The contemporary fashion market, with its gluttonous appetite for novelty, cycles through trends at vertiginous speeds. In this climate, adidas has looked towards collaboration as a way of targeting specific niches and demographics without diluting the brand’s history. DIRK SCHÖNBERGER is the creative director of the adidas Sport Style division, where he has presided over an on-going union between the catwalk and sportswear. Through Y-3, Originals, adidas SLVR, Neo, and Porsche Design Sport, Adidas’ ever-expanding roster of collaborators has helped push the company into a daring new territory.
032c: Since you started as creative director, adidas has really taken off with collaborations, setting the bar in terms of fashion. What kind of tone do you want to set?
DIRK SCHÖNBERGER: When I joined adidas, I was ready to re-think all collaborations. How many collaborations does a brand really need? I see adidas as a brand that has influenced and has been influenced by many different collaborators from sport, fashion, music and art. This is why we invite them in. It is a win-win situation for both sides. The important aspect is, that they should all look at adidas from different and very personal angles. This is why Yohji Yamamoto, Jeremy Scott, Raf Simons and Rick Owens can not only co-exist within our brand, but the output of each collaboration is unique.
What’s it like to work with Raf?
Raf and I have known each other for a long time, and I have always been a great admirer of his work. He defies expectations all the time. When I spoke to him for the first time about working together, he was clearly referring back to the past, his youth, and the Stan Smith. I was keen on seeing what he would do once given access to the adidas archive. Clearly he was going to work with the Stan Smith, but beyond that was an unknown. adidas is also about youth – and Raf’s long-term examination of youth has been one of the reasons why I wanted us to work together.
I love what he has been doing with our classic toolings, for example the Ozweego. It is clearly an adidas shoe, but the deconstruction, the materials and colours put it into a different context.
Why do you choose these particular collaborators? Do they match the adidas world? How about Rick Owens?
All of our collaborators bring their own vision to the table. Raf and Rick are very influential designers with very different backgrounds. We have been working together with Yohji and Jeremy for a very long time. Each has been able to stand on its own. The same applies to Pharrell and Kanye. They work very differently and their output is surprising and unique. At the same time we see that there is a connection to adidas and that all collaborators understand and respect the adidas DNA .
I thought it was interesting to work with Rick as you wouldn’t directly connect his vision with a sports company. But from the very first season he wanted to design a running shoe. We created something together that you would not necessarily run in, which changed the perception about how a sneaker historically has to look.
Do you see these collaborations and relationships as building blocks towards creating larger capsule garments similar to what you did with Yohji?
I wish, yes. Relationships have to evolve. I contacted both Raf and Rick almost a year before we started working together. I called up Rick’s office, for example, and talked to Elsa Lanzo, his CEO, whom I have known for a long time. I told her that I admire Rick’s work and that I know that they are making those amazing sneakers and I would love to bring our footwear expertise and his vision together and create something very new. But they were not sure if they were ready at that time. So we came back together a few months later and started the conversation. Of course, I would like to also see what happens if we would start developing apparel together.
I like to work with the most thought-provoking, strongest designers who have their own point of view. They’re making fashion. They’re not like, “Oh, now it’s minimalism. Let’s be minimal.” They do their own thing, and take risks. That’s why it was so important for me to bring those people into adidas. I would love to go bigger, but for now, let’s see where it goes. I see adidas as a part of all cultures coming together—artists, singers, fashion designers, architects & athletes.
It’s more then just creating a sneaker, it’s about creating a mood?
It’s about creating a culture. There’s a really different culture of sport. Sport is at the heart of everything we do. It’s hard to describe. Kids wear sportswear from the age of five, and adidas has been building up this culture for the past decades. We were in the middle of making sportswear part of everyone’s wardrobe and daily dress code.
I wonder if, in the next ten years, we’ll see more athletes turn to fashion?
Absolutely. I think that some of these young football players especially are going in that direction—James Rodriguez, for example. He looks like a natural: good looking, young, super talented and charismatic. It’s going to be interesting.
Do you find it difficult to pay attention to this other world of sports that fashion companies don’t necessarily have to prioritize? What are the challenges there? Do you feel at times schizophrenic, or within just the right moment?
I don’t know. Luckily for me, the company is split into performance and style, so I don’t work on both and focus on the style side. but on the other hand, we are working on one brand. It is not always easy not too drift away too far from the core of adidas, but what helps is that there are all these sports events that influence culture, every year and that it’s important on the style side that we pay a tribute to them in a way that is clever and doesn’t get in the way of the performance. It’s our job to salute diversity, but stay true to quality. And we have the most iconic branding that there is: three stripes. We have more name recognition than almost any other German brand, except for some car companies. It’s all there.
Do you even think of creating an iconic shoe?
No, the moment you try to create an iconic shoe, you will never make it iconic. I think it’s more and more difficult to create an iconic shoe.
Today everyone’s under pressure to create the new. The new for some people is completely new all the time, which I don’t always agree with. I believe in evolution, and I think that adidas is a company that works through evolution, but the pressure from the outside is always for new, new, new. Think about women’s handbags. There are only a few iconic handbags. Nowadays they are not even iconic anymore after four years. They are iconic for that time, and then they somehow drop dead. I wonder if there is something wrong with the way certain products are approached. But then again if you’re not in the window of a browser anymore after a week, you are forgotten, so you need to stay relevant all the time. There’s a pressure to put out new products, all the time. It’s part of the reality that we deal with.
It seems to be working?
It is working. Is it sustainable for brands for a long time? I don’t know. I sometimes have the feeling that consumers are going to flip because of the over-saturation they are confronted with in the digital age, but also when you walk through city centers, it feels like after you have been eating too much.