Sneaker fans clam­our for de­signer’s lace-up tribute to home town

The Guardian (USA) - - Fashion / Environmen­t - He­len Pidd North of Eng­land editor

It was more than 48 hours be­fore the Adi­das ex­hi­bi­tion was due to open at the Black­burn Corn Ex­change and al­ready a gag­gle of sneaker su­per­fans had gath­ered out­side.

In­side, Gary Asp­den, the lo­cally born de­signer of the brand’s cult Spezial range, was busy ar­rang­ing 1,200 pairs of train­ers plucked from his own 2,000strong archive and bor­rowed from col­lec­tors around the world, in­clud­ing Stan Smiths worn and signed by Kate Moss, one-offs made for the Beastie Boys, as well as pris­tine orig­i­nals from the 1950s.

To trainer spot­ters, who might spend £700 on a rare pair, Asp­den is a god. Col­lec­tors had trav­elled from as far away as Aus­tralia and Los Angeles to try to get their hands on Asp­den’s lat­est lim­ited edi­tion, the Black­burn Night­safe, a rub­ber-soled love let­ter to his home town.

Asp­den was ex­cited that Adi­das had agreed to launch the £100 shoe in Black­burn in­stead of London or New York on Fri­day. All pro­ceeds from the 200 pairs made will go to a lo­cal homelessne­ss char­ity, Night­safe.

“I’m ab­so­lutely over the moon about it. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me,” he said, his Lan­cas­trian ac­cent in­tact de­spite years spent work­ing in London. “This is one of the top 10 poor­est towns in Europe and I feel strongly that places like Black­burn, which have been hit badly by aus­ter­ity, can be re­gen­er­ated with the help of cul­ture.”

Get­ting the shoe into pro­duc­tion in­volved pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions with Adi­das’s lawyers, who ini­tially ve­toed the idea af­ter bruis­ing en­coun­ters with liti­gious cities the world over. When Asp­den told Black­burn coun­cil about the con­cerns, the leader put his head in his hands. “He said: ‘You’re jok­ing? This would be so good for the town.’ And they made it clear they would bend over back­wards to make it hap­pen,” Asp­den said.

Once he got the green light from his beloved Black­burn Rovers, who Adi­das’s le­gal ea­gles had feared could also make a trade­mark claim, Asp­den set about de­sign­ing the shoe. He de­cided against em­u­lat­ing Rovers’ blue and white kit and zoomed in in­stead on the red and green of the Lan­cas­trian rose.

Asp­den’s show is likely to be one of the most pop­u­lar exhibits at the in­au­gu­ral Bri­tish Tex­tile Bi­en­nial, which runs through­out au­tumn in lo­ca­tions across east Lan­cashire. Set in and around the in­fra­struc­ture of the cot­ton in­dus­try, the fes­ti­val cel­e­brates the past and present of UK-made tex­tiles through art, de­sign and per­for­mance.

Jamie Hol­man’s com­mis­sion, Trans­form and Es­cape the Dogs, tells the story of how Black­burn’s mills were taken over for raves in the 1980s, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Live the Dream party in the village of Tock­holes. Hol­man spent 18 months win­ning the trust of old Black­burn ravers, who were pro­tec­tive of their legacy. The re­sult­ing show is a co-pro­duc­tion with these acid house sur­vivors, who al­lowed him to use video footage of the par­ties as well as pho­tos, which Hol­man had made into a stained glass win­dow and silk trade union-style ban­ners.

Four­teen miles away in Pen­dle, the bi­en­nial takes over Bri­er­field Mill be­fore the mill is turned into lux­ury apart­ments. Ban­ner Cul­ture is a mass stag­ing of ban­ners waved at protests in the UK over the last 100 years. There are beau­ti­fully em­broi­dered cloths hung on the fence at Green­ham Com­mon, com­mem­o­ra­tions of the Gren­fell Tower tragedy and the Hills­bor­ough vic­tims, and oth­ers cel­e­brat­ing ev­ery­thing from women’s suf­frage to Greggs the bak­ers (“This ban­ner demon­strates a fa­mil­iar­ity and com­fort for me,” says the artist, Tara Colette.)

An­other reads “Jane Hellings is a Slag”, made by Hellings her­self, re­call­ing words scrawled about her on a toi­let door at her school in 1975. “I was 14 and get­ting through boyfriends, be­cause I wouldn’t have sex with him,” she says in the pro­gramme notes. “Pub­licly own­ing that la­bel is an act of re­sis­tance against con­tem­po­rary slut-sham­ing.”

The Bri­tish Tex­tile Bi­en­nial runs from 3 Oc­to­ber to 3 Novem­ber at lo­ca­tions across east Lan­cashire.

De­signer Gary Asp­den pre­pares the Adi­das ex­hi­bi­tion at the Black­burn Corn Ex­change. Pho­to­graph: Joel Good­man/The Guardian

Ban­ner Cul­ture at Bri­er­field Mill. Pho­to­graph: Joel Good­man/The Guardian

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