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All Blacks, All Heroes: Frank Liew Interview

The All Blacks are one of the most iconic brands in world sport. Revered in their homeland, New Zealand's national rugby team has run rampant over their opponents for over 120 years. Considered a cultural treasure, few commercial projects are considered worthy of receiving the team's official endorsement. Enter Frank Liew, whose world renowned Qubic store has been punching hard above its weight for many a year. The All Heroes Campus 80s represents the very first time that the Silver Fern has ever appeared on a sneaker, and it's the first ever adidas Originals product to receive the All Blacks imprimatur. On the eve of this historic release we caught up with Frank to find out what it was like working will All Blacks legends Dan Carter, Jonah Lomu, Sonny Bill and Liam Messam and just what the All Blacks mean to the people of New Zealand.

Waddup Frank…how’s it all been popping off at Qubic lately?
We came out of a big renovation a few months ago, introduced a new brand roster, switched things up a little, re-upped and re-hauled our website & online store, and are now pretty happy to have unveiled our latest project with adidas Originals & the NZ All Blacks. It’s been a busy year so far! Speaking of which, where did it go? I can’t believe October is right around the corner.

Tell us about it! How did this incredible All Blacks hook up come about?
Thank you! It’s an incredible honour to be given the opportunity to work with not only adidas Originals but also with the All Blacks, who have this almost mystical aura and reputation about them. They're an amazing cultural icon of our country (given the amount of times I’ve been asked by drunk bystanders to ‘do the haka, man’ whilst gallivanting across the globe!) They’re considered by most as royalty here in New Zealand. It’s been a long road to get to where we are now; we initially broached the subject about 18 months ago and there was a lot of discussion back and forth between us, adidas, and the New Zealand Rugby Union  on how to make it all work. We didn’t actually submit the shoe’s design until about six months ago, which, if you’ve done this before, you’ll know is a pretty tight timeline. The feeling I had was that given rugby is such an integral part of our country’s identity, why haven’t they done something from a more creative angle with adidas and their Originals unit? If it’s possible with basketball, football, and even tennis, then why not rugby? I have to admit, it was definitely an experience having to work with two very prestigious household names for this project and trying to keep everybody happy with the end result. The NZRU have a 120+ year old image to uphold and are extremely protective of the All Blacks (rightly so.) It’s funny, we were so completely invested in the project that its significance didn't really dawn on us until we went to the Bledisloe game and saw a 50,000 capacity stadium filled to the brim… and suddenly the realization of exactly what we were working with really hit me. I think I had a quiet panic attack in my head but I kept it cool. Hah.

What was the decision to use the iconic Campus 80s?
It all made sense with the 2011 team jersey designed as a tribute to the ’87 squad, which was the last time we won the cup. The iconic white collar has returned to the team uniform – the uniform that most of us remembered growing up. So instead of something performance or hi-tech we wanted to follow that theme by choosing one of our favourite adidas silhouettes from that era.  It was a tight call between the Gazelle and the Campus, but we’re glad we went with the Campus 80s in the end.

It couldn’t have come at a better time with Foot Patrol releasing their B-Sides version and XLarge dropping their Beastie Boys infused CP80s. Is it an easy shoe to collaborate on?
I’m a huge fan of the Foot Patrol Campuses. I love the simplicity of the silhouette and its side profile, which lent itself extremely well to the design brief for this project in that there aren’t too many aspects of the shoe to customise. It’s so reflective of that period too, with the textured midsole, thick stitching and narrow last. I mean, it looks good in its original colour blocking (monotone + contrast stripe/heel tab) – you don’t need to mess with it, and I like how it hasn’t changed over the past three decades. At the end of the day, being the first All Blacks adidas Originals shoe, we didn’t want to do anything that deviated from the classic All Black design palette – black and white. Our national colours. We wanted to create something original and timeless so we just went with the original blocks and chose a plush suede for the upper. I love the way suede shoes age. We also removed the tongue tag and kept the thin tongue to keep the overall lines of the shoe sleek and classic.

Can you let us know a bit more about the back story of the shoe and just what influences you used to create the All Heroes?
It’s funny, when we were ready to blow the lid off the entire project one of my major concerns was that people were just going to think ‘it's another black & white shoe.’ The design isn’t terribly complex, but it’s the significance of the entire project that we wanted to get across – it's the first All Blacks adidas Originals shoe, the first time the Silver Fern has officially been used on a pair of sneakers and the first official collaboration adidas Originals has undertaken with someone in the Pacific/Australasian region. In conversations I’ve often compared it to designing a shoe for Man United or Arsenal – what colours are you going to use? Hot electric pink? I don’t think so. With the All Heroes characters we worked closely with Elliot F. Stewart (aka DEUS) and the players themselves to discuss what powers they would like and how best to translate this through Elliot’s art. It was a really amazing process and I’m glad the players were all so involved and trusting in the creative. These are some of the most well known household names in New Zealand and the rugby world – Dan Carter, Jonah, Sonny Bill, Liam. I was especially surprised talking to Jonah about what his character was going to be like. He was a 100% comic book geek from the early 90s and he placed full trust in Elliot’s abilities & imagination to create his character after giving us specific references and details that only comic book geeks would know. Did you know he sketches & paints now in his retirement? Buzzy.

Tell us about this crazy casing! It looks mad mafiosa! Who designed it?
Mafiosa is a good one! I designed the box along with our team at Qubic. We definitely wanted to create something memorable to commemorate this historic project with the All Blacks, and I’d always wanted to create a metal case for a shoe. The idea was that it’s supposed to be akin to a case that special equipment for elite tactical squads is transported in (electronics, shoulder mounted stinger missiles, you know)… a reference to the ‘all heroes’ squadron of superheroes. Each one is laser etched on the lid #1-15. The best part was fabricating the entire case and laser etching it in New Zealand. It wasn’t the cheap option, but I really wanted to make the case at home to drive the point across – support your local.

What did the All Blacks think about the shoe?
Our four AB heroes loved them – just seeing their faces when we presented it to them at the filming was one of the highlights of the project. From what we’ve been told the rest of the AB team absolutely dig the shoe too. Sonny Bill Williams wore his pair straight to a team dinner that night when we filmed his section for the video and everybody broke their brains when they saw it. They immediately asked their agents/managers to get them a pair, which was cool to hear. The entire squad was recently presented a pair each, including Graham Henry and his coaching/management team. More importantly, the team love the illustrations and the 'all heroes' concept, with more players putting their hands up now to be given superhero alter-egos. We’ll see!

It must be a killer electric time in Auckland right now… will you be throwing a little party to celebrate the releases in store on Friday? What’s on the agenda?
There’s been a feverish demand for the shoes since we put the news out, and for that we’re extremely humbled. We won’t have a party as there are plenty enough going around Auckland right now, but we will be launching the shoes instore so we can get them into people’s hands as quickly as possible on Friday morning @ 10:00AM so they can rest up and prepare for the big AB v France game on Saturday. All Black (& all hero) Liam 'Super Native' Messam will also be popping in for an appearance to sign boxes and meet the people waiting in line. It should be fun – I think it will be an overnighter for some who want to be part of the first 15 through the door, so we don’t want to blast them with loud music when all they want is the shoe. Although a beer might help…

For those that can’t get to the store will there be any released for worldwide peeps? Maybe a re-release later on?
Actually, the shoe (the regular, non-metal case version) will be available for sale to all international destinations through our online store at http://www.qubicstore.com from 12:00PM (GMT+12 NZ Time) on Friday 23/09/11, so if you’re quick enough with a keyboard and a credit card you’ll be able to get a pair for yourself. As for the future, I would love to keep working with adidas Originals and the All Blacks on an annual or seasonal collection going forwards. There has been so much great energy and feedback since we announced the project that I think we may have only scratched the surface here. There's definitely more scope in developing this.

What’s up next for you guys? We know you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeves!
Well, straight after our team hoists the Webb Ellis Cup… hah. If I told ya then what good would my sleeves be? I think for this year this is probably the biggest thing for us right now. We’re working on some things at the moment for 2012 that I’m not at liberty to discuss, but I hope you guys will like it. As always, you’ll probably be the first to know!

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