Having launched headline-grabbing collaborations with such high-fashion titans as Prada and Gucci in recent years, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that this was the beginning of a new design era for adidas. Forgiven, but wrong nonetheless.
In fact, not only would you be doing the German sportswear brand a major disservice to point to these links as a new trend or fledgling venture, but you'd also be ignoring — or worse, entirely rewriting — the history of collaborations. adidas has been making inroads into the world of high fashion collabs for a long, long time now.
Notable as they are, both in their media prominence and design tropes, adidas' collaborations with the two Italian houses are far from the beginning of their high-design ambitions: the Raf Simons Ozweego is an enduring classic from 2013 – a capital F “Fashion,” capital D “Dad Shoe” – released almost a decade ago, before every designer outfit on the planet had one of those to their name. It’s a design that lives rent-free in my head, and seemingly also in the heads of many other designers, as well as my shoe rack. Who else could convince me to buy a black and yellow sneaker? I don't own a single other black pair, and I don't even like yellow — yet here we are.
Before that there was (and still is) the Three Stripes’ long-running collaboration with one of the most innovative designers alive and working today, Yohji Yamamoto, in the form of the Y-3 co-brand: a sportswear-cum-high-fashion merger which, having first arrived in spectacular style during the Fall/Winter 2001 season and fully realized its power by Fall/Winter 2007, undoubtedly paved the way for streetwear’s ascension into the annals of the fashion world which we now take for granted.
Beyond — and most likely, to some degree, as a result of — that creatively fruitful relationship, there's also been highly varied, highly anticipated, and much-lauded work with the likes of aesthetic optimist Pharrell Williams and perpetual misanthrope Rick Owens. If the sleek athleisure of Yamamoto’s Y-3, with silhouettes like the Kubo, sits at one end of the design spectrum, Williams’ creatively astute and tonally playful takes in the middle, then Owens’ hulking Mastodon is brooding stoically at the other — their collective range is a tangible proof of adidas’ collaborative open-mindedness.
The point is that from all of these collections, there were noteworthy, industry-disrupting releases. From some, there were classics, collectibles, personal favorites. Still, it always seemed to me that adidas – as a true pioneer of the sneaker world – was always searching for something more. And to that end, their collaboration with Balenciaga could see that search coming to an end. Or, at least, a well-earned moment of rest before the hard work inevitably begins again, adidas never one to consider the job truly finished.
Back to adidas’ most recent collaborations: There were shining moments in their work with both Prada and Gucci. The clothing line which makes up the bulk of Guccidas (or adigucci, as we’ve coined internally) is stunning – subtly integrated and delivered with a sense of both brand identities fully intact. The Pradidas Re-nylon Forum and bowling bag which both haunt my dreams and taunt my storage spaces with their absence are also more than worthy of both labels’ branding.
Where the likes of Nike have had success with High Fashion names like Dior and Louis Vuitton through licensing deals, adidas have never been content with half measures – their collaborations have always been fully-fledged and whole-hearted. In that sense, perhaps, what they had been searching for above anything else was a partner who shared that vision and that passion for creative evolution.
Balenciaga's runway show on the morning of May 22 at the New York Stock Exchange confirmed the leak from back in mid-March showing an adidas x Balenciaga Triple-S. The German sportswear giant may well have found its kindred spirit.
What we’re looking at is a co-branded version of Balenciaga’s signature sneaker: a shoe that is relatively low-key (as far as the Triple-S can be low-key), and – because, rather than in spite of this – pretty much perfect.
In search of creating a truly avant-garde sneaker with high fashion credentials, adidas has found an ideal partner in Balenciaga. It goes without saying, Alessandro Michele, Raf Simons, and Miuccia Prada are creative visionaries – the proof being readily available in both Gucci and Prada’s own collections as well as in their joint efforts to date. But Demna is a visionary of another, more contemporary kind.
It has more to do with a shared mentality: when it comes to Balenciaga and adidas, there is no disparity in the esteem each brand holds for sneakers as an art form.
For Demna and his colleagues, sneakers are to be coveted at the same level as tailoring, outerwear, and more traditional high-end accessories such as bags. It is a respect that goes well beyond the philosophical and into the practical output of the Parisienne house. Balenciaga’s efforts in recent years to push the medium forward, beginning with the now-iconic Triple-S and moving into silhouettes such as the Defender, the Runner, and the truly ingenious X-Pander, are impossible to ignore.
At Balenciaga, sneakers are a world of their own. A universe to be explored in-depth, with rules to be tested, bent, and ultimately broken in search of new aesthetic forms. Here, Demna is a kid in a candy shop – unafraid to show wonderment, joy, and even a sense of idealistic naivete when it comes to what’s possible. This is a much-needed mindset in the luxury sector, which having already condescended over the last decade to consort with streetwear and athleticwear, is still paused at the final frontier – afraid to cross the sneaker Rubicon whilst Demna and Co. are having the time of their lives on the opposite shore.
It is also an ideal basis on which to build a partnership with a brand whose main focus is footwear. A label like adidas, which has proudly made sneakers the core of its business for almost three-quarters of a century, requires a collaborator capable of matching its own drive, desire, and tangible passion for the future of athletic-style footwear. And, as an innovator in its own right, Balenciaga is exactly that.
A new Triple-S is an event of its own. But more than this, an adidas x Balenciaga Triple-S is exciting because of what it represents: the possibilities of a partnership made in sneaker heaven. It is a love letter to sneakers themselves, much as this article is a letter to adidas’ own vision for the future of footwear.