Your first contact with fashion, you tell us, was when you were 11 and a friend refused to go with you to a pub for wearing flared jeans. Then, you were struck by the aesthetic of those guys with skinny jeans, white socks and trainers. What can you tell us about those days and your relationship with Casual Culture?
Hahaha! Can’t believe you have started with that one … his name was Paul Ryder and he refused to take me along to the local Disco (called Bogarts) with him because I didn’t have the right jeans – we weren’t old enough to go to pubs at that point. My older brother was into Heavy Rock and our next door neighbour was a biker. They had long hair and denim jackets so fashion wasn’t on their (or my) radar and at that age I was only interested in playing football. I hadn’t even considered clothes up to that point – my mother bought my clothes. As my mum didn’t have a sewing machine to alter my jeans I ended up missing out on going to Bogarts with Paul and the rest of our mates which was a big disappointment at the time. After that I started to pay attention to how I dressed. It was around 1980 and there were two main gangs in my town who didn’t get on at all – ‘Mods’ (who ironically were pretty scruffy) and ‘Larryheads’ (who were a few years older than us but I guess were a local early incarnation of ‘casual’). There was a Mod revival at the time and they generally wore parkas, tight jeans and bowling shoes or adidas Kick. I have no idea where the name ‘Larryhead’ came from but it was a nickname we gave them born out of the fact that the had wedge haircuts with side partings and long fringes. The Human League were massively popular with the ‘Larryheads’ and I think that played a part in the hairstyles. We took our look from the ‘Larryheads’. They looked and dressed very much like Carty’s gang in the film Awaydays. At that age I was just looking for the acceptance of my peers in the hope that I wouldn’t be picked on and that I might even get lucky and pull a girl. We wore Fred Perry polo shirts (a brand which none of us would be seen dead in after 1982 when Lacoste took over), acrylic Slazenger v neck sweaters or v neck knitted tank tops (usually in burgundy), Polar Gear bubble coats, Yale cardigans (from the local market), white socks with adidas trainers (Mamba, Bamba, Samba or Kick). Jeans were worn skintight and there were a host of denim brands to choose from – Superbrat, Dollar, Razzy, Second Image, etc. Jeans were generally purchased from the local market. Whilst brands played a part even back then it was equally about a look and how you put it together. We progressively became more brand conscious as the 80s went on but I guess the foundations for that were laid back in 80/81. We all shopped for our jeans and cords on the markets until the mid 80s when brands like Ball and C17 came along.
The way we dressed began to change in 81 – Polar Gear bubble coats were discarded for padded adidas ST2 anoraks and Patrick cagoules. Dollar began making a ‘bleached’ jean (they were almost white but you couldn’t get the same effect with a bottle of bleach at home) whilst still skintight they took over from dark blue jeans. Pringle and Lyle & Scott lambswool golf sweaters came in (the diamond ones became very popular) and Slazenger went out. Puma G Vilas and California had a short stint of popularity before shoes like the adidas LA Trainer hit the sports shop and adidas really took off on a whole new level. I took my son to see Chelsea vs Burnley the other week (I support Blackburn but live in London) and on the tube home there was a Burnley fan stood opposite us with his son who looked about 12. It was remarkable that his son was dressed so similarly to how we dressed at the same age over 30 years ago – hair side parted, fringe, rain jacket, skintight jeans, adidas trainers (he was wearing Hamburgs). I was at a family party at the end of 1981 and my older cousin showed up in a light blue acrylic v neck with a crocodile on the chest. He told me to get rid of my Lyle & Scott and get into Lacoste. I was shocked when he told me his acrylic sweater cost over £40 as diamond Pringles were £29.99 and they were made of lambswool! Once Lacoste took off Fred Perry was finished and took on the nickname ‘Fred Pez’ (‘Pez’ was slang for peasant and a put down). Along with Lacoste came Fila, Sergio Tacchini, Ellesse, Australian, Donnay and Cerruti … and of course adidas (which was at a lower price point). Flares and semi flares took over from skintight jeans and cords. That takes us up to about 1983 when Burberry, and Aquascutum appeared . . . If I was to carry on this could become a book.
How do you remember your youth in Blackburn? How were the beginnings of casual culture there?
I was from Darwen which neighbours Blackburn and on the whole Blackburners dressed better than us. The older generation from Blackburn would regularly go abroad on ‘shopping’ trips to Switzerland, Austria and Germany so their younger brothers (who were our age) were incredibly well turned out. They would be wearing clothes that were picked up from abroad that even if we had had access to we could never get anywhere near to affording. There wasn’t a lot of money about in the north west in the 1980s – my father worked in a factory and my mother worked on the market so had to use my ingenuity to get the money to keep up with the fashion at the time. In hindsight it was pretty rough where I grew up but I didn’t really think about that at the time. There were lots of gangs in Blackburn from different areas of town and while they fought amongst themselves, the one thing they were all agreed on was that they didn’t like Darweners. There was a lot of racism, tension, tribalism and violence – it wasn’t only confined to football matches. It got really ugly at times, I loved the clothes but like a lot of lads I didn’t like all the trouble and despised racism. For a few years in the early to mid eighties I was into Hip Hop and would regularly go into Bolton and Manchester – it was a far more positive alternative to all the aggravation that was going on. When Acid House kicked off in the late summer of 1988 it pretty much ended all that ugliness overnight. Right through the 80s New Order were the band everyone loved in Blackburn (they still do) – before 1986 the other bands that were popular were Big Audio Dynamite, A Certain Ratio, Echo and the Bunnymen and Talking Heads. The fashions we were into were never music led.
The Casual Culture has become more famous for its violence and hooliganism than for its tastes for fashion, but, what influence do you think it has had on the fashion world and especially in the world of trainers?
Not sure I agree with your first statement there – I would like to think that it’s lasting legacy will be for style rather than the actions of a few thugs. In the 1960s Mods fought with Rockers but when I think about Mod culture it is not something I immediately associate with violence. I suppose the answer to this depends on how you define the ‘fashion world’ – thankfully I don’t think casual culture has had much influence on the world of high fashion. It seems to operate with its own rules in a realm that sits outside of the fashion industry. There have been musical movements in the UK that have adopted that style to some degree (eg ‘Madchester’ and Britpop) but on the whole the way football lads dress has always been something that starts at grass roots and is not led by marketing or celebrity endorsement. It sits outside of the frivolity of the fashion world. A lot of it is in the details of how something is worn rather than the brands that are being worn. I believe that we haven’t yet seen the extent to which ‘casual’ style and it’s influence will run – it’s only over the past decade that I have seen people outside of the UK emulating that style but it appears to be growing. I am aware that brands like Palace and Supreme are looking at British casual styling for inspiration and translating that to a younger audience who may not even be aware of those associations. I was pleasantly surprised by how many smartly dressed football fans I saw in Moscow last week and they were telling me that the casual thing is quickly growing in popularity over there as well as in places like Siberia which I could never have even imagined.
In the 80s, the casual aesthetic was constantly evolving, new brands and designs appeared continuously. How do you see the aesthetic of this culture in the 21st century? Do you think it is getting increasingly complicated to innovate and there is a tendency to the uniformity in the dressing? What new brands do you find interesting?
It has changed from what it was then as the conditions around accessing culture have changed – the foundations for what we see now were set in the late 70s and 80s. There was no internet back then so you had to be engaged in it to know what was going on. There were no forums for spectators and critics. I think it is fragmented now and not as simple to define. There are those who stick very closely to a staple group of brands that they trust as they have worn them for many years and then there is another group who want that look but still thrive on seeking out new labels – like the Oi Polloi or Fott customer. It’s not so much about the brands but more finding the pieces from those brands that are right. When it comes to brands the French brand Arpenteur is probably my favourite recent discovery. I picked a few pieces up last autumn. I love those Italian luxury brands like Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana as the quality is impeccable although some of the pieces can be very conservative. I pick up the odd piece from Visvim. I like Stone Island but at my age I have to be selective – I am a fan of some of the Shadow range. CP Company and RRL are always worth a look. For denim I generally wear Levi’s and for socks I mostly wear Burlington.
Your first work for Adidas was as a contact between the brand and the entertainment world, tell me if I am wrong. And if I think about bands I like it, with the exception of The Ramones and Chuck Taylors, the rest of them I link to Adidas. In the football world, there is a big struggle between Adidas and Nike for wearing to the large Clubs and national teams. And finally, of an intimate way, in the current Casual scene, Adidas is still ahead of New Balance. Could we say Adidas is the last bastion in the Old Europe against the American giant?
No – I wouldn’t go that far I don’t think it is about ‘us and them’ with America, it’s all just ‘us’ really. Stone Island has historically never done well in the US (although I am told their Supreme collaboration was a success) but in some countries in Europe (particularly the UK) Stone Island has a dedicated cultish following that shows no sign of waning any time soon. American culture has always had an influence on Europe (and vice versa to some degree) but historically there has been an exchange of inspiration from both sides which tends to create something new. No Kraftwerk = no Hip Hop. Northern Soul was built on American soul records, much of the sound of Acid House that rave culture was rooted in was born out of Chicago, even the Beatles and the Stones took their lead from American Blues and RnB and the vintage American collegiate style played a big role in the Italian Paninaro look. It seems that since the advent of the internet those people in Europe who aspire to American culture do it in a more literal way than ever before as everything from the US is so accessible now. Having said that, there are still subcultures on this side of the pond that have no interest in aspiring to be American. Hip Hop has been the driving force in global music culture for three decades which has definitely been influential on global fashion but it bears little relevance to British ‘casual’ style which is on the whole far more understated. As for music culture and adidas – that is a huge topic. Sly Stone, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Jim Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Ian Brown, John Lennon, Chuck D, Keith Richards, Noel and Liam … The list of artists who adopted the three stripes is iconic and pretty extensive.
By the hand of you, some interesting and expected re-editions will bring to light this year. For many of us Adidas is still The Brand, but, it is also true that many guys complain about the quality of materials, some unwise color palettes and especially the low cost manufacture of the most of re-editions. What can you say about this? What would you say to those who think these re-editions are below of the original models?
People are entitled to their opinions. I personally don’t 100% subscribe to the idea that because an adidas product is old/vintage that the quality is great and believe me I own enough of them. In the 70s and 80s most adidas products were made under license – some countries (eg France/Germany/Austria) had way better production facilities than others. There are a host of factors that affect what can and cannot be done when it comes to reissues (e.g. lasts, standard testing, availability of moulds for sole units, price point, legal availability of the original name, etc) which have an impact on the final product. Having said all that I far prefer the Albrecht SPZL to the Sevilla that inspired it and for me a vintage ST1 is nowhere near as good as the Spezial ST9 on any level.
I suppose for a collector of Adidas trainers, to work for the brand with three bands is the most important thing. How did you start working for Adidas? How were the beginnings?
If I am honest even though I have a big collection of adidas products I still don’t truly consider myself as a collector, there are lads I know who are on eBay every night – they are far more dedicated to collecting than I am. Robert Brooks is a real collector – that is why we gave him first refusal on the product we found in Argentina. I have been fortunate enough to work in a profession where I ended up amassing a collection almost by default – having said that I still get very excited when I find good quality vintage product.
When I joined adidas in the late 90s it was less lifestyle focused. There were a few re-issues but it was before the advent of the adidas Originals division as we know it now. I was super happy to get the opportunity to work for them – still am.
Recently, there have been reissued models of Adidas produced in Germany. Personally, I attach importance to the product manufacturing site. Will they carry on reissuing models Made in Germany? Do you consider important the place of manufacture?
Those products have their place. There are connoisseurs out there that will pay extra for that sort of thing.
Although we have already seen clothes and trainers of this collection, I would like you to tell us. What do you feel when you see Adidas Originals x SPEZIAL SS15?
I am pleased with the progress of the Spezial range given how long it has been around. The response in the UK has been phenomenal – Oi Polloi were telling me that in their history they have never seen such a positive reaction to any brand. The response in northern Europe and Russia has been really good as well. It is growing steadily and organically – there is nothing brash in the way we present it.
We didn’t compromise on the materials and that is reflected in some of the apparel price points. We could have made a jacket like the Haslingden in a cheaper fabric with a similar look at a lower price point but I didn’t want to put something out there that I personally wouldn’t want to wear. I own a lot of very nice (expensive!) anoraks and I wanted it to be able to stand up alongside those and I believe it does. You will not find an outerwear jacket made of organic Etaproof cotton for a low price point anywhere because it is an expensive fabric.
There will always be criticism on some level – I realise that we will never please everyone – but I am happy that on the whole people who like what we are doing with the range seem to really love it.
We never set out to target a ‘casual’ audience (or any specific audience for that matter) although I guess there are similarities in taste due to my personal reference points and sensibility. I wanted in some way to resurrect the idea of adoption i.e. if you make good product people will adopt it to their own style whatever background they come from.
Tell us how your experience was on your trip to Argentina, anecdotes…What did you surprise the most of all clothes and trainers you saw there?
Just the sheer quantity of what was there I guess. I wanted to document that experience to try and convey to people who might never have experienced it just how good it feels to find a haul of dead stock.
Gary, Which one was you role in the Brand in the mid- 90s in 6876 with your friend Kenneth Mackenzie?
I was a fan of the first 6876 collection. I bought a couple of pieces from Aspecto in Manchester literally a fortnight before I was first introduced to Kenneth. Kenneth, like myself, studied at university in Preston and the lecturer who had taught him said that she wanted to introduce us as she felt we would have a lot in common. We shared similar politics and musical taste which helped. Kenneth looked out for me when I was first starting out. I always credit him as a mentor as he took me on as a intern and that experience was invaluable. I didn’t have much money back then but was always well kitted out in 6876 ( I still own a lot of those early pieces). Kenneth is a football obsessive and whilst aware of casual culture was never one himself. Kenneth’s wife Nancy is for me one of the most talented stylists in the fashion industry – I remember the two of them telling me that the fashion industry is about 5% people with talent while the other 95% just want to go to parties.
How was your involvement in the film Awaydays in 2009 directed by Pat Holden, based on the novel of the same title written by Kevin Sampson and published 11 years earlier in 1998? Is it true you left trainers of your private collection to shoot the film?
It happened through Kevin Sampson. Kevin is a good man and was probably the first person to try and document the football fashion that was happening around him in Liverpool in the late 70s and early 80s. He contacted me to say that they were making a low budget film based on his book ‘Awaydays’. I liked the book and I like Kevin and I personally wanted the look of the film to be as authentic as possible. I guess I’m some way I too must have had some emotional investment in it being as good as it could be so I lent them a number of pairs of vintage adidas shoes from my personal collection. Some of the vintage shoes were unworn prior to that loan but I wanted to show Kev some respect for what he was doing (and has done) by lending them with no fee. I got them all back (most had been worn) although Stephen Graham’s character wore a pair of my vintage Barrington’s which were totally destroyed. Regardless of that I have no regrets on the loan.
Finally, Could you say your top five of Adidas trainers?
That’s like asking for my favourite 5 albums! It changes all the time.
Stan Smith (not a shoe I wear much but has to be included in any top 5 trainer list)