Creative Soccer Culture

adidas Spezial Curator Gary Aspden On The Pre-Spring '22 Collection

Existing as a staple of casual culture, adidas Spezial made a welcome return recently with a Pre-Spring 2022 collection, arriving with a full footwear and apparel range that celebrated its roots in the footballing arena. Now we dig a little deeper into the range, thanks to insight from the curator of the adidas SPEZIAL range, the one and only Gary Aspden.

The name says it all really – adidas Spezial. Existing as an offshoot of the German brand since its inception in 2014, Spezial offers up a dedication to updating classic and iconic adidas garments and footwear from years gone by, raiding the archives to rework silhouettes and shapes for a contemporary space. And it does so while always staying faithful to its footballing roots.

The Pre-Spring 2022 collection once again brings timeless and functional details to the fore through quintessential styles – both new and old – deftly reinterpreting military aesthetics and outdoors-y details through its unique lens. We caught up with Brand Consultant and designer, Gary Aspden to get the inside scoop on the latest Spezial drop.

Beautifully, there’s always a mood or mindset attached to a Spezial drop. What feeling best describes the Pre-Spring 2022 collection for you?

Well in early seasons the collections were often more story driven to give context and celebrate the pockets of culture that adidas was adopted by/is intrinsic to. After eight years we now feel the brand (and what it represents to its audience) is more established, so storytelling is less of a priority. Product comes first and while stories can be good vehicles to marketing they should always be secondary to the product itself. I have seen some awful products with great stories.

There’s so much genuine attachment and a feeling of locality, even down to the naming conventions. What can you tell us about the roots of this collection?

I always start with the history of adidas. I was thinking about adidas shoes like the BW Army and the GSG9 and their original purpose and that led to imagining what that could look like in apparel – that’s where the subtle utilitarian/military details came from. Alongside we also looked at developing some of the apparel pieces that have appeared in earlier seasons, trying to develop them into something new. 

In the design process and collaborative discussions with the team inside adidas these ideas and influences that we start out with end up as something completely new. Spezial has to be modern and have appeal for those who have little or no nostalgic attachment to adidas – we glance at the past without staring at it.

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Trongate, Barrowlands, Lotherton, Carnforth – can you tell us about what these places mean to you and the sentiment that travels with them into the respective products?

On the naming of products it was never a strategic plan – it's something that has developed organically and instinctively. We have always looked for names that we could get Legal clearance on. I might submit forty or fifty names to find that only have a dozen of them clear legally. It really can be a minefield and adidas's Legal team are very cautious.

On the SS21 drop there were a couple of names that related to the south coast whereas on this drop there are a number of names that relate to Scotland. They simply came from suggestions from lads who love and support the brand.

I have used many Lancashire related names over the years partly because I love and want to celebrate my roots (as they inform my work) but also because I spend a lot of time there so it could be a street name I have seen or the name of a suburban area. A bi-product of this naming approach (which others now try to emulate) is that it sometimes champions places/areas where the people may feel overlooked and I guess in some way celebrates them. That has to be a positive thing.

While the product is beautiful, the story telling that goes with it is poignant once more. Using three players all who represent their own style and approach, what made you bring football to the fore with this collection?

When I joined adidas in the late 90s they used to say if ever in doubt then ask yourself what would Adi Dassler do? Adi always put the athletes first and in the rise of popularity of trainers/sportswear for lifestyle it's easy to forget that it all began with sport and our love of it. Be that B-Boys wearing basketball shoes like Superstars to dance or scallies wearing Sambas to go to the football – popular culture and sport are interconnected. Neither exists in isolation.

These players specifically, can you tell us what they stand for, for you?

We looked at which players adidas had under contract who we might be able to get to attend a shoot on the same day. Where we opted to shoot was always going to be a key factor on which players we approached due to their schedules and clearing it with their clubs.

Kieran is a Glasgow boy and a Spezial fan already so he was thrilled to be invited to do it. He was a natural and authentic fit with the products we selected for him. We have stayed in touch – he is a great lad. Hamza is a super-smart lad and looks great in most things he wears. He carries the tracksuit really well. Then Alfie Devine is a young player with huge potential and his look in some way reminded me of a lot of the young casuals I see at football.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Spezial is that it's mainly worn by older guys. Maybe that was true in the first few seasons but there are tons of young lads who are getting into Spezial now. If you lose your faith in youth then you've got nothing. 

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Spezial is almost like a club in itself, how much joy do you get out of the community that you have built through this product?

I am very grateful to those who loyally support the range. Sometimes there are frustrations, like when people miss out on things they want, but on the whole I think we are doing a good job. When things don't sell out immediately (sometimes the sales team increase the volumes) I might receive derogatory 'your stuff is in the sale bins' comments and when it sells out in minutes then there is anger about eBay resellers. It's a fine balance to try and strike.

The biggest joy for me is seeing people interacting with the product. It has become like a community with Spezial where those who’re into it give that knowing nod to others who wear it. When I go to football there are people wearing it, which is infinitely far more interesting and valuable to me than that Americanised sneakerhead/resale thing that goes on. That stuff is frowned upon by Spezial fans. I personally don't get into discussions about people reselling Spezial as I don't know their motivations for doing it but I guess to some it's seen in some way as exploiting people's passion for the product.

To reduce a products value purely to its resale value is missing the point for me. It's about experience – it's about wearing that jacket or those trainers and having your mates admire it. As I have said before, lads wearing the range I work on at the game is the ultimate compliment. In these post truth times we are living through it is something that feels genuine – a mass produced secret. It isn't attempting to pander to high fashion or hype. It's solid.

Do you think there’s parts of that community, a real sense of belonging that football as a whole – perhaps the more shiny side of the game – could learn from?

Shiny!!! Hahahaha!!! Not heard it described like that before but it's an apt title. I mean the very fact there is some sense of community and people look out for each other is important. We really saw that in real time at the Blackburn Spezial exhibition back in 2019. The shiny side of football seems to be more about individual gain. A few years ago I experienced the downside of that first hand as a Blackburn supporter. Very grateful that individuals like Steve Waggott and Tony Mowbray have helped to steady the ship there. 

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You see Spezial stickers up and down the land. Does it ever hit home that the work you have done has traveled? It’s like a universal team and appreciation for something…

Maybe I am too close to it to grasp the extent of that but it is flattering and puts a smile on my face. Someone did say to me the other week that the Modernist Trefoil of Spezial has become synonymous with football culture. They asked if I could name another brand mark that appears like that on stickers and banners and I had no answer.

It’s also similar to how adidas gained such popularity in football – passing the baton, away days in Europe. Do you feel like you’re on a mission to help bring up the level of fashion that lives inside a stadium on a match day?

It's always there to a greater or lesser degree – it feels like the whole casual thing is growing again from what I see. My team haven't been in the Premier League for some time but I guess it's happening there, however, I witness regularly in the Championship (and when we were in League One) that there is a whole new generation that have adopted that style and mindset.  

Blending the game with this lifestyle approach can continue to push the mindset and perception of football – is the power of football for good, another reason to work with such talent?

One hundred percent.

Broadly speaking, the connection to football on a personal level, it’s never something that leaves. How would you like to add your creative take on football further?

I have been thinking about that a lot but don't want to say too much yet – we'll save that for a future interview if it happens!

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A bespoke Spezial line for a specific football club, whether it’s grass roots or has global appeal would be an exciting canvas – would you ever like to do that?

Possibly. It could be great. But it's finding the right way to approach it.

Football can be divisive due to team rivalries so anything with Spezial and football would need to be done in a smart way. Blackburn and Burnley is the oldest rivalry in the league so as a football fan I get it. Having said that, whilst there is no love lost between our respective clubs I have a couple of mates who support Burnley and last week I did a podcast with a young Burnley fan called Joe Skinner who I met at the CP Company exhibition last year. Putting team rivalry aside and doing that was for me personally one of the highlights of this launch.

We did a shoe called the Elland SPZL which launched alongside the adidas Leeds United kit launch – whilst on the one hand I personally received so many positive messages from Leeds fans I also got some angry comments from Derby fans. I suppose it's finding the best way to navigate that. A lot of fans maybe don't realise that the fact a sportswear company sponsors a rival team is not a personal attack on them. Even with this launch I had some Blackburn fans asking why we didn't use any of our players in the shoot when I am a Blackburn fan. The simple answer was that whilst some wear adidas boots, none of them are contracted to adidas currently. 

Blurring the lines between football, fashion and music is something you’ve always done so well. While trends come and go, Spezial is evergreen and seems to be adopted by so many subcultures. What’s your take on that?

It doesn't target any subcultures in an overt way. Yes a lot of football lads love it but when designing products I inevitably draw on my own experiences and references which inevitably comes through in the product. Having said that it's appeal goes beyond that; I’ve seen everyone from skaters to fashionistas wearing it.

With Spezial I really wanted to try and get back to the idea of people adopting product to their own styles rather than being too defined and targeted. It remains relevant and continues to grow which makes me very happy.

The adidas Spezial Pre-Spring 22 collection is available now at

Daniel Jones

The Creative Soccer Culture Brief

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