What happens when a titan of sneaker industry gets really excited about a new model? They give it the royal treatment, of course. And if you’re adidas, that involves flying 100-odd enthusiasts out to Meghan Markle’s England and plunging them into the design process.
What We Saw at adidas Originals' P.O.D. S3.1 Launch in London
Date: June 15 2018
By: Rob Marfell
I’m walking through London’s Shoreditch, coddled by a caravan of the sneakersphere’s idols and influencers, and trying to post an IG story of Nic Galway when the group slows to take in our destination. Four-metre strips of adidas blue PVC curtain cover the opening of a concrete warehouse. There’s a guy in a blue boiler suit who draws a slip in the curtains. We’re handed boxes too small to hold sneakers and ushered into a massive room. There’s a spray–painting lab, rows of workbenches, a gaggle of sartors stationed at sewing machines, laser etchers and an ominously large digital clock. One wall stretches out with a bounty of materials, decked to the nines with every component needed to build a sneaker. Need BOOST soles? Name your shape. Uppers? Pick any layer from your favourite Originals silhouettes. It’s a sneaker customiser’s crep dream.
It’s not long before I’m plopped down beside Brooklyn Farm’s creative director, the legendary Marc Dolce, who’s asking what words I’d use to define myself.
The star of — and what brings us to — this event is adidas Original’s new P.O.D. S3.1: a lithe, sweeping silhouette that takes a lofty idea from the mid-90s and re-explores it with modern technology. At the tech's core is a ‘Point of Deflection’ system, which silos cushioning by using a Torsion-like ‘Point of Deflection bridge’ to join an EVA forefoot to a shapely BOOST booty. Its modular design takes pieces that are good alone but better together — a union that seems to have sparked a run of collaborative energy over at Herzogenaurach, Germany, where adidas is based.
At the start of June, adidas welcomed 20 high-profile sneakerheads to their HQ to try something new. Named the MakerLab, the initiative saw people such as artist and Yeezy merch designer Cali DeWitt, hip hop luminary DJ Clark Kent, sneaker journalist Russ Bengtson and up-and-coming stylist Beija Velez set loose on adidas Original’s arsenal of sneaker machinery. Top members of Team Trefoil like design director Remy Eyraud then guided them through the process of sneaker ideation, opening up dialogue between adidas and their biggest fans.
Their sessions are what informed the jumbo MakerLab in Shoreditch and are the reason Marc Dolce wants me to come up with words that resonate. The Three Stripes are launching the P.O.D. System by peeling the lid off their operation, opening it up to new minds and inviting them to create something. We’re urged to think deeply about our designs and then take to them with scissors and paint, to deconstruct and reconstruct and ignore rote aesthetics.
Though, as I learn when I’m immersed in the launch’s accelerated Makers program, sneaker design isn’t easy. Given all the ingredients I could ever ask for, skilled seamstresses, world-class counsel and an extremely helpful personal assistant, I come up with a chimeric concoction that got lost somewhere on its way to becoming an EQT/Futurecraft homage. In my defence, Pharrell's surprise appearance made it hard to concentrate.
When the ominous clock sounds off and our making time is over, I find that the box too small for two sneakers fits my one perfectly. Later on, adidas will throw a special party headlined by Migos and Pharrell, to which sneakerheads tried to mosh without having anyone stand on their toes. But before that, I manage to wrangle adidas’ SVP of global design, Nic Galway, and Remy Eyraud to pick their brains on the P.O.D. System.
Firstly, the archival inspiration for the P.O.D. is fairly obscure. What made you rekindle the flame?
Nic: One thing that Remy and I are interested in is what the design problems were that people were trying to solve in the past, and what they had around them at the time. There was this point of deflection system that was invented in the 90s and we started thinking about how we would build it today.
Something I’m interested in is the heft of the OG. It’s aligned with today’s chunky chic— why did you go streamlined with the new P.O.D?
When we’re using today’s materials, we want to use them in the best way possible and for this particular application the best way to use the technology is with these proportions. It’s a study of how we use the best innovations today.
This year alone we’ve seen the Deerupt, Prophere, Attric, Falcon, Yung-1, Temper Run and now the P.O.D. — it feels like there’s more confidence at adidas Originals to get experimental with silhouettes.
Nic: I think it comes from giving freedom to creative teams. Within the industry, a trend will happen and everyone gets onto it. That’s fine, but some brands have to have the confidence to move beyond that and show where you’re going to go next. It’s much harder to show where you’re going to go than it is to go where people are at that moment.
Does it always work?
Nic: No, it doesn’t always work but that’s OK. But as with breaking new ground and territory, if it was easy then everyone would be doing it. We learn every single time.
Remy: And that’s more powerful. I think we should dare to take risks and not always be stuck in what we know from the past. I think, right now, what’s really good is that huge amount of collaboration that brings more power. I think that’s what we’re most proud of when making new products.
After assembling a shoe and immersing ourselves in the collaborative process, I think everyone here gets what the P.O.D. is all about, but when images leaked a few weeks ago it wasn’t clear. How to you feel when projects like this leak?
I think we’re still figuring out how to feel about that. There’s two sides to it. People are doing it because they’re interested and obviously that’s a positive.
Yeah but isn’t it frustrating?
It is frustrating, yes, of course, because we as a creative team know how we would love you to see it for the first time. Sometimes things leak before we were ready, and we look at it like ‘imagine if things had been more like this’. On the other hand, we understand that the culture is changing. It’s why we’re doing this today, we’re saying ‘let’s have a conversation, be part of a conversation without someone taking the conversation’.
Tell me about the MakerLab. What went down there?
Nic: We took it as a chance to explain our history, but also explain that our history has nothing to do with being protective. Our history has always been about experimenting, pushing forward, taking what existed and making something new from it. Then, to hand that history over the MakerLab and ask them to create with us, really create, make real shoes — not just decorate but do the whole thing. That’s the process.
Remy: For instance, I worked with Frankie B and I asked him ‘what’s your point of view on the P.O.D.?’ and he was like ‘I want something more fashion, more luxury’. When I look at the current P.O.D., it’s sporty and has roots to the street, but he kind of looked at it from another angle. It was very interesting to see him start to pick up some premium materials that he could see would fit into his concept. Of course, he was bringing things that were tricky to achieve, but it was good talking with him about how we can unlock some sort of idea that we have together — I was so grateful to be able to share with Frankie.
With the buzz around the silhouette and the open-source nature of the P.O.D. project, it’s only right that you make it official. Will we see collaborators work on the P.O.D. in the near future?
Nic: I see a whole warehouse collaborating on them today! But, yes — although I can’t say who. We’ll have some great stuff to share, but we’re equally interested in organic collaborations like what we did with the MakerLab and what you made yourself today. The best things always catch you by surprise, and that might not be the right way, but it’s a work in progress.
Remy: It’s a huge opportunity. Of course, we designers collaborate between ourselves but with the MakerLab in Germany we get to have these conversations with new people. It’s really looking for this type of collaboration to engage and create community.
Nic: The only message I can really give is that we are a work in progress. We’re not going to try and convince people that there is a path you need to follow, we are listening. Where exactly we’ll take it, you’ll have to wait and see.