Who could have known three stripes would hold so much history in culture?

By Beverley Knight

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Exhibition Originals Newcastle at Newcastle Contemporary Art Gallery, November 2023, took a trip with trainers through the brand’s history, subtly showing how it seeped into the music industry as an unwritten uniform. Presented by SPEZIAL, two floors in the city were awash with colours, textures and shapes – a sweet shop behind glass and metal cases for the trainer connoisseur. Collections showcased archival stock, the forthcoming SPEZIAL AW23 collection and customised and limited editions. Short films played in front of the all-important merch stall.

From the Three Stripe archive, Superstar, Gazelle and Samba were at the forefront. It was engaging to see how trainers like the Sambas from the 50s and Gazelles from 1966, a blue pair encased here, transcended into a monumental staple of 90’s popular culture. Memories flooded back of those nineties heydays through a cherry red pair of Adidas Berlin trainers, rocked by Jay Kay of Jamiroquai in the Canned Heat music video.

There was a dedicated wall to Hip Hop’s Run DMC, along with their signed Superstar trainers. At first, the Superstar was all about sport: basketball, to be precise. In the 80s, the Bronx, New York, got hold, and the It’s Tricky trio made the trainer’s tongue the focus.

A promotional contract between Run DMC and Adidas followed, the first of its kind, paving the way for the lucrative artist and brand partnerships we see today. Along with Run DMC, Liam Gallagher, Kate Moss, Beastie Boys, Arctic Monkeys and loads more had their autographed shoes exhibited in Newcastle. It shouldn’t have been as thrilling as it was, but it just was. Curated by SPEZIAL designer Gary Aspden, while the eyes pondered, a crafted soundtrack by Peter Jay entertained the ears, featuring the likes of New Order, Hot Chip and Electronic. It all got you revved up.

Adidas is one of Germany’s finest exports if you’re into your sneaks. Standing the test of time, it takes the quality of Originals to breathe fresh life into the beloved product, aligning sport and street. Who could have known three stripes would hold so much history in culture?

Images by Jody Hartley