With the collaboration between adidas and Kanye West unveiled today, our latest #HSTBT looks back on a monumental, one-of-a-kind partnership that formed based on a legendary performance at Madison Square Garden.
Even before a single pair of Yeezy 750 Boosts have been purchased, the lead up to the release has reinvented the way anticipation will be built for high-profile shoes in the future. First there was the sneaker reserving app, then there was the countdown clock, a newsletter, and finally the power of social media to add fuel to the already crackling flames. While a single dollar hasn’t been made, it’s safe to assume that adidas’s collaboration with Kanye West is a resounding success. Some may not like the design, others may be irked by the price point. But adidas went all-in on people feeling something. And boy, do they.
While a collaboration that capitalizes on star power is commonplace in today’s fashion economy, there was a time when artists championed products simply because they loved them. Although it’s not a completely lost art, conflict of interest among celebrities with endorsement deals certainly limits what they can and can’t wear.
With adidas pushing for more and more artist-driven collaborations with the likes of Pharrell Williams, Rita Ora and Pusha T, it was one of their first musical connections that forever changed the landscape.
The Superstar sneaker technically hit the basketball court late in 1969, but 1970 is widely acknowledged as the shoe’s official rookie year. At the height of its popularity, it was worn by 75 percent of all NBA players and was the first low-top basketball shoe to feature an all-leather upper and rubber shelltoe. In Europe, the Superstar shoe model didn’t make it to Germany, adidas’s home market, until 1972. Rather, it was France that played a significant role in the shoe’s history. From day one, the Superstar was made in French factories alone.
When the NBA started to morph into an “above the rim” display of athleticism, adidas was correct in accepting the street style appreciation of the silhouette. According to adidas, “The exotic otherworldliness of a European sportswear brand seemed to resonate louder than comparable American-made alternatives. On the East Coast of the USA, the pioneers and party-starters of the era had adopted Superstars, lending them a street credibility that adidas had never envisaged. Against all the odds, the Superstar shoe was about to take on a new lease of life. The quest for the ultimate profile – in the form of the stance and attitude that defined b-boy style – was seemingly engrained in the shoe.” Rocksteady Crew member, Bobbito Garcia, has said of the adidas Superstar that it “got its cool on the concrete.”
The trio of Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell – and their united Run-D.M.C. banner – is almost as synonymous with adidas as the three stripes that adorn nearly all of the brand’s shoes themselves. Had the partnership formed these days, it’s safe to assume that their collaboration would look to push a new product rather than solidify a shoe that was already performing at a high level. But back then, the group was happy to give away free publicity for the company. The Rick Rubin-produced “My Adidas” – the first single from Run-D.M.C.’s third album, Raising Hell – was equal parts a street anthem as it was sly consumerism. In today’s context, only Kanye West’s initial titling of “Cold” as “Therafu” comes remotely close to that kind of free publicity for a brand.
As part of a brand book only available to adidas employees at the time, D.M.C. spoke on the origins of the song. “Run’s brother, Russell Simmons, who was our manager at the time, came to us one night where we used to hang out on the corner of Two Fifth Street, Hollis Avenue in Queens where we grew up. The whole Run-D.M.C. thing was taking off. And Russell came up to us and said ‘you gotta make a record about your sneakers, it should go, like, ‘My adidas, Standin’ on Two Fifth Street…’ He kept singing it and we was saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever, whatever.'”
While Russell Simmons may have broached the idea, D.M.C. offered up another anecdote about the true inspiration for the song. “But the real evolution of the song came about like this: there was this doctor in our neighborhood called Doctor Dees, he was affluent and inspirational to the kids, he was a good symbol of what hard work gets you. Every week he would put out a pamphlet dealing with social issues of our neighborhood: drug dealers, teenage pregnancy, poverty, you know, put your garbage out, stuff like that. One week he wrote this thing called Felon Shoes. And he wrote if you see the young people of this neighborhood on the corner with adidas, adidas suits or jeans, the Kangol hats and the Gazelle glasses, gold chains… if you see a fresh young guy on a corner, decked out in his adidas, that’s the problem with our community. But Doctor Dees was wrong to say that. You can’t judge a book by its cover. I was a straight-A student in Catholic school. I didn’t sell drugs – I saved my allowance to go buy my adidas. I worked to be able to go buy my fresh adidas. So we said we could use our rap music because it wasn’t just about how good we were and how many sneakers we had, now we had a purpose to make a song about our shoes. We was touring the world at that time, we had Cadillacs and gold chains, so this was our chance to tell not just Doctor Dees but the whole establishment that thought of us like that.”
Despite being at the pinnacle of the rap mountain, adidas weren’t acutely aware of the group’s affinity for the adidas Superstar.
At the time, Angelo Anastasio was an executive at adidas. A former professional soccer player who had once laced them up with Pelé while playing for the New York Cosmos, his gig at the time was described in The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop as “a one man marketing operation from a lonely outpost in Los Angeles.” With Run-D.M.C. on his radar, Anastasio flew out to New York City to meet with Lyor Cohen, Russell Simmons, and the group. While he would leave having gifted them with new tracksuits and apparel, Cohen wanted more than just free clothes.
According to D.M.C., “Then there was this young guy in LA, Angelo Anastasio, who used to work for adidas, he was trying to figure out what was going on. So he flew to New York to go see Run-D.M.C. at Madison Square Garden, because he’d heard about it but he wasn’t sure about it. But something was happening! There were 40,000 people, and Angelo from adidas standing there, and, you know, Run-D.M.C., the Raising Hell tour… so he’s standing there and we started our concert like we always did: Dee, take it off and hold it up! So I take off my shoe and I wave it a bit, and Angelo’s standing there and he sees me do that – and when he looks around, he sees 40,000 people all holding up a shoe! And I go, My adidas! And then we do the song. And that was it, he ran back to LA, ‘Yo, it’s true! I seen it with my own eyes!’ And he contacted the Dassler family and they’re saying the same thing, ‘Hold on, Angelo, slow down! First of all what the hell is rap music and what is Run-D.M.C.?’ ‘Oh’, he says, ‘You’ve got to see this!'”
When Run-D.M.C. traveled to Munich to perform, Anastasio was sure that his boss, Horst Dassler (son of Adi Dossler), was in attendance. The result? A one-of-a-kind, million-dollar endorsement deal. According to Business of Fashion, “By the time of the Together Forever tour, the partnership pervaded every press call, every image and every association the band made.”