Me and my Adidas: the Cult, the Cool and the Originals

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They say smell is the strongest sense which evokes emotion. You can’t argue with that. The smell of new trainers takes me back to a youth that was trainer smell filled. They should bottle that, for nostalgic saps like me. Though somehow now the aromatic of an Adidas trainer box doesn’t hold that same strong, distinct fragrance as it did in 1987. I’m not sure if this is due to a weaker set of whiff buds that comes with age, or perhaps the waft capable of evoking a thousand memories is diluted in the mass production process of a 21st century Indonesian sweat shop. Either way, Adidas – or as we referred to it as kids in played out acronym terms, All Day I Dream About Sport – is the closest I’ve ever came to experiencing love for an inanimate object. Adidas means a lot of things to a lot of people. For me it conjures the image of piles of blue boxes with white jagged lines, the Peter Black range leather holdalls my brother dumped by the door after school, the squeak of solid rubber soles on gymnasium floors, shin guards, goalie gloves, trackie bottoms and cagools, each and every adorned with three white stripes and that special little serrated maple motif.

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In as much the same way people have a zealous love for their VW Camper Vans or Gibson Les Paul guitars, there is an unwavering loyalty among Adidas stalwarts. It’s one of the few sporting brands to grasp a real connection with its most loyal. In a marketing institute survey made last summer, Adidas came out top among Germans as their favourite brand. Puma was twelfth. Nike was somewhere in between. You could imagine the same thing happening in Scotland, with Irn Bru topping the list. All those worldwide brands and us and the Germans choose our very own. German engineering in cloth, Scottish manufacturing in ginger…clearly much of a muchness.

Adidas is a corporate, in-your-face-for-right-or-wrong mainstay in every sense. The company’s ethics are questionable when it comes to worker’s pay and conditions in those sprawling Far Eastern factories. I, like many ethics conscious Adidas devotees, choose to forgive them for many a dubious integrity. Especially us of a certain age who grew up knowing Shell Toes were a creation of the Seventies and Gazelles were the epitome of cool, and not the height of trendy as they are now. Like all great innovations or designs, creation is started in an undescript garage or kitchen. In the case of the Dassler brothers, it all kicked off in their mother’s Bavarian washroom. That’s the romanticism of Adidas that adds to its historical aura. Main creator, Adi Dassler, personally screwed the studs into the football boots of the 1954 German World Cup team, who went on to lift the trophy. He also had links with Nazism and a hatred of the Allied Forces during World War II. Who knew? But when you do, it’s the stuff of cult and special…and rarely do the two combine when it comes to the image of a big multinational.

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When it comes to their competitors, Nike was and is for the jocks, the trendies and the wannabe, never will be, athletes. I find the brand and merchandise too clean cut, too precisioned, lacking any semblance of original cool. Nike is like the school bully who goes around planking his face on billboards and bus shelters using muscled power to do so. They can take their AirMax and ram them up their jacksey. Piss off. . .Just Do It! Can you ever imagine RUN DMC cutting about their stage with Nike on their feet? I rest my case. Adidas is the archetypal upstart. I feel like the underdog in my Adidas Specials, the more bashed up they get, the more I grow to love them. The days on which I buy a new set of Adidas are as joyous as the days I send an old pair to pasture are gut-wrenching. As a kid I used to place new pairs at the foot of the bed the first night so as they’d be the first thing I’d see in the morning. It was my way of saying, ah all’s right with the world, I’ve got my new Adidas to put on.

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That was circa 1987, which was a seminal year for Adidas. It saw the passing of Adi Dassler’s son, and consequently the last connection with the founding family. I call it the last cool year for my favourite brand. Out of transition and into the 1990’s, Adidas, without Dassler steerage at the helm had their fair share of style faux pas. None more so than the Arsenal change strip of seasons 1991-93. From a distance it resembled a man wearing sick with ‘JVC’ chucked on for sponsoring effect. The 90’s weren’t a vintage spell for Adidas as the uber mass produced Equipment range was launched, changing with it the original logo. Sacrilege in itself. From there on t-shirts were baggy, and guilty of the ultimate fashion sin, the bat wing sleeve. Trainers were bumphy, sprinkled with ill-matching colours. And I never did quite know what to make of the TORSION range. Despite the changes, the launch of the Predator football boot became a phenomenon that would’ve blessed any era. Its innovating design sparked the dreams of a million kids and their soccer balls. While they’d never really gone away Samba’s, Bamba’s, Campus’ and Gazelle’s were rebranded and a new audience came flooded in. Luckily none of these Originals were revamped or zwizzed up, pandering to the thick soled, gawdy crowd.

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A footnote to all the mass commercialism is that Adidas branded items have become too stretched and less exclusive in time, suggesting that someone is always trying to cash in. I wince at the sight of Adidas Pour Elle eau de toilette sitting on the same shelf as Charlie, Tweed or Panache in Boots the Chemist. Or in the bargain bin of Semi Chem a shower gel set for £5.49. That’s not where Adidas, my Adidas belongs. The brand has been placed somewhere unknown between Armani and Gola – and that’s a wide spectrum – so much is the merchandise stretched. Last summer, the company skirmished with controversy in the pre-release of a training shoe with a shackle-like ankle cuff after critics said it resembled a symbol of slavery. The garish hi-top with an orange plastic cuff, was made in collaboration with fashion designer, Jeremy Scott, known for the gawdy and cartoonish. I picture the Dassler’s turning slightly in their graves at the very thought.

Whatever direction Adidas takes in the future, no doubt it’ll continue to harness sport, music and fashion, as has been done since the 1980’s. There might never be another style icon like the Gazelle, and there’s bound to be another Equipment range debacle, but I know this one thing. . .I’ll still be kicking about in Adidas Originals with RUN DMC on soundtrack when it’s time to pick up the pension book.

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