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Bella Howard

The sneaker with one foot in the future

Sportswear giant adidas Originals spill on their latest offering, Kanye West, and why it’s important to cut the BS out of design

There are few brands more recognisable than adidas. Founded in 1949, the German native sportswear empire is more than iconic, it’s rooted within our collective consciousness, and in subcultures and historic moments the world over. And yet, with so many classics under its belt and the comfort of knowing that in every corner of the globe there’s bound to be a sighting of those infamous three stripes, the brand aren’t content to rest on their laurels.

Taking the helm of adidas Originals last year, vice president of global design Nic Galway is no rookie. Beginning his career at adidas in 1999, he’s the first to acknowledge how much things have changed, both for the brand and the world. Particularly in areas like technology and travel – two things anchored to adidas Originals, and, now, their latest release, the NMD. Taking over New York earlier this month in honour of the launch – dubbed “bigger than a sneaker” – we caught up with Galway to find out what makes him tick.

adidas Originals are great at mixing heritage with the future, and you always have trends regenerating themselves, or classics are always back in fashion, like the Stan Smiths or Superstars. How do you continue to bridge those two elements?

Nic Galway: I think it's to not have a set form. I feel that's really important because if you go down the mindset that the future has to be futuristic then you may go too far. For me, when I think about the future it's understanding where we are today and thinking where we will go next. If you have a period when everything is suddenly very futuristic, the next place you go may be more traditional or very different. It's about being true to who we are and not worrying too much about trends.

It’s very aspirational in that you see celebrities like Missy Elliott and Madonna, but then it’s also very accessible to the everyday person, across all spectrums, all ages, all communities.

Nic Galway: That's what I love about our history of the brand, our heritage. I think we are very democratic as a brand. And what I think has given us longevity is that we don't stand still. I'm responsible for the whole of adidas Original and I know that it's my responsibility to keep connecting to the younger generations. I think that's so important because everything we keep in our archives were innovative in their day, so it's my role of my team to continue that. Even if we reference the past, it still has to be right for today.

You’ve just released the latest shoe, the NMD. Can you tell us about your inspirations behind it?

Nic Galway: When I joined back in 1999, travel wasn't as frequent as today. I wanted to reference all those things and create something which, when we lead these busy lives, is something you always want around you; the thing you put in your bag, because it looks great but it also feels great, it brings a new experience. So that's why I wanted to create it. It wasn't only about how it looks but also about giving the opportunity to challenge the industry a little bit and bring those aspects together.

What elements from the archive did you take for the NMD – I know you looked at the Micropacer and the Boston.

Nic Galway: You see the references (between the Micropacer and Boston), there are certain things that we remember but it doesn't have to be literal, they can remind us of a moment in time. However, I'm not a fan of decoration, so every element on the new shoe, even if you can see the references (from older designs), is not used in the same way. If you look at the shoe and you're feeling like you're wearing an old shoe, look at how soft and flexible this is. The rough layout is similar and I'm a big fan of these iconic details, but by putting a hole in the rubber, for example, that's why it can move, whereas if this was all filled in, it would all be rigid.

So everything has a purpose, it's not just dots on the sole for the sake of putting them there.

Nic Galway: No, there's no element of this shoe which you can remove and keep the same experience. So these, whilst they're reminiscent of details of the past, they form a function for today. They provide stability to go alongside the new material. Details like the heel, very familiar for Adidas DNA, supports the back of the shoe. So everything has a function and reason. And then we reduce everything else out.

With the collaborations you’ve been involved with – Pharrell, Yohji Yamamoto, Kanye West, Stella McCartney – how did you approach these?

Nic Galway: I personally think I've been very lucky. I wasn't connected to this world in 1999, I studied product design, I've studied automated design, but I wasn't so connected to the fashion world. Yohji Yamamoto contacted us in 1999 and asked the former creative director to send him some shoes. And he selected all my shoes and it was incredible. He invited me to Paris and I saw my shoes on the catwalk. And i hadn't really studied that world and it was all so new to me, and maybe that's why I was so good. Somehow I found my way through our brand in all of these projects. It's not just about how these products look, it's also about how these creatives work and how their thought processes work.

I've spent a good part of the past two years working with Kanye very closely, and I've always thought that partnership is great when both parts have something to gain, and both parts can bring, which individually you couldn't do. Kanye is very vocal about that. he could do sneakers on his own, but he couldn't do Boost or these innovations we have. And when we come together, that's when we create something amazing. He says to me that he's a performance athlete; he is on that stage, he is performing, and he wants the best innovations available, but he also wants a certain aesthetic. By connecting we're able to do that, so when I say a cultural brand, that's what I mean.

You’ve been with adidas for 16 years – how many sneakers do you have?

Nic Galway: I meet a lot of people who collect sneakers. My connection is a bit different because I like designing them. I have a lot of them, but actually not that many. People always ask thinking I have a big basement full of them, but I tend to cut them up and make things out of them. That's what makes me tick.

Every generation (of designers) at adidas did that. You can go all the way through our archive, people were drawing these shoes because they thought about how they could make it better. You'll see that if you get inside, shoes were buffed up or cut up – somehow modified. That's how we got to the next place. When I talk about this legacy, I'm saying that every generation of designers working in this brand has been trying to find the future or the next place, always respectfully. To suddenly stop and say "no, you can't touch it" would be disrespectful.

We’re in New York where the NMD is launching, but obviously adidas is a worldwide brand – where do you feel most at home?

Nic Galway: For example, Tokyo adidas is very different from Paris adidas, but it's all true to the brand. I was fascinated with Paris for the last couple of years, but it's not what's going in the fashion shows, it’s what's going on outside the fashion shows, and these kids who are ever present. They're wearing adidas in ways that maybe we didn't think of, they're making them their own. The UK is a different scene, but there are still like-minded people. That's where we are at home – not one city, but that kind of generation who wants to create the new from different experiences.

What's next?

Nic Galway: For me, when you get success, when you capture a moment, that's great, but that's also a moment to step back and observe and look at other opportunities too. That's what I want to do, so I very much believe that we are a great success and I'll be thinking about other generations and where I can take that, but I'll also be thinking about what other avenues I can explore. I really believe that whilst people love us as a brand they're also looking to be challenged by us. When we always get that connection right, I think people will stay curious about us and will stay interested in us.