adidas SPEZIAL Blackburn | Exhibition recap + Gary Aspden Q&A

Last week we were invited up to Blackburn to visit the opening of the adidas SPEZIAL Blackburn exhibition.

Telling the story of SPEZIAL, Gary Aspden and adidas collectors from all over the globe assembled together to create the largest amount of adidas shoes under one roof, surpassing all other SPEZIAL exhibitions. Amongst this collection were some of the rarest and definitely the best adidas has to offer.

One of the stars of the event was the latest from the collection, the adidas SPEZIAL Blackburn edition. As part of this sneaker and the event, a special edition was created in association with the charity Nightsafe, an organisation at the heart of Blackburn and Darwen area. Named after the Lancashire town from where Gary Aspden grew up the Blackburn is the first of its kind. Featuring the colours from the Lancashire Rose, the shoe is constructed in a green suede upper and red stripes, navy sole and MOD Trefoil branded tongue.

As part of the exhibition, we found time to sit down with Gary and discuss just how this project came about.

Footpatrol – Hey Gary, how are you? We are here today at the Spezial exhibition at Blackburns cotton exchange. How does it feel to bring 1000s of adidas shoes home to Blackburn? 

Gary Aspden – It feels especially good as I grew up in that area and I went to college in Blackburn – my roots and the experiences that surround them have always been a source of inspiration when I am designing the adidas Spezial range. The design team (graphic designer, photographer, etc) I work with on adidas Spezial are all based there. Growing up a lot of youths from Blackburn would travel abroad to pick up rare adidas trainers that weren’t available here. When I was a teenager a number of my trainers where purchased from those older lads who had been over to Switzerland and Austria. I am convinced that the highest concentration of adidas collectors in the world are based in the north of the U.K. It makes sense for a brand like adidas to invest in putting on an event in that part of the world and it’s especially bold to do something outside of a major city.

FP – I read in the Lancashire Telegraph the project happened by a chance meet in the streets of Darwen. How quickly did the project get into fruition after that?

GA – It took a little while and a lot of time and effort to be honest. Whilst out grabbing some lunch one day in Darwen I met a lady from Blackburn with Darwen Council and was saying to her that as much of my archive is sitting in storage in Blackburn they could perhaps think about using Blackburn museum as a venue for a permanent adidas footwear exhibition and charge an admission fee to raise money to support a local cause there. It would certainly attract a lot of visitors to the town but would be a big project that would require funding and commitment. On the back of that conversation I was invited to meet the heads of the council in the Town Hall to discuss the regeneration of Blackburn. The Council offered to help however they could but unfortunately, they currently have no money to fund these kinds of ideas/projects due to the cuts so that was as far as it got. I then met Laurie Peake from the British Textile Biennial through a local artist called Jamie Holman. We got the ball rolling on securing funding for footwear exhibition and then adidas opted to support the idea. Once we got the funding we then approached the other adidas collectors who have contributed to the exhibition – I have enough shoes in my archive to do this alone but we felt it would be better to get the very best from a handful of the U.K.’s biggest adidas collectors. We wanted to make sure that the content appealed to the most ardent adidas fans. The contributors have all shown tremendous goodwill and been fantastically supportive in loaning their shoes. I am convinced that this will be the strongest display of adidas shoes (particularly vintage models) of any exhibition we have done to date.

FP – One thing I love about the SPZL range is how well everything is thought-out, from materials and storytelling in the product right through to the stories in the campaigns. With your history with Blackburn i bet this was a dream project?

GA – Thanks for your generous words about Spezial and yes, it is thought out – very much so. That’s what makes Spezial what it is … the details don’t matter to many but nevertheless we set out to design it to appeal to the minority who are obsessed by those things. Ultimately a person needs to have a deep adidas brand knowledge to do what we do with Spezial – and to understand where adidas intersects with a wider culture beyond sport. Everyone who works on Spezial from myself to Gary Watson to Mike Chetcuti have an authentic connection to adidas and I believe that comes through and is reflected in the work we do. It is great to bring this exhibition to Blackburn and the reaction to that has been phenomenal. In the U.K.  a lot of towns outside the major cities have had an especially rough time over the past decade. Since the decline of manufacturing, post-industrial towns and cities need culture more than ever – and culture, ideas and creativity are something that this country excels in. Culture will eventually drive commerce. I am very grateful that there were others in adidas who shared my vision to make this happen. adidas collectors on the whole (especially here in the U.K.) are quite a different breed to traditional ‘sneakerheads’. Those who collect OG adidas shoes are like connoisseurs and their motivations and taste are not dictated by resale value. Culture needs hubs and exhibitions like this offer a hub for adidas fans wherever they are from. Online forums are fine for communication, but I believe getting people with a shared passion together is much more valuable. Ultimately the appeal of the exhibition extends way beyond Blackburn with people coming from all over the U.K. and overseas. I have had messages from people who are travelling in to see it from Belgium, Holland, Germany … I even heard that someone is coming over from Australia for it. Essentially, we are hosting a hub for what is a much broader audience than the one that exists purely in Blackburn. 

FP – Alongside the exhibition there is also the new adidas Blackburn SPZL launching. Can you tell us a bit about how that came to life?

GA – adidas wanted me to come up with a shoe that could be in some ways a successor to the adidas Manchester. I had been submitting city names since 2015 that were all rejected by the adidas Legal team but felt I might be able to get the Blackburn name across the line with the support of the local council there who I had met only a few months earlier. They were really helpful and with a bit of effort and a number of letters of permission we got the name approved.

FP – How does it feel being able to create a shoe for Blackburn? It must be a great feeling being from Darwen and making a shoe for them and for Nightsafe.

GA – Yes it feels good to acknowledge the town. Having said that, naming products can be challenging, and we are always open to ideas and suggestions. Last season a number of the product names were London related as it was shot there, and the story revolved around Robert Brooks.

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