It’s always a great thing to witness one of your friends starting up something from scratch and then become incredibly successful with it, which is exactly what I’ve witnessed over the past 6 years with Gary Aspden and his adidas Spezial range. Absolutely killing it season after season with his unique brand of hybridised trainers and sportswear that take inspiration from archival pieces then injects them with a whole new sense of vitality and aesthetic appeal. A long time friend of New Order his latest Spezial collection boasts a capsule collection with the world’s greatest living band. Overwhelmed by equal amounts of jealousy and admiration, I decided to ask Gary how it all came about….
Neil: As part of the Spezial AW20 drop there’s a capsule collection that’s been created with New Order, how did this come about and how long did it take to do?
Gary: Both Bernard Sumner and Warren Jackson (New Order’s Current Visual Director) have supported and worn adidas Spezial since the first season in 2014. Kevin Cummins photographed Bernard wearing one of the tees for that first collection and on a few occasions we have talked around the idea of doing something together when the right time came along. What that something was we really weren’t exactly sure. Me and a couple of mates went for a weekend in Italy where we saw New Order in Turin. In the band’s dressing room after that show we informally discussed the idea of a product collaboration. I followed up with Warren a few days later and it went from there.
I know you’re a fan and a friend of the band but how did this relationship with New Order come about?
I have been listening to New Order since the early 80s. They were part of the fabric of my upbringing and their work and attitude have been an ongoing influence throughout my life. Their following in my hometown was cultish – there wasn’t a bus shelter or bus in Blackburn and Darwen that didn’t have New Order scrawled on it when I was a teenager. I used to see Bernard about in the late 80s – be that in the Hacienda or at the Blackburn parties but never had any business approaching him. The first time I actually met New Order was at the Fuji Rock Festival where they headlined (I think it was 2000) and have maintained a good relationship with them all ever since.
I heard that the band went over to Herzogenerauch for every step of the design process, were you with them on these trips and what went down when they arrived at adi HQ?
Both Bernard and Warren travelled over to Herzo with me for each sample review (Manchester to Nuremberg via Amsterdam) where we met with the product creation team that work alongside me on Spezial. On the first trip we went for a look around the adidas archive and ate some of the local German cuisine in the evening. Those meetings can be arduous as there is a lot to get through in a short window of time. It often involves having to make on the spot decisions that can’t be changed later due to cost and seasonal time constraints (for example choices of fabric and colour in apparel) – this can be especially challenging when there are several different opinions. The aesthetic of New Order was obviously driven by them within the process but whatever was suggested needed to feel right for Spezial. Finding that common ground between both sides was the ambition and despite a number of painstaking discussions we finally got there. It was a different way of working for them and I guess learning the guidelines of what can and can’t be done for the first time is a steep learning curve. It was on the job learning around the practical commercial realities of manufacturing product – realising their ideas at attainable price points with minimal compromise. They were really ‘hands on’ with the whole process – it was collaboration in its purest sense.
Despite having arguably the coolest back catalogue of artwork in the universe the _nwrdrSPZL collection seems to be predominantly forward-looking with a focus on the New order of 2020 and beyond rather than the past. Was this a conscious decision?
Very much so. We have always said that Spezial should give nods to the past without staring at it. Spezial is not a retro collection nor is it a futuristic collection – it’s a modern collection. Spezial unquestionably references adidas’s archive but only those elements of it that look and feel right for the now. New Order have always been progressive – they have always pushed things forward and done that on their own terms. Whilst I personally am a huge fan of their iconic visual archive we wanted this project to reflect where New Order are right now and find a way to build that into a capsule range of product. The objective was for the product to look good and wearable for someone who might not even know what New Order are/is. The ‘Tour’ graphic has been used by New Order for their recent live shows in different colour combinations for different gigs. That became the foundation for their imprint on the collection – a thread that ran through it. It is a versatile graphic that worked really well – I suppose became a vehicle to hang their identity on for the purposes of designing a range that sits together cohesively.
There’s an ace sailing jacket in the collection, did Captain Sumner insist on this?
Yes – the foundation of that idea came from Bernard. He does like to spend time on his boat! To bring some contrast to the tonality of the jacket and it’s reflective branding there are interchangeable zip pullers in a variety of bright pastel colours. They allow the wearer to subtly customise the piece. This idea was carried through into the trainers with interchangeable ‘new order’ lace jewels in the same palette.
I’ve noticed Bernard regularly sporting the Wilsy SPZL on previous NO tours, was this another stipulation by the main man himself?
Well spotted. The Wilsy SPZL is currently Bernard’s on stage shoe – before that he used to wear the Lacombe SPZL. He likes a simple white shoe for stage and also likes to wear black Ultra Boosts day to day. He loves the silhouette of the Wilsy SPZL – as I do – and was determined to get us to create a premium all white version of it. Whilst all white shoes may appear simple to create,it’s always really difficult to elevate them and take them beyond looking like a mainstream shoe. We tried reworking the upper but it didn’t improve the shoe so we reproduced them in new materials with minor alterations to the pattern like removing what we felt were unnecessary decorative stitch lines and adding the eyelets. They come with a white leather swing tag, second reflective lace and optional pastel coloured lace jewels. We rarely do bespoke shoe boxes for Spezial footwear releases but with New Order’s design language it seemed appropriate for this release.
How did you go about bringing the other Spezial elements into the collection? How do you go about matching up two massive icons in their field?
Well working on something like this in this way was a first for New Order and I was impressed by how involved they were with the design process as well as their input into the communication materials that &SON produced. The decision to use a young Japanese man whose day job is with the English National Ballet added a whole other level of complexity to the film shoot (we had to work around his schedule which meant shooting on a Sunday with a host of shooting restrictions due to the current situation) but they strongly knew that he was who they wanted. He was one of the final edit of casting options that was put forward to them by &SON and myself but it was his occupation/skills/training that convinced them he was the best choice. We weren’t sure if it would work (we didn’t have the budget or time to do a rehearsal) but it turned out that his movement worked really well in the film and was very appropriate to the sentiment of the lyrics in their new track. Their ability to take something that is high art and very sophisticated into a mainstream and more democratic arena like sportswear (or nightclubs or music or album sleeves) without it feeling pretentious is one of the many things I love about New Order and I think the film really captures that.
There was a strong existing relationship and that mutual respect that helped in getting the project off the ground initially and that trust between both sides in a working relationship continued to build as the project went on. There were a number of shared references and influences I guess. Spezial is born out of adidas so inevitably the culture of Germany has been a recurring touchpoint within it. I cannot speak for New Order but it’s well documented German artists like Kraftwerk and Neu! have been influences in their work – they showed footage from that great documentary about a Mancunian who moves to Berlin ‘B-Movie: Lust and sound in West Berlin 1979-1989’ on their recent live shows.
New Order’s current three block graphic (as seen promoting recent tours) has been used to great effect on a football t-shirt, did this three stripe design jump out at you prior to working on the collection as having something in common with adidas?
Warren Jackson christened it the ‘Tour’ graphic. When working on Spezial I personally like things that come in threes and we all liked the versatility of that graphic. We felt it could work really well in the jacquard of the football shirt – and when we got the first samples back we knew immediately that it would. We had originally considered launching the collection around the time of the Final of the Euros so a New Order football shirt felt like an appropriate item to include . . . and then 2020 happened.
I know how much you love New Order (as do I), so how does it feel to have actually worked with them on something that’s so personally connected to you as this?
I am assuming that you are asking how it is to be working with a band you are a fan of as I have a personal connection to many of the themes and stories we tell in Spezial – be that acid house in Blackburn or reggae music in Kingston, Jamaica. It’s those personal connections that legitimise the stories we tell. I can see now that I was fortunate to have been in a lot of the right places at the right times in my youth. Those experiences were priceless and inform much of my work. This project is especially meaningful to me as I grew up around that mythology that New Order and the good people of Factory Records created. They are part of the soundtrack of my life and they gifted us with what was the best nightclub the UK has ever seen – at least until it’s demise in the 90s.
Are there plans to do more stuff with Spezial and NO in the future?
Haven’t discussed anything but never say never.
If you went back in time and tapped on the shoulder of Gary Aspden in the 1980s, stood there watching New Order perform and told him about this collab, what do you think he’d say to you?
‘Get me at least two of everything and don’t ask me to pay for it‘ . . . he was a cheeky young man.
Last question, what’s your favourite New Order song?
If I was to answer this correctly today it could be incorrect tomorrow . .. True Faith? Temptation? Your Silent Face? All Day Long? Restless? Way of Life? Love Vigilantes? Regret? . . . Impossible question.
The adidas Spezial _nwrdr collection drops tomorrow (18.09.20) at adidas.co.uk/spezial.