Tag Archives: adidas

THE ADIDAS SUPERSTAR & PROMODEL: A BRIEF HISTORY

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I like adidas Superstars a lot, even though I rarely wear them after overdosing on them a decade ago. When Woody asked me to write something about them for an anniversary project, I wrote too much. The edited down and tidied version is widely available elsewhere, but this is the one that will probably appeal to about seven people. But that’s what this blog is about, right? Factually, I still think a few points on source countries and dates of releases could be off (my searches for hard facts sometimes came up short). I waited six months or so after the launch to up this, and I couldn’t think of anything to write today on any other topic. Expect typos, a slightly corporate tone (it was partly written with official use in mind) and the occasional repetition. Most of the imagery was borrowed from adidas’s Archive resource.

Iconic is thrown around a little too much. You don’t seem to have to put a lot of work in to be iconic any more. Nowadays your face is iconic because you #amassed #lots #of #social #media #follows. Even your lunch could be iconic. But to be a real icon, you need longevity, not some throwaway, fast-food, buzzword attachment moment in the iPhone spotlight. The adidas Superstar’s 45 years as a favourite on the courts and into a whole heap of subcultures during its retirement from the game make it a strong contender for the finest design of its kind ever. It’s liable to still be relevant when it turns 100.

THE 1960s

Adi Dassler created adidas as a place to innovate and design shoes as equipment. The German location and basketball’s niche status in Europe during the brand’s early days meant that while you might see a deeply specific winter sport shoe, hardwood and backboards weren’t necessarily part of the plan. But how did the Superstar come to be? Anybody who studies the bloodline of their favourite shoe, knows that nothing appears from nowhere. A cursory glance at the state of shoes 50 years ago indicates that adidas weren’t even making basketball shoes until 1964, but the story runs a little deeper. Bear in mind that, in post-war Germany, there was American presence — that meant that a brutal-looking training shoe like 1949’s Trainingsstiefel boot became popular with the Yanks when it came to their game of choice. The hi-top adidas Allround training shoe from 1960 was also sold as the Allround Basketball around 1961 — typical of the time, many designs were sold as multi purpose pieces.

Leather shoes for the game were rare, and it was with American assistance that the Superstar and Pro Model would take shape. Barbara Smit’s Pitch Invasion revealed that an American distributor of adidas gear, Chris Severn, suggested the idea of the leather basketball shoes to Horst Dassler, and it’s also rumoured that the Severns were involved in the Stan Smith’s creation too. The Severn brothers brought adidas to the American market back in the 1950s, and eldest brother Clifford’s life story is impressive — a child actor born in South Africa and London raised who worked with plenty of movie legends during film’s golden age, and became a leading cricket player in Hollywood (alongside some of his siblings), before importing adidas track shoes in 1951. Clifford’s tight connection with adidas seemed to waver with a 1973 court case against adidas, but the legacy he and the family left for the brand is airtight.

Around 1965, a shoe seemingly dedicated to basketball debuted — the Supergrip. With its herringbone pattern outsole and familiar silhouette, the simple looks were technical in their time, back when a cushioned heel, arch support, foam insole and padded ankle were state-of-the-art and Cangoran leather was the only way to go. Almost from its debut, the Supergrip was accompanied by the high cut Pro Model (the Pro Model would ultimately go under the one-word Promodel name as well, seemingly dependant on whoever was labelling the box or writing a catalogue on any given day) version of the shoe, minus a rubber toe — conformation that, despite being a different version, the Pro Model dropped long before the Superstar.

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Shoes of the era were purely for their purpose and, as a result, would shape shift and be altered in line with new material technologies or discoveries. adidas was already experimenting with reinforced toes on tennis shoes because of the drag during play — spawned from the rubber-toed adidas Tennis, the Wilhelm Bungert signature shoe that arrived around the same time as the Superstar as a similar concept for a different kind of court, and the cult Tom Okker design would use a similar rubber wrap.

Those cautious early forays into basketball took a backseat to the groundbreaking running and soccer creations of the 1960s, but a French catalogue from 1968 includes an early sighting of a future classic — an illustration of a Supergrip with a familiar ridged rubber toe, in the handball and volleyball part of the publication (but with the same stitching as a regular 1967 Supergrip). That was nearly an early Superstar sighting, albeit under a different name. When the leather-tongued Superstar debuted (the name of the shoe’s original designer remains a mystery) and was tested by elite athletes in 1969, it brought the Supergrip’s SOFTPROTECT padding and soft leather, but the adjustable arch support, extra-large heel counter and shell-sole were pushed as selling points — the rugged rubber toe cap to take the abuse of stop and go movement looked unique, with ridges possibly added as a point–of-difference from other toecap creations.

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The mysterious 1968 Supergrip with a shell toe

Since basketball’s canvas and rubber early days, the toe was covered to prevent the shoe being wrecked almost instantly, but applying it to the already resistant leather was something new. The Supergrip was still in catalogues, but retired to high school and college use with a budget price and a newly vulcanised, rather than stitched sole (it was sold alongside the vulcanised Greenstar basketball shoe that would evolve into the stitch soled Jabbar-endorsed Tournament shoe that would become the Campus — not to be mistaken with the late 1970s training shoe of the same name — in the early 1980s). This new creation was considered so serious, that some stockists would only supply them to those who had the correct accreditation for high school or college play.

1970s

Sold more widely in late 1970, and far from cheap, the Superstar and Pro Model were worn by top players like George Irvine, George Gervin, Rick Barry and Bob Verga. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would become the face of that shoe (among others) when he signed a deal in 1976. Anyone wanting the colourways on some of those players’ feet was out of luck — some team colours on the 3-stripes were strictly for the professionals. With no wider releases and no auction websites to grab a pair from, collector culture was something of an anomaly at the start of the 1970s. The French made version — France being a significant base of operations for adidas under Adi Dassler’s son Horst — of the adidas Superstar became a new performance pinnacle.

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The adidas Superstar II and Promodel II

adidas never took the time to sit still — from a performance perspective, the game was changing. More dynamic play, the dawn of the dunk and an evolving version of the sport that justified more flamboyant footwear suited this Superstar, but adidas’s sponsorship of a league meant that they kept the pinnacle performance pieces coming. An easily rubbed off trefoil branding on the heel would be replaced by something embossed for a little more resilience. The Americana’s release in 1971 almost superseded prior triumphs — a breathable, brilliant shoe that replaced the rubber toe with a suede panel, and used the league’s patriotic looking blue and red. By 1974, the Half Shell debuted — officially naming the toe cap the shell toe, but offering a little less restriction than the classic Superstar. Spotted on feet in a handful of suede colourways, the Half Shell was frustratingly difficult to track down — as was its sibling, the Pro Model Half Shell. But the Superstar and Pro Model in more familiar forms, with gold branding on foam tongues, were visible in 1978 catalogues.

Around 1976, the Superstar II debuted, billed as a takedown of the Promodel II. That suede, half shell creation seemed to be in sales materials from that year until 1979. 1979 would be the year that adidas launched a premium-priced classic, the Top Ten, with some of the ten pro-level testers being previous Superstar and Promodel wearers. In a world before retro, the Superstar story should have ended there, but subsequent audiences wouldn’t let it die.

1980s

In 1980, catalogues included a subtly modified Superstar model they retained the classic looks but offered felt or leather stripes and an altered shape that seemed aimed at an American audience with its slightly wider fit compared to the narrower original. This version is considered the definitive edition by purists. It’s here that a gradually developing hip-hop scene in NYC gravitated towards this silhouette for its look, b-boy resilience in that forefoot, but crucially, the exotic otherworldliness of a European sportswear brand compared to homegrown staples. adidas had prestige. We can assume that here — despite some presumed uses of the term back in its basketball days — the Superstar truly becomes the “shell toe” (“shell top” is a commonly used term for the shoe too — whether it’s borne of a typo or a reference to the Pro Shell or Pro Model hi-tops remains unexplained). Production of this shoe would expand to Hungary early in the decade, as adidas France would make the most of a late 1970s manufacturing deal with Central European countries like Czechoslovakia to deal with demand.

In the South Bronx, the pioneers and party starters of the era were wearing them and giving them a street credibility that it never actively sought at this point in time. While the Promodel was still billed in a 1981 catalogue as a basketball shoe, the Superstar was pushed into ‘Indoor Court’ in favour of the Top Ten and Rebound designs. Its sporting days were numbered, but it was about to take on a new life. The quest for the ultimate profile — the stance and the attitude that defined the b-boy style was present in this design and with obese cotton laces left loose enough to allow for a little extra width, one of the longest-lasting elements of hip-hop’s wardrobe was adopted.

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Photographer Jamel Shabazz’s snapshots of NYC street style where the glossy publications feared to tread in his Back in the Days book reveals the impact of this shoe among the sheepskin and Cazal wearing hood influencers of the time — a store window shot by Shabazz from around 1983 reveals that the shelltoe and Promodel commanded a higher price then than the Top Ten that once superseded them. The Superstar would find itself at the junction between New York’s Downtown and Uptown when cultures converged in the early 1980s — they’re visible in promo shots for Charlie Ahearn’s seminal 1983 fiction-meets-documention of 1982’s art-meets-hip-hop collision, Wild Style and they’re even spotted on Madonna’s feet, complete with red fat laces to match the stripes, back when she was a Downtown girl with ambitions.

In white/black, white/blue, white/red, white/green and white/white, the Superstar would flourish — while it wasn’t as expensive as its more technically advanced siblings, it was expensive enough to maintain a rep, staying out the budget lane to remain sought-after. Tales of Run-DMC and the shoe are well-worn, but the Queens boys bringing gold, leather v-panel goose down coats and barely laced shelltoes was a push into a more authentic street dress code in rap. Confirmation of the shelltoe nickname’s visibility beyond the ‘hood was present in the 1984 introduction of the Pro Shell — a new look for the Promodel that merged the look of the Superstar with 1983’s ankle strapped Concord, and a TPU moulded heel counter. Ads at the time (placed in a magazine targeted at an African-American demographic) include the Superstar next to the freshly released Pro Shell with the tagline, “The toe to know.

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In Japan, the adidas Superstar’s status was aided by a staggering price tag in the 1970s due to its foreign, European-made status. In the early 1980s it still cost a fair amount. The Plaza Accord of September 22nd, 1985, where West German, French, Japanese, British and American governments worked together to depreciate the U.S. dollar against the Deutsche Mark and Yen was important in allowing the shoe to become a little accessible — the Yen price of the Superstar was slashed by over a third as a result.

Lead times can take a great idea and make it lag a little. Run-DMC’s 1986 inclusion of My Adidas on the bestselling Raising Hell LP, a Russell Simmons’ instigated video demand to adidas for a million dollars and the Madison Square Garden call for attendees to hold their adidas aloft would result in a pioneering deal and a collection of Run-DMC apparel and footwear. Beyond the corporate involvement, it would also assist in instigating a 3-stripe boom in Boston, which became a city known for its love of the German brand over local heroes when it came to urban endorsement. Profile’s 1987 Christmas Rap compilation, with the crew’s Christmas in Hollis as the opener makes good use of a laceless shelltoe on its cover. 1988’s adidas Ultrastar was part of the Run-DMC line — a take on the Superstar with an oversized trefoil logo an elastic straps on the tongue to make laceless wear a little less treacherous. With Run-DMC’s popularity slipping a little between 1987 and 1988 when their Tougher Than Leather platter never hit quite as hard, the generation who’d supersede DMC, Run and Jay would opt for sneakers that were a little more ostentatious. So that was that, right? Not quite.

Back in Tokyo, by this point otaku-like levels of collector culture were already in place at this point when it came to shoes — DJs, skaters and journalists/renaissance men like Hiroshi Fujiwara, on his perpetual quest for authenticity, were hunting for French-made Superstars, like the black leather versions with a contrast white toe. As west coast surf lifestyle line Stüssy became white-hot, influential 1988 ads in the skate press included Superstars in the mix as a mark of an aspirational way of life. In London, the rare groove-led club nights that would birth acid jazz created an escalating appetite for “old school” footwear as a clubber’s staple. London trend-leaders and masters of capitalising on any nascent signs of cool, the Duffer of St. George made the most of it after a 1989 trip to NYC, where the store’s owners saw the London shuffler’s favourite on sale for knockdown prices — brought back en masse, given fat laces and thrown in the legendary store’s window, they shifted at a significant markup and helped fuel a trend.

1990s

What had been set in motion in the late 1980s would resonate harder in the early 1990s. That old school movement would hit the mainstream with a vengeance and just as the Superstar ceased its manufacture in France, it became an object-of-desire to the kind of people who sweat the details. The Beastie Boys — original shelltoe wearers — wore throwback adidas shoes on the cover of their 1992 Check Your Head set and the opening of the Mike D affiliated X-Large store in November 1991 on Vermont Street, Los Angeles would create the legend of an almost mythological “sneaker pimp” character sourcing deadstock basketball and tennis classic for the boys (and girls — hence the development of an X-Girl spinoff with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon involved) and a shelf of marked up European masterpieces in the store as a result.

Other important (and equally defunct as of 2014) stores like London’s Passenger and Acupuncture (a punk-inspired spot that harked back to a time when the Superstar was connected with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Seditionaries and World’s End) would trade in resold, French-made specimens too. Small town American newspapers even ran ads asking residents if they wanted to make some money selling attic-found Hungary and French-manufactured Superstars for up to $100 with Japanese fanatics (who’d pay four to five times that price) in mind.

Now for a spot of science — the original sole and toe of the Superstar were made from rubber injected with polyurethane. That meant the rubber was softer and non-marking, but clay fillers, calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate meant that it would yellow in UV light, harden and crumble over time. Not so good for the collectors, as anyone who had a treasured pair dissolve on their feet or in the box can attest to. Nobody was expecting anyone to care 20 years on back in the 1970s. Subsequently, a new, purer non-marking rubber was introduced to the Superstar shell in the early 1990s

Around 1990, the Superstar II was birthed (followed by a Promodel II), with its altered shape, Asian-made status and extra padding. Throughout the decade and into the next, it was a bestseller in big chains globally. But there were still several China and Korea made editions of the early 1990s that retained a silhouette akin to the 1980s shape.

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When former Nike staffers Peter Moore and Rob Strasser arrived at adidas in 1989 to shake things up, they’d been keen to place the trefoil in a trend category and create a line that would go on to be adidas Equipment that would be serious performance. In 1992 an early version of adidas Originals was created to respond to the appetite for classic shoes on the streets, with subtle tweaks for lifestyle wear — black Superstars with white stripes (officially solidifying it as a classic) and some other curious, but deeply appealing suede editions for foreign markets made appearances. In Japan, the steel-toed Safety series included reinforced versions of masterpieces with U.S. city names — around 1993, the Phoenix take on the Superstar made the forefoot protection aspect of the shoe to its logical conclusion.

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On the skate side, street skating’s flip trick evolution created new cult heroes and an unpopularity that took it back to an outlaw era. Despite the rise of the skate-specific footwear brands and that anti-establishment mindset, the German-engineered Superstar became a photo and video fixture (voted one of the top ten skate shoes of all time in an early 2000s magazine feature) — skater’s skaters like Kareem Campbell, Keith Hufnagel, Carlos Kenner, Mike Carroll, Joey Bast, Drake Jones (who pretty much skated every great shoe, even ACG hiker boots), Chris Hall (also the shoe connoisseur’s connoisseur) and Mark Gonzales skated in the Superstar and Promodel, benefited from the extra longevity and protection the toe provided. It helped that the hotbed of skate innovation, San Francisco, was home to pioneering adidas retailer, Harput’s on Fillmore Street.

By 1996, adidas was targeting the skate market more directly, running ads in the skate press featuring Josh Kalis. Signing Superstar wearers like Gonz and Quim Cardona, the connection with the culture was made contractual. Oddities cropped up in the press too, like the unusual double-tongued Canvas Super Modified version of the shelltoe from 1997.

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The 1997 Originals catalogue, complete with a kick flip in motion on the cover, includes some more ambitious versions of classics — canvas and patent leather Superstars (following up the previous year’s ridge-soled Superstar Ripple remix) are in there alongside the return of the Ultrastar.

As a testament to the Superstar’s versatility, as hip-hop split into two distinct schools-of-thought (both reunited in a post-Kanye world), with the throwback b-boy look representing a certain purity and the shinier, recognisable samples driving music that turned a culture into a billion dollar business, the Superstar was the shoe of choice. Puritans rocked the shell and Jay-Z and Puff Daddy (pre-Diddy) wore the white on white versions too, respecting the cleanliness and, as veterans of the industry who saw the shoe’s original impact with hustlers and MCs alike, understanding its importance. Love it or hate it, but the rap/metal ‘nu-metal’ crossover of the era, fronted by bands like Limp Bizkit — and always acknowledging the path trodden by Run-DMC’s hip-hop and rock experiments — made the Superstar a key element of the scene’s uniform too. Wallet chains were optional.

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As the 1990s drew to a close, the Superstar’s presence was strong, offered in the Superstar Metal (never one for the purists) with those gleaming eyelets and a non-metal variation (now with added lace jewels), and upgraded for adidas’s performance category as the mid-priced Superstar Supreme and Millennium Supreme, with a sleeker upper and modified sole unit. For a crossover into a new century, the 1969 look was still getting buckets in high school gyms. Now that’s some serious stamina.

2000s

By this point it was probably safe to confer icon status on the adidas Superstar, but with a sneaker collecting culture expanding beyond a small group of diehards on forums and newsgroups into something with global reach, despite the year 2000 sounding like an era of pure progression, an obsession with retrospect meant that the reissued shoe became popular currency. Your big brother or older cousin’s favourite was now a younger generation’s shoe choice due to some smart decisions from brands noting a cult become a force to be reckoned with. Those looking for shelltoes could grab some Superstar II shapes with some versions with snake stripes in white or a scarcer black colourway, or pick up a red and blue striped tribute to the Americana. In 2001, adidas Originals was officially launched as a division of the brand rather than the smaller project of the early to late 1990s — soon, the folks complaining about the alterations in quality, shape and fit would get something more relevant to their interests, provided they were willing to queue for it. A Lux version of the shoe would even give it a semi formality, with a crepe sole edition following it that used similarly premium materials.

On court, the Superstar 2G and Promodel 2G superseded the Superstar Supreme and became the shoes of choice for plenty of future legends (LeBron James being one such fan) during their high school days. Frequently name checked by athletes during consultancy sessions for its formidable comfort, the Superstar 2G is considered one of the finest hoops shoes of the early 2000s, with elements of it present in several other models of the time. 2004’s A3 Superstar Ultimate built on the legacy, but was barely recognisable as the shelltoe’s offspring.

On October 30th, 2002, Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay passed away. To mark his contribution to the culture and the enduring popularity of shoes with a shell, adidas released the JMJ Ultrastar in early 2003, with proceeds donated to the Jam Master Jay foundation.

As a pivotal part of Tokyo’s Urahara movement, Nigo understood the power of the Superstar back in the 1980s. before he launched his A Bathing Ape brand in 1993. Ten years later, an introduction to adidas via Ian Brown to his friend, BAPE’s Kazuki Kuraishi (who’d go on to launch his own ObyO line with adidas that incorporated some Superstars) led to the development of the adidas and A Bathing Ape collection of Superstars and Superskates with premium build, custom packaging, careful marketing and low, low numbers. This was a restorative affair too, following Nigo’s keen eye for what made the shoe great — the SUPER APE STAR used the original tough chrome leather rather than the garment tumbled leather used at the time, raised the heel and used a vanilla dye in the toe rubber formula to reproduce the yellowed effect of a vintage pair.

Sold via select stockists worldwide, the shoes caused queues — a rarely seen sight beyond Asia for footwear — and the dreaded resell rate for those who weren’t willing to sleep rough or set their alarms earlier. With the project slogan, “The respect is mutual“, the adidas BAPE release remains pure in its organic creation, meticulous execution (a hallmark of Nigo’s brand and a nod to the Germanic origins of the shoes) and a genuine fandom from both parties. This was less a business model and more a love letter to a masterpiece.

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A careful drip-feed of icons would follow — fabled Half Shell would get a reissue too, and with adidas Skateboarding getting a bigger push under the Originals banner, Mark Gonzales would get his own Superstar (a skate-specific Superstar and vulcanised version would arrive later in the decade), but post SUPER APE STAR, it was clear to the brand that an impending anniversary year for a flagship shoe would be an opportunity to make an even bolder statement.

In 2005, to mark the 35th anniversary of the Superstar (working on the principle that it actually hit the market in 1970), the ambitious Superstar 35 programme was unleashed. 35 years, 35 shoes. It began with fanatics queuing outside a handful of boutiques on December 31st, 2004. While the rest of the city was in full revelry mode, the midnight chime signalled the sale of the Consortium collection — a pioneering combination of top-tier doors given free rein to rework an accurate remake of the original 1969 Superstar — the Superstar Vintage — that was built to the original specs through dissection, trial and error. Limited to just 300 pairs of each, it made sense that the #1 had to be Adi Dassler himself, with his face on the heel of a reproduction of a true adidas original. London’s Footpatrol, Hamburg’s Tate, LA’s Undefeated, New York’s Union, Tokyo’s Neighborhood and Hong Kong’s D-Mop. It’s notable that several partners opted to use the contrast toe effect beloved of skaters, b-boys and Japanese collectors decades prior, and as the year began, they were gone. Ten years on, it’s still an oft-imitated way to set off a shoe, but here, it was unique — almost disorientating, with hype blogs still in their infant stages and no social media to get a heads-up.

The Consortium hit would be followed by a pop culture riffing Expression Series, limited to 4,000 pairs of each and using the Superstar I silhouette, with Andy Warhol, Captain Tsubasa, Lee Quinones (a clear nod back to Wild Style), Project Playground, Disney, adicolor and Upper Playground. Then a Music Series, limited to 5,000 pairs of each Superstar I, with Run-DMC, Ian Brown, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Roc-a-Fella, Underworld, Bad Boy and Missy Elliott all involved. The Superstar II shape would be used as the base for a Cities Series and Anniversary Series. That made up 34 shoes.

The adidas Superstar #35 is a rare shoe. It was made in barely there quantities and used as a prize in Berlin, London, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong treasure hunts and never went in sale, Handmade entirely from leather, down to the shell and outsole, it was presented in a leather-covered case with gold-plated hardware that included an equally plush cleaning kit with the shoes. Never officially for sale, this was a luxury celebration and migraine for anyone who’d spent the last few months frantically amassing the other 34 editions.

In the years that have passed, the adidas Superstar has been fuelled by the post-Superstar 35 effect — the Superstar Vintage and a Promodel Vintage would get a wider release and the off-white authenticity that Nigo’s vision necessitated is frequently used to resurrect archive looks. The collaboration is now a norm in a world of limited editions and an explosion of collector culture. In 2008, adidas Originals would put out a missing piece of the Superstar story — a reproduction of the French-made 1980s shape called, fittingly, Superstar 80s, complete with felt stripes. Partners like CLOT, FTC, Alife and Kazuki have partnered up for more interpretations (when German luxury legends joined forces to rework the Promodel in 2006 worlds collided beautifully). Everything works in cycles, but even with a multitude of variations, countries of origin and collaboration, there’s still a thousand other tales to be told. Is there a fair argument for declaring this to be the greatest sneaker design of all time? Absolutely. It’s not just the numbers you shift or the digital traffic you herd — it’s about the impact a simple shoe can have on popular culture.

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ROCKY

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Long before A$AP and adidas crossed paths, the connection between Rocky and the three-stripes helped pave the way for hip-hop history. After Nike endorsed Stallone in 1982’s Rocky III, adidas had made friends with the Italian Stallion in subsequent years , leading up to the fourth chapter. Before the strange bit where it claims that he discovered Run-D.M.C. breakdancing in the mid 1980s (probably not true — b-boying was never their forte and they’d put out an album by 1984), Barbara Smit’s Pitch Invasion is a great source of information on “Mr. adidas” himself Angelo Anastasio. the entertainment promotion man behind that pioneering footwear deal. Anastasio went from a mid 70s pro with New York Cosmos to the Ferrari-driver schmoozing around Hollywood. From Paulie’s robot (after Paulie went from violent woman beating drunk to loveable oaf in line with the franchise’s increased shine) to Vince DiCola’s War — a composition capable of getting a pacifist pumped enough to put their fists through a kebab shop window —it’s understandable that this heavy-handed red menace tale is a fan favourite (I’m a Clubber Lang man myself). I can’t help but think that the only thing more 1980s than Rocky IV, is the thought of Anastasio making power moves around 1985 on the streets of Los Angeles? The world needs a documentary on that pre-Yeezy heyday of entertainment marketing.

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WATERMARKED

SI Writer & Reporter: Portrait of Armen Keteyian posing with sneakers during photo shoot in a shoe store. New York, NY 1/11/1984 CREDIT: Lane Stewart (Photo by Lane Stewart /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X29513 TK1 R2 F10 )
SI Writer & Reporter: Portrait of Armen Keteyian posing with sneakers during photo shoot in a shoe store.
New York, NY 1/11/1984
CREDIT: Lane Stewart (Photo by Lane Stewart /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X29513 TK1 R2 F10 )

We watermark crew members might be too cheap to pay to get our Getty shots unlabelled, but some images need to be shared. I won’t apologise for my relentless sports store nostalgia, and these 1984 shots of respected investigative reporter Armen Keteyian posing in a branch of Athlete’s Foot for a Sports Illustrated story photographed by Lane Stewart. There’s a beauty to those early 1980s walls, seeing as the majority of the stock has made multiple comebacks, but this one is a real beauty — 990s, Campus, Lavers, Air Forces, Grand Slams, Equators, Internationalists and Challenge Courts all seem to be present. As far as ageless design goes, it never got much better than this era. Flawless stock. Thousands of great shoes followed, but they were never future proofed like this display of masterpieces.

SI Writer & Reporter: Portrait of Armen Keteyian posing with sneakers during photo shoot in a shoe store. New York, NY 1/11/1984 CREDIT: Lane Stewart (Photo by Lane Stewart /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X29513 TK1 R1 F7 )
SI Writer & Reporter: Portrait of Armen Keteyian posing with sneakers during photo shoot in a shoe store.
New York, NY 1/11/1984
CREDIT: Lane Stewart (Photo by Lane Stewart /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X29513 TK1 R1 F7 )
SI Writer & Reporter: Portrait of Armen Keteyian posing with sneakers during photo shoot in a shoe store. New York, NY 1/11/1984 CREDIT: Lane Stewart (Photo by Lane Stewart /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X29513 TK1 R3 F5 )
SI Writer & Reporter: Portrait of Armen Keteyian posing with sneakers during photo shoot in a shoe store.
New York, NY 1/11/1984
CREDIT: Lane Stewart (Photo by Lane Stewart /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X29513 TK1 R3 F5 )

On the subject of watermarked imagery, this footage of skaters at South Bank from the 1970s via The Kino Library is gold. It’s devoid of audio, but you can open up another tab and play Back Street Kids by Black Sabbath or something similar to give it extra energy. Given the close call this historical area had over the last couple of years, this kind of thing is extra important. Plus, it was Go Skateboarding Day this weekend, which makes this extra timely.

DOGS & THEIR OWNERS

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I’m late with the updates because I’ve exiled myself to NYC for a week as penance for running an online store into the ground. Actually, I’m here on a holiday. That means I’m not keeping my eyes open for product or any releases, but a few things caught my eye. Will Robson-Scott is one of my favourite photographers and filmmakers — he’s technically great, but he’s curious when it comes to exploring the harder side of life too — I think that fearlessness when it comes to his personal projects sets him apart from the rest. The In Dogs We Trust series was created in partnership with Ollie Grove and explores human relationships with our canine buddies (which is beautifully depicted in Will’s John and George), the age-old belief that they look like their owners. Shot across several cities — from London to LA – it’s being published by Victory Editions this March as an edition of 500. I’m hoping it’ll be kicking off with a gallery show of pooches and their human buddies. This is everything I want in a book and there’s more information here.

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The most amusing stories around signature shoes like the Air Jordan don’t come via the people who wore them and want to remind us, in tiresome fashion, how they saved/begged/skated a pair…whatever. Who cares? Every thirtysomething has a Jordan shoe story of one kind of another, even if they hated them. No. the best stuff comes from the behind-the-scenes hustles, and Sonny Vaccaro (who was meant to be played by James Gandolfini in an HBO film that never got produced) was at the heart of getting kids signed by any means necessary. The sports marketeer who pioneered a new breed of shoe promotions that made the canvas and rubber wheeler-dealing of old seem ultra-archaic is getting an ESPN 30 for 30 that’s full-length, but broken into online only chapters for a digital debut. Sole Man premieres on April 6th via Grantland and the Jordan Effect episode about the 1984 Nike deal promises, “…a Hollywood story that features secret phone calls, a six-figure check, a mansion in Oregon, and a plate of ribs at a Tony Roma’s restaurant in Santa Monica.”

Finding out the inside story of how LeBron ended up at Nike over adidas (beyond the monetary one-upmanship) should be interesting too. This talk at Duke from a few years back is a good Vaccaro primer before Sole Man screens.

MAKE IT RAIN: THE ADIDAS WATERPROOF

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My fascination with GORE-TEX additions to clothing is pretty well documented, but I have a particular interest in the adidas Waterproof. This blog was originally thrown together to cover things other than sports footwear, but because one outlet has closed, you might see a bit more shoe talk on here for the time being. You practically need to earn a suede and rubber PhD to navigate the nuances of the adidas archives. Navy running shoes are all over the 1983-1985 catalogues, but some made a bigger impact than others.

1984’s Waterproof is a truly cult creation on a number of levels — it was barely seen in its day beyond those in the know (especially on UK soil), it was incredibly expensive, and crucially, it had a GORE-TEX lining. Stylistically, the Waterproof looks a lot like the 1983’s New York training shoe (the Dellinger web version and not the alternate version) and its specialist, winterised look and feel made it a contemporary of the SRS (ostensibly, an LA Trainer on steroids) and the towering Jogging All-Round. But whereas those shoes looked like old favourites locked in a garage with the A-Team, the Waterproof was a more subdued looking creation.

Taking it back to 1984, a GORE-TEX coat seemed state-of-the-art, but on a shoe it seemed downright exotic. The GORE-TEX booty that brought the membrane material to shoes was honed by outdoor design pioneers like Willie Sacre and officially launched in 1982. The new breed of trainer-hikers took advantage of the technology (Nike’s 1982 Approach boot was an early creation using the insert), but I can’t ascertain who debuted it in a runner, though I suspect that the Waterproof was the first (and adidas marketing materials of the time say it was). It was the perfect accompaniment to an Allzweckanzug Athen GORE-TEX tracksuit too.

If it looked the same as a New York, down to the ADISORB insole, why was this winter runner so expensive? Membrane lasting is more complex than just Strobel or board lasting, so it costs. Water repellent leather costs. GORE-TEX membrane costs. The standards the GORE-TEX brand demands cost. Seam sealing costs. Untypical lasting methods cost. The gusset tongue (a lot of contemporary shoes at trend level forget this part in their quest for GORE-TEX branding) added more material, which, once again, costs a little bit more.

Those paying attention at the time single out the Waterproof and the Zelda (a ghilly-laced, Reebok Classic looking creation that can almost certainly never be reissued under its original name) for their near mythical status at the time. The Waterproof certainly seemed to get more of a push. Post 1985 (and images, as seen below, of a pair from an Austrian catalogue, include lettering down the stripes), the Waterproof was gone. 1985’s GORE-TEX lined Tokio seemed to replace it, with its more technical look and option of an All-Round style high variation. But in 2006, adidas Originals dropped a Waterproof reissue, with the addition of a small metal GORE-TEX badge on the upper (not present on the original, but cooler looking and presumably part of the licensing deal). After selling out, that retro started commanding some eBay prices akin to some hype fodder of the time with significantly less substance.

In an early conversation with Gary Aspden about the SPEZIAL line (which, I believe, had a different project name at the time), my first question to him was, “Will there be a Waterproof?” The answer is yes — a Waterproof SPZL in an appropriately moody grey and white modelled on the second volume of the SPEZIAL book is part of the second collection (with a water resistant leather toe rather than the suede of the original). I admire the nods to leisure designs and minimal, narrow-fitting rarities in the original SPEZIAL line, but I’m just not northern enough to appreciate them (having a Scottish mum doesn’t count). This one, limited to 1,000 pairs, is my kind of shoe. The £185 price tag is no joke though, so I fired some questions at Gary before he goes on the campaign trail once again, to talk 3-stripes with the media.

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Q&A WITH GARY ASPDEN

GARY 1: Gary, what’s the impetus for including the Waterproof in the SPEZIAL line?

GARY 2: It’s a favourite of mine. They epitomise everything that is great about adidas footwear both in their design and function. They were at the forefront of footwear innovation when they were originally released. There is nothing in their design that doesn’t have good reason to be there.

Did you ever see the shoe on sale back in the mid 1980s or know anybody who had it?

I didn’t…I asked Gary Watson who I work with on the graphics for SPEZIAL the same question. I was hoping he would know something as he went abroad a number of times on trips to get adidas when I was still at school and is a bit older than me but he didn’t know anyone. I asked Paul Fox who has worked for JD Sports since the mid 80s and is a dedicated Birmingham supporter – he said there was only one person he knew who owned a pair back then was Dave Makin from JD (Dave also owned a pair of adidas Zelda). I have had a couple of older lads from Merseyside pop up on Twitter since we announced the SPEZIAL Waterproof reissue who said that they had owned them in 1984 and I am inclined to believe them as they are not messers. There were a few older scousers who showed up at the Manchester SPEZIAL who were specifically asking after Zelda and Waterproof. They were the best shoes in the market at that time — and that was reflected in the price point which in turn limited the amount of them that ended up on the shelves.

Do you think some of the shoe’s core appeal in this country was down to our bad weather as much as it was the rarity?

The adidas Waterproof became the stuff of legend, I guess because of its rarity, look and price. It’s like the yellow soled Forest Hills — speaking to people who worked for adidas in the UK in the late 1970s there was only one place in England they were available and that was Liverpool and they only ever had 400 pairs. No doubt a handful of people picked them up in the continent but it was the 1982 version with the white sole that I used to see around. I remember people talking about a mythical yellow soled Forest Hills but I never physically saw a pair until the reissue in 1999.

What’s the appeal of GORE-TEX to you? It sounds very exotic and always seems to represent a premium price.

It does imply value but it also suggests practicality. I grew up in an area where it rains a lot and spent much of my childhood getting soaked in Gloverall duffel coats and Polar Gear jackets. When the local Camping shop in Blackburn began stocking GORE-TEX anoraks they must have known immediately that they were onto a winner. It attracted a whole new audience to their store. The shop owners soon realised that they needed to improve their security after those appeared on the racks. Whilst I am a fan of it my love of waterproof fabrics isn’t limited to GORE-TEX — the organic ETA we have used in the Haslingden jacket is Swiss made and its water repellent qualities are mind blowing.

This time you never made any modifications to it, whereas every other shoe in the line seems to get a subtle change. Why was that?

All the components were available and the upper specifications of the previous 2006 reissue were true to the original shoe. Sometimes I choose to go for hybrids because of limitations on what tooling for the soles is in existence (creating new moulds for sole units that don’t currently exist is VERY costly). Sometimes this creates a scenario where we improve on the original shoe. I own a pair of vintage adidas Sevilla leisure shoes that were the inspiration for the Albrecht SPZL and the sole they used on those vintage shoes just isn’t right for 2015 although that upper with a few tweaks to the specs is still relevant so I wanted to give them a reappraisal. I am very happy that people are also excited about that shoe.

Did you try to alter the Waterproof at any point? Like put the upper on another sole unit like the other versions of the New York or the Boston?

No — it’s a great shoe and the moulds for the sole unit existed so the only thing I wanted to play with was the colour way.

That price tag is heavy — why is that?

The price tag appears heavy if you don’t know what has gone into building the shoe. adidas Waterproof were had an RRP of 155DM in the German catalogue in 1984. 155DM in 1984 = £63, however, you have to bear in mind the fact that adidas shoes in Germany at that time were significantly cheaper than in the UK, hence why so many entrepreneurs in the north west were going over there and buying up van loads to resell here. Considering that in Germany at that time adidas Dublin and adidas Hamburg were going for around 21DM, it puts it into perspective.

When we decided to go with the Waterproof SPZL we were faced with a choice — do we compromise the original construction (seam sealed GORE-TEX membrane/waterproof leather/gusset tongue/etc) to get the price down or do we keep the construction authentic and charge a much higher price than the rest of the shoes in the collection (as it was the first time around)? We opted for the latter and I stand by that. The adidas Waterproof was a super expensive shoe in 1984 and for good reason. I remember a running shoe by another company called Odyssey were £60 in 1984, they were the most expensive shoe on the wall of Gibsons Sports in Blackburn and they didn’t have anything like the technology that went into the hard to find adidas Waterproof. The distribution is very tight on the adidas Originals x SPEZIAL range as it is and with the price point on this particular shoe the retailers have been reasonably cautious so we haven’t ended producing many pairs at all. It’s a shoe for dedicated adidas connoisseurs — the Waterproof always has been I guess.

Images of the aforementioned Zelda are below, because if you made it this far, you’re probably a fan:

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GUCCI SNOOPY

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Sometimes an image is so good that it renders any text obsolete. Snoopy in the legendary Gucci Tennis from the book to coincide with 1984’s Japanese Snoopy in Fashion exhibition is a perfect case study. Idea Books Instagrammed it this morning and made my day. Even better than Donald Duck in Timbs. Speaking of wheat workboots, a couple of good promo print projects arrived in the post this week — Oi Polloi’s always excellent Pica~Post is back with some extra metal, an interview with Patagonia Alpine Outerwear Christian Regester and Mr. Gary Aspden (it’s heartening to see the low-key looks of the SPEZIAL Ardwick become an object of desire in a world where the same old Technicolor yawns get eBay bids) who really, really went on the campaign trail for his labour of love after years of not doing too many Q&As — Next’s role in casual culture, a picture of Gary with a spaniel and a Preston b-boy crew called Mystic Force makes this amazing. The increasingly prolific David Hellqvist (aka. the Baron) has done a good job with the Document project on the Timberland topic — there’s fashion talk in there, design talk and a really good conversation between my friends Nick Schonberger and Ronnie Fieg on the topic of the brand and its connection to NYC that I loved (sample quote: “Chris Webber used to buy 15 pairs of Timberland at a time”). That’s the kind of insight I want to read when we’re talking about brands that I’m smitten with.

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GERMANIC

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The Manchester exhibition has finished now (but it’s heading to Paris), but the SPEZIAL project gave me a welcome excuse to chat with Gary Aspden — a man who bleeds adidas blue — on record, because I always fail to document our discussions. It was heartening to see the project succeed, because it’s a perfect case study in distilling a brand’s appeal and giving the diehards what they want rather than shape shifting the offerings to cater to a fickle customer. This interview ran on 032c.com (an appropriately Germanic outpost) a few days ago. Alongside the unveiling of the unreleased John Carpenter soundtrack compilation (complete with an excellent-looking website) and the trailer for the Music Nation Open Mic documentary by Ewen Spencer (based on his adidas-affiliated book), plenty of labours of love seem to be coming to life. It’s a good time to be a nerd.

Was the trip to a store in Argentina in the film more than just a video opportunity?

GARY: I was just beginning the look for the second season of SPEZIAL when we went to Argentina. Now I buy vintage pieces and archive them — there’s pieces I’m sitting on now that might not make an appearance for another four seasons — and I don’t know how long SPEZIAL’s going to run for either because the decision isn’t in my hands — but what Argentina was about was amassing products for research purposes, but also for finding interesting footwear to enhance what we were doing with SPEZIAL Manchester. What it does is enhance context — it helps to communicate the philosophy of the collection. It says a lot about the person curating the collection because, let’s face it, for anyone that’s a hardcore adidas fanatic, that trip is something we dream about. It shows that the collection has genuine roots, speaks for our mindset and if you’re going to say something’s archive-inspired, show me how you got from A to B. I wanna know! I don’t like to see stories attached to products unless they’re authentic. It starts and ends with product. The marketing stuff is the icing on the cake — the magic dust — but if the product isn’t fundamentally right, it’s unnecessary.

adidas was still broken into some rogue regional licenses until relatively recently — was Argentina the the last adidas license holder?

I think it was either Argentina or South Korea. Japan’s license ended in 1998. In Argentina the license holder held on to the death and when adidas started its three divisional structure in 2001, they needed to clear up adidas Originals. In 1999, when I started, there was no trefoil clothing available over here. They’d rinsed it out in the mid 1990s with Britpop so they just weren’t doing it at all, but they were doing it in America for some reason. So I was doing swaps. I’d go to adidas global marketing meetings looking out for people from licensee countries so I’d send them something signed by a band and they might send me a box of adidas New York made under license for Argentina.There was no system internally and you couldn’t order from the licensed countries so I used to do this bartering and trading.

Now you can buy the same thing everywhere. Those differences had a certain charm.

There weren’t global brands then like you see now. You don’t see so much branded clothing on people in the 1960s and 1970s. adidas was an early global brand, so licensees was probably a good way of getting out there. Then the money men realised that it wasn’t that cost-effective, so they wanted to centralise. I’m sure money men would see me as a hopeless romantic. There’s a generation who think that 1980s adidas was the ultimate sportswear — you had the ZX series, the city series…in adidas’s history it’s seen as a difficult time for the company. Karl-Heinz Lang, who worked as a developer for Adi Dassler, used to roll his eyes when you mentioned the city series. He worked on the development of the Marathon TR in the late 1970s and those city series shoes were just done to make money for licensees. adidas’s commitment to performance was way ahead of those gum-soled city shoes.Things like the adidas Waterproof and Zelda were pushing the envelope.

The rest of the interview is OVER HERE.

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