The Blend Sessions: Oi Polloi’s Steve Sanderson & Adidas’ Gary Aspden

As part of The Blend Sessions, a series of live conversations bringing together cultural figures celebrating the blend of skills and the collaborative spirit needed to be successful in the modern world, Chivas Regal got together two titans of fashion in the North; Steve Sanderson and Gary Aspden for a 'spezial' Q&A.

Starting his graft within the entertainment promotions department of Adidas in the 90’s, Gary Aspden has since orchestrated collaborations with the likes of A Bathing Ape and most recently Manchester’s own Oi Polloi. He’s also been integral in creating the Adidas Spezial collection, a range where the focus is on reworking classic Adidas pieces to appeal to a newer, more modern audience.

With regards to Oi Polloi, Steve Sanderson is well known throughout the city as one of the shops owners, which he started with Nigel Lawson over 15 years ago. There’s not much I need to say about this Manchester institution that you won’t already know – the clobber is always on point and the city’s feet wouldn’t be anywhere near as well contained if it didn’t exist.

Before the special Q&A event we got the chance to speak to Gary in more detail…

Where did the pair of you meet?

So, I originally met Steve in the mid-1980s, not so much met him, more that I crossed paths with him. I knew of him because he knew two girls I knew from Blackburn- a girl called Tracy and Rachel who were at all the acid house parties and Tracy became my girlfriend for a while and then we split up and then I went out with Rachel.  (laughs)

But yeah, we were kind of around the same places in the late 80’s. Steve was at the Hacienda and all the acid house parties where I was so we basically just met there.

Who’s been the biggest influence on you?

That’s a difficult one. It depends on what level really. You know people can influence you in terms of your profession, in terms of career, and then there are people who influence you outside of that. I like to think that some of the morals and principles that I choose to live with in my day to day life I try to bring into my career. You know, like it is nice to be nice and treat people well. Don’t be hierarchical in terms of how you treat people.

So, who’s been an influence on me? Ian Brown has been a massive influence just from the point of view that he’s never been phased or enamoured by prestige and celebrity and has always stuck to the people who are close to him. He’s always kept a really tight circle and it’s a similar thing with me.

I always say that life only gives you one set of lifelong friends, and although I’ve known my friends in London for nearly 20 years, my mates from back home in Blackburn who I have known 30 odd years I am still friends with to this day.

Obviously, we’ve had a lot of the 80s/90s recently- do you know what is coming next? Or are we stuck on those?

I think that culture has changed, you know when I growing up you had big youth movements and those big youth movements have become reference points for fashion. So, these big cultural movements that were driven by youth they don’t happen in the same way anymore.

So, what happens now is that people keep going back to them to draw on them. But the way they draw in on it and represent it- it is never the same as the first time around. Everything has its moment, but also when you try and recreate something, it always brings a new identity with it because it is coming in a different time.

So, I always think those youth movements were born out of boredom really. In the 80s it was all about clothes, music and football in no particular order, and that was kind of it. But, you know, you had three TV channels that were closed down at midnight- we didn’t have a video recorder, we didn’t have a telephone, there was no social media there was no gaming- if you wanted to game you had to go to the local arcade and fill a machine with 10 pence pieces.

So the 90’s is where things started to change because people had to look backwards and you had what I call an entertainment explosion. So, you can watch any film at any time, you can game at home, you’ve got social media and all this stuff is coming along so there is no excuse of boredom, there is no absence of things to do or draw on for entertainment. And I think that’s why things changed and those youth movements don’t happen in the same way.

Are there any plans to do another Adidas footwear exhibition?

It is something we keep talking about doing, but if we were to do it we would have to re-think it. I don’t want just rehash something I did four years ago – that isn’t interesting to me. I’d like to think that some of the work that I have done or that I have been involved with or been instrumental in has set benchmarks within the industry I work in. So, if I were to do another exhibition it would have to be carefully thought out and done in a different way.

I get asked on a daily basis about whether I will do it again, so never say never. But hopefully something will happen but it would have to be a slightly different format.

Where do you take your inspiration from when you are working on a line?

A lot of my inspiration comes from my youth and it all seems to be a certain period in my life. Much of it comes from my upbringing in the North West – I don’t know, a spirit of those times. Looking at things that mattered to me then and finding within that what is relevant now. So yeah, my upbringing is key to what I do; it is the thing I come back to again and again.

That’s right because you almost put Darwen on the map, almost…

That’s a nice thing to say. The thing about it is that I grew up imagining that there were loads of cool things happening in London and like I say I’ve lived in London for 20 years, and you know it’s great, it is a great city. But looking back to some of the people I grew up around and whilst where there was nothing academic in their love of clothes and culture, they were well informed, well read, politicised, stylish and they had great records.

So, you imagine these cool scenes in London and then you get there and think ‘Oh, hang on a minute, those people I grew up with are actually way cooler than the people shaping culture with magazines.

You realise there are all these unsung heroes. I was one of those kids who wanted to be cool and there were just those kids that just were, they didn’t intellectualise it.

“nobody wants to look like they’re trying, but you know that they are in fact trying really hard and it’s a real Northern thing”

When you walk around Manchester people are so effortless with fashion and it feels like everywhere tries to emulate it but it is much less natural. Do you feel that is the case too?

I’m not sure really, because when you asked me about my mentors, and I felt that by saying a famous person name it would misconstrued the kind of person I am. But another person who was a real mentor to me was a guy called Kenneth McKenzie who had a label called 6876. And Kenneth is a Scottish guy, little bit older, different generation, but he also studied at the University of Central Lancashire. But you know it’s like I think there is a mindset with men’s fashion particularly, once you get into the North it evolves steadily but nobody wants to look like they’re trying, but you know that they are in fact trying really hard and it’s a real Northern thing. It’s like they wouldn’t like to be seen like they were openly discussing it.

The great thing is, Manchester and Liverpool and the North has always been a place where there is a lot of culture and I think growing up when I grew up in the acid house era, and I’m sorry to be banging on about it again but was something of real cultural significance that I was involved in and that I’m proud of and it’s something I like to tell people about.

Where I come from there was never a famous band from Blackburn- we didn’t have The Beatles or The Stone Roses. Where I come from was a rainy industrial town with a bottom of the second division football team.  But the one thing that was going on there which was fascinating was the subculture in the youths of my town that is something I draw on for inspiration to this day.

Spezial was only originally supposed to be on for two seasons but has been a real success. Do you feel it growing any further?

I take it as it comes really, I don’t want to be complacent about it. I would like to see it grow further because I love doing it and I enjoy doing it, but ultimately it is with Adidas. The one thing about Spezial, and this is to Adidas’s credit, its that it doesn’t work globally, it is a very UK centric range and lots of countries don’t even range it. Adidas have managed to build this cult like following.

But I think there is a lesson there for all global companies; localising things under a global umbrella is the way forward. If you look at fashion at the moment – the hottest brands have strong localised identities. So Supreme in NY, VisVim in Tokyo, Acne in Scandinavia – they all really play on this idea of localisation.

When I travel to a foreign city I don’t want to go to a store that I can go to in London, I want to find something local. And that essentially what I believe as an observer at Oi Polloi which is exactly how they’ve built their business – it’s got a strong local identity.

Any future collaborations with Oi Polloi to look forward to?

Well we’ve worked with them on a couple of shoes, the Ardwick and the Manchester Marine whether we will do that again I am not sure. Everything has its time and if it feels like the right time to do it then fine.

What I tried to do with Spezial when it first started was to demonstrate that you don’t have to rely on third-party collaborations to do something that has value. The industry has become so collaborative, which can be so powerful and great when it has meaning but it can also be rather predictable and standardised if not.

So I wanted to do something that showed that Adidas has value in it’s own right, and that we didn’t need a famous fashion designer or a celebrity or whatever.

The Art of Blending by Chivas Regal
A one hour long Blending Session where you create a 200 ml bottle of your own whisky
Sessions run Wednesday – Sunday – £15pp

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