lend themselves nicely to other colour options we wanted to keep that neutrality as it is an essential element in their look and story. We produced a one off sky blue Wensley SPZL (which looked really nice) for Noel Gallagher's 50th as he is a big fan of that shoe.
KB: What’s the most significant sneaker design that you’ve worked on so far?
GA: Hard to say - I think the Albrecht SPZL was important as it reintroduced adidas Leisure shoes but with a modern edge. I loved the OG Leisure shoes in the 80s although I am not convinced that they have dated that well in their original form.
KB: In this new collection or previous ones, Is there a pair of trainers that would best define your ethos?
GA: In this collection either the McCarten SPZL or the Winterhill SPZL as they are both new products that would sit seamlessly in an 80s catalogue. They capture the classic look of products from that period. From previous seasons probably the Garwen SPZL. They took a lesser known OG adidas boot (the Brisbane) and reinterpreted them as a low cut shoe with better materials and build. Also, I liked the fact that the Garwen SPZL divided opinion in the way they did (despite some unnecessarily ugly online comments) yet went onto be the fastest selling shoe last season.
It is important that Spezial pushes the envelope and opens up new possibilities whilst educating people who might not be au fait with some of the more niche/lesser known adidas silhouettes. We want to try new ideas whilst paying homage to a particular era of adidas design that I personally am in love with.
KB. For the S/S 17 collection last time, you turned to Kingston Jamaica for the fashion film,Do you always try to find a location where theres a connection with yourself and the brand ?
GA: Not always - for AW16 and AW17 we opted to simply shoot the product in a studio with Nick Knight.
The location ideas usually come from us trying to tell stories that are relevant to adidas and it's cultural connections. The soundtracks have been an essential element to each of the 4 films we have done as it brings an additional element to support the visuals and we have had the good fortune to work with great people on each of them. adidas have the luxury of being integral to a host of subcultures - not many brands have that and it is a priceless asset that should be celebrated.
KB: How much do you use social media to get the word out there on the new designs?
GA: The team at adidas suggested that I open an Instagram account when we started Spezial. In a very organic way I began to post all things adidas on there that I felt had cultural relevance to me and what I am into - I guess it gives context to Spezial. It also lets the purists know that the guy who curates Spezial has knowledge about the brand and might share a similar taste to them (beyond footwear). I began posting stuff that most people wouldn't know (or might not care!) that show the depth of adidas's connection to popular culture. There isn't really anywhere that acts as a resource for that kind of information so in many ways my Instagram for some has become a destination for people who are looking to deepen their knowledge about adidas (in between watching films of my son learning to skateboard!).
I have seen a couple of ad agency presentations where they have blatantly used my Instagram for their content - on the one hand that seems lazy but then again where else are they going to find all that stuff in one place? I like to think my IG account has integrity - I don't use it to blatantly push all of adidas's latest concepts, just stuff that interests me personally.
One of the staff in Oi Polloi recently showed me a Japanese exhibition about 'sneakers' where they had a screen with my Instagram on it in this exhibition in Tokyo which I found funny. I have been offered money to post stuff for other companies on there that I have refused as it wasn't stuff i was into and I want it to be a genuine thing amongst all the fakeness and misinformation that I see online. I also try to avoid criticising the work of other brands on there - that's one of the unspoken rules of the sportswear industry I guess - plus it's really uncool.
KB: Last season, you collaborated with NG on the adidas Spezial Garwen. What does that kind of collaborative process entail when you work with musicians for example?
GA: Every collaboration is different. The NG72 was originally going to be a version of what became the Garwen SPZL but we didn't have the Bermuda tooling then. We tried a sample round on the Handball Spezial tooling and it didn't look right so we changed it to the NG72. Noel came into the adidas office with a bag full of shoes he liked and we took it from there. I still have the A4 sheet where he wrote his autograph and initials about a dozen times each so we could find the best one to place on the shoe.
KB: Regarding the new collection, I've just seen the Mod Trefoil Tee on adidas site, Stone Roses' Mani once said 'Mod influenced us all, Temps, Four Tops, The Who, awesome. How much did mod influence you then Gary?
GA: Mod Trefoil is an abbreviation of Modernist Trefoil. That graphic was one of those happy accidents - we didn't set out to reinvent the Trefoil - it was only after we had come up with it (after having to amend the original version on the advice of the adidas Legal team) that someone pointed out that it resembled a Trefoil.
I am a fan of Mod culture - how can you not be? Quadrophenia is one of my favourite films ever - nothing captures the sense of being a working class youth like that film does for me. I liked The Jam but I never got caught up in that early 80s Mod revival that we had in the UK. A lot of kids I knew that got into that were wearing cheap parkas with Secret Affair patches which didn't have the same appeal as the Pringle sweaters, adidas trainers and Farah trousers that I was wearing at that point.In hindsight I feel that Casual culture was really Mod for my generation - it was driven by a similar mindset and shared that competitive one upmanship with the 60s Mods.
We lived next door to a biker when I was kid so we would hear Led Zep and Black Sabbath blasting on the other side of our bedroom wall and my older brother consequently got into heavy rock. When I turned 16 and bought my first Vespa (rather than a motorbike) our neighbour was flummoxed - he couldn't believe that I could do such a thing. Gary Watson (who does the graphics for Spezial) had an amazing scooter - different league to mine.
KB. On a different subject now Gary, music has always been part of your life and you recently shared a 2004 photo of Ian Brown on your feed and you were his tour DJ for a while, what did your set consist of? What track did you open your DJ set with? Would you ever dj again if someone asked you to do so?
GA: I would open with something to suit myself as i would start my set just as the doors were opening - before the people arrived. What a job - hearing your favourite tunes over a huge PA with no pressure to make people dance. I was more of a selector than a DJ - I didn't really play music that would easily mix. Ian trusted my taste and knew that I knew what not to play - when Ian dislikes something he REALLY dislikes it. My set was reggae, dancehall, punk rock, northern soul, acid house, electro, Hip Hop and some psychedelic stuff ... rebel music I guess. A promoter once asked me to play a set of Indie classics to warm up for one of Ian's big shows - when I told Ian he said 'Indie classics??? there's no such thing!' which made me laugh.
KB: Speaking of music, what's on your current favourite playlist? What’s most-played over all in your music collection? And is there any kind of music you generally avoid?
GA: I don't even know where to begin with those questions as I own so much music. I love the new tune that Goldie and Skepta have done together and was listening to Neil Young's new album last week (it has a great version of Pocohontas on it).
Most played (in no particular order) are probably Bob Marley, The Beatles, 70s Bowie, Iggy Pop - and I listen to Ian Brown (solo), the Happy Mondays and New Order on a fairly regular basis, The Sex Pistols are one of my all time favourite bands although I don't play them that often. I often go back to old stuff and have recently been listening to some early Pink Floyd, The The and Alexander 'Skip' Spence's 'Oar' for the first time in a while.
I tend to avoid prog rock made by guys dressed in capes and any of that daft Black Metal music.
KB. For the second time (if im not wrong), the photos for this new collection were taken by Nick Knight. What's it like to work with him? and how did that come about?
GA: He is great to work with - he is incredibly modest and collaborative in his approach. The first time we worked together (with Wolf Gillespie) he said 'these are your designs - you know better than anyone how you want them to be represented' which I found very impressive coming from an image maker of his calibre. He shoots while I stand by the monitor and try to let him know when it's going on the right direction.
KB: Finally, last time I interviewed you, you said you were a grafter and that you might slow down in ten years ... If you decided to slow down in 5 years time, is there anything you would take up?
GA: Painting pictures for my own pleasure ... Meditation ... walking the dog ... and to be free of social media.
New Collection feat Goldie. (PH Nick Knight)
Buy the Range HERE
In case you missed it, you can watch my exclusive interview with Noel Gallagher HERE
Words: Daniel Rodríguez