Adidas: A Brief History Of Your Shoes
This piece originally appeared on Needsupply.com.
The Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach just northeast of Nuremburg is home to one of the bitterest rivalries in all of sports, in all of fashion and in all of shoedom. Brothers Adolph and Rudolf Dassler were born and raised there, and after fighting in WWI the two joined forces to make some rather fine athletic footwear. They called their company Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik—literally, the Brothers Dassler Shoe Factory—and valiantly set about building an empire. Legend says that the pair at times resorted to powering their equipment via bicycle generator due to the spotty electricity supply in a Germany that was then still reeling from war.
During the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Adolf (who, fortunately for his own legacy, went by “Adi”), convinced sprinter Jesse Owens to compete in Dassler shoes. He won four gold medals in them and demonstrated brilliantly the power of quality athletic footwear. The Dasslers were on their way.
Over the following years though, a series of rows and misunderstandings between the brothers Dassler led to their complete estrangement. By the late 1940s, they had broken up the company and each started anew with its remnants. Rudolf chartered Ruda, which later changed its name to Puma (who knew?). Meanwhile, Adolf used a portmanteau of his own name, Adi Dassler, to launch Adidas. (Which should also put to rest the eternal transatlantic pronunciation battle among anglophones: once and for all, it is correctly “ah-dee-dass” and not “uh-dee-diss.” Sorry, ‘merica.)
After the split, the two brothers never spoke again and are even interned at opposite ends of the same Herzogenaurach cemetery. Rosy, we know. But whatever the mythology, Adidas is a born competitor. Its longtime rivalry with Puma indeed positioned it well over the years for dealing with its actual mortal enemy, a little Portland upstart with a mighty swoosh. Against all conventional corporate wisdom, Adidas’ own logo has a few variations, most notably the “trefoil” for Originals heritage products and the angular, mountainesque “performance” version for its mainline—the only relative constants being a 3-stripe motif and a proprietary typeface somewhat like ITC Avant Garde. Despite its inconsistencies, it nonetheless is among the most valuable trademarks on earth.
Its design archive is huge—from the iconic Sambas, Instincts and Stan Smiths to the glorious 90’s trash that is the Madonna platform sneaker, the company has always been a relentless innovator. Check out the Adidas Archive for a solid overview of everything from footwear to jerseys and famous sponsorship tie-ups. Speaking of sports tie-ups, from Jesse Owens onward the brand pioneered the present system of sponsorships that essentially props up the world of professional sports. While Adidas is probably most synonymous with football and track and field sports, it has touched on every major sport, from skateboarding to lacrosse, rugby, cricket and jiu jitsu.
Despite Adidas’ adroitness as competitor, it’s killer good at collaboration, too. Its longtime partnership with Yohji Yamamoto on the Y-3 line has produced some of the most daring and fashionable sneakers of all time and a more recent tie up with Rick Owens has nice progressive minimalism. We’re partial to their Raf Simons collaboration, both because of our big love for both labels, but also because the line covers some rare ground between brilliant and bonkers: there’s the archi-techno Bounce, the absurd moon boot Bunny Star and the sick sick sick Response Trails, as well as some grand low-key riffs on an all-time-favorite, the Stan Smith.