Gary Aspden Digs Deep for adidas Spezial Pre-Spring 2023
Gary Aspden has been digging deep in the adi archives since the 1990s. Born in Lancashire and reared on football terraces and adidas trainers, Aspden has been carefully curating the Spezial line for nearly a decade. For Pre-Spring 2023, Aspden enlisted the help of British actor Stephen Graham (This Is England and Boiling Point) and the ethereal landscapes of Iceland, presenting another collection that will have the Spezial’s rabid fan base ready to erupt.
We caught up with Aspden to celebrate Spezial Pre-Spring 2023 ahead of its release on February 10.
Tell us how this latest collection came together.
We work 18 months ahead, so there were still some travel restrictions when we put this season together. I worked remotely in the UK while the rest of the team was in Germany.
This led to us leaning on the ever-growing archive of Spezial apparel for some of the blocks/fits and my own personal archive in terms of footwear references and inspirations. The travel situation forced us to rethink our working processes and revise our approach, but it worked out. Whilst that felt daunting initially, we are very happy with what has come out of that.
Was there a central idea or driving narrative behind the collection?
We wanted to build the apparel and accessories collection solely using recycled fabrics. We then looked at building a footwear range that would complement those pieces.
With the footwear, we were thinking about seasonality, particularly on models like the Hiaven SPZL, Hartness SPZL – which use ADI-TEX membranes – and the Newrad SPZL. We revised materials with the gusset tongue, but we also had to balance the range with some straight-up Three Stripe, gum soles and T-toe classics that a lot of the Spezial audience love.
The Arkesden SPZL is an attempt to take that classic flat Three Stripe training shoe look into new territory by marrying it with the Campus tooling.
Can we do a deep dive into some of your favourite models from the collection?
In the earlier seasons of Spezial, we did a few 1:1 reissues of archival models, but that has become less of a focus these days. Our aim now is to make new hybrids that have clear adidas archival design language. It’s like remixing elements of different shoes to create newness without compromising the DNA of adidas’ design history.
We primarily draw on the first era of the Trefoil from 1972 to the early 90s, but there were shoes in this collection that are reworked versions of shoes from the early years of adidas Originals. An example of that is the Denim Italia SPZL. This was a shoe I was involved in back in 2001 when we suggested the idea to the product team in Herzogenaurach. They were sold exclusively through the vintage Levi’s store Cinch in London (way before Levi’s officially collaborated with other sportswear brands), who used to sell vintage adidas shoes.
The numbers on the 2001 release were really low (as were many releases in that era), so they have become very collectible. I felt we could do an improved version of the 2001 release after we revised the specs of the adidas Italia for the C.P. Company collaboration we did.
The shoe from the range I personally have been wearing a lot is the Hiaven SPZL, which is a new hiking shoe that I see as the counterpart/successor to the Winterhill SPZL (which has become increasingly more popular with each release). They are a new hybrid that takes their aesthetic/design cues primarily from the 70s adidas Super Trekking but have an ADI-TEX membrane built into them, which is an 80s/90s development.
The other shoe I wear a lot is the Newrad SPZL. We did the first Newrad SPZL in suede a few seasons back, but this latest tumbled-leather/gusset-tongued version is much more suited to the weather here in the UK.
Spezial footwear is about looking at the archive to create something that is modern and relevant to the way people dress now. The popularity of classic footwear designs is cyclical and will always come back around.
Talk us through the decisions on the colour palettes.
How the range will merchandise together is a major consideration when selecting the colour palette of the footwear. We try to include a diverse variety of footwear styles, from leisure and training shoes to hikers to runners, but we want them to somehow sit together cohesively.
The collection leans heavily into the idea of the outdoors and utilitarian designs. What materials did you use to emphasise this?
To be clear, the outdoors was definitely an influence in the sense of vintage outdoor products influencing a modern aesthetic, but it’s more about Lakeland walking than climbing Everest in Terrex if you know what I mean. Having said that, I would hope that they are certainly practical enough to wear for a cold evening out watching football.
The Tockholes track top and pant is in a recycled polar fleece and even casual pieces like the Feniscowles hat and jacket use a DWR finish on the fabric to keep the rain out. The Hartness SPZL shoes took the upper pattern from the vintage Yugoslavian-made adidas HRC, which was a 1980s winterised terrain runner now revised in a triple black material mix with an ADI-TEX membrane.
Were you involved with the Stephen Graham film? How does a place like Iceland illuminate the ideas of the collection?
Alongside the team at &SON, I was very involved and am proud of our results. I have worked on every Spezial film with &SON and much of the photography with Kevin Cummins since the very beginning. We have also done a couple of seasons where we did studio shoots with Nick Knight, which were also great.
The team I work with are the unsung heroes that help us to communicate the product. Maintaining a consistent team where an understanding is progressively built suits me far better than chasing after the latest hip image maker. It’s important for me to work with people who appreciate what Spezial is, and this influences our choice of partners. Stephen Graham has worn and supported Spezial from day one (Kevin Cummins did a few shots with him for the first season) and we speak pretty regularly. When I approached him, he was very enthusiastic about the idea, so it came together quickly.
The decision to shoot in Iceland was made before we even began thinking about who the subject(s) might be. I have been there many times for both work and leisure, and it is like nowhere else. We talked about the location being the hero of the piece, and then we got Stephen on board alongside a couple of Icelandic legends, Fridrik and Hilmar (who also produced a fantastic soundtrack for the piece).
I went back to Iceland with my girlfriend and met up with Hilmar a couple of weeks ago for Þorrablót (their mid-winter festival). We got on well at the shoot (we both love Alejandro Jodorowsky, Monty Python and the Wicker Man), so we have stayed in contact. He did a fantastic job on the soundtrack, and he’s a good soul with a great sense of humour.
How has technology changed the nature of the work you do with adidas?
I have been working with adidas for 24 years, so it has changed a lot in the course of my career. We could not have designed this collection without Zoom/Teams/Whatsapp, and Instagram is a crucial tool I use for communicating the ideology behind the range and the design process in a very immediate and direct way.
What does the future of Spezial look like?
I recently signed a new contract to continue it with adidas, so I’m now trying to figure out what the plans are for the 10th anniversary. The following it has in the UK and some parts of mainland Europe is very, very dedicated (it plays with a number of cultural references that are born out of Europe).
Whilst it would be nice to grow it beyond that, I am really happy with what we have built so far.
Big thanks to Sneaker Freaker for your support in the early seasons.
The Spezial Pre-Spring 2023 collection arrives on February 10 at adidas and select retailers.