Robert Brooks x adidas ZX 550
- MODEL: ADIDAS ZX 550
- SERIES: ADIDAS CONSORTIUM
- PACK: ADIDAS COLLECTOR'S PROJECT
- TYPE: RUNNING
- DESIGNED BY: Robert Brooks
- MADE IN: VIETNAM
- MADE ON: 09/13
- LIMITED TO 50 PAIRS
- ART.NO: F33065
- FACTORY: SHW 675001
The first revival of the legendary and incredibly rare-to-come-by ZX 550 can be attributed to one of the UK’s most infamous adidas collectors, Robert Brooks. Known more affectionately among his circle of peers as Brooksy, the talented and detail-oriented, dreadlocked design mind pushed a fresh approach onto a very age-old shoe. The result is something brave yet comforting, loud yet smooth, and with only fifty pairs worldwide, undoubtedly as rare as the original itself.
As luck would have it we were able to have a sit-down with Brooksy to talk mostly about his philosophies on trainers and how they connect him to his past life events. We’ll let him to do the talking, though, as our interpretation of his words is no replacement for the sound ideas that come from the musically-driven, vintage-obsessed, patient and passionate visionary.
Man, Robert, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!
You’re probably overloaded with press requests and stuff, huh?
Lots of people want to talk, which is really nice. It’s quite an interesting time.
Yeah we can imagine, it’s funny how people come out the woodwork once you release a shoe but who was chasing you down just to talk about being collector before you released a shoe, you know?
Oh, exactly. The thing is, that now I’m getting all types of people wanting to talk, not just trainer-related interviews. It could be anything lifestyle-related really. As I’ve said, quite interesting.
Yeah, cool. But fun we hope?
Oh yeah, it’s been a good experience that I take in my stride as it’s something that’s a part of this whole world of collecting. It’s something that has come with it, so I have to embrace and enjoy the moment.
Definitely. How was it to embrace the moment of the release party?
It was good. I wanted music there because a part of my connection to trainers relates to music and going to clubs and raves. So a part of it was to share a bit of that experience really, the music that I grew up with and vibed to which connected to the trainers. I also had some imagery that I’ve been working on for a little while, and there were loads of people there, so it was nice. Lots of people came down, had drinks, and laughed. So that was a good Friday night.
Leading up to the release the next morning, right?
Some of the people that came down on that night, they decided they wanted to stay the night and wait for the shoes. They were like “we’re just staying, we’re here now, no point in us going home, we’re gonna be back here for 9 o’clock in the morning”, so they stayed, a good group of guys who waited all night. But there was this one guy, Ross–
We know Ross!
He must’ve been there from Friday, 10 o’clock in the morning. And good on Ross. Ross is hardcore. Passionate guy. To line up from the day before, means you know what you want, don’t you?
It certainly does and he certainly does. Well, cool, that sounds like the ‘moment’ of the event went well for you. We saw you at another event recently too, at the Spezial Exhibition in Shoreditch.
Yeah, that’s right.
And you were wearing your shoes then actually, no?
We picked up on it right away, and of course, like the rest of the press there, we were curious to know more. And of course, you obviously have been working on this for a while if you had them on then, guess you had samples then?
Yeah, yeah. That was a pair of samples that I was wearing, I thought to create your own is great, it’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around that often – if at all – so I basically just thought “wow, I’m getting these on!”
Did you secretly want people to ask questions or notice them?
Nah, not really.
Because actually you really keep stuff under tight wraps Robert, so it’s funny for us, hard for us to believe you were even wearing them because it’s like you’re putting those out there for people to see.
Yeah, you know I felt like I wanted to wear them, so I just did. That’s all. I didn’t even consider what the reaction would be. More for me to just wear them.
Yeah, we hear that, you just wanted to put them on. You probably didn’t even think about Gary’s reaction, there was a stutter for a moment there when he began to ask you if you wanted to talk about them!
I didn’t even know what to say. I didn’t wear them to talk about them, I just wore them. So to start talking about it, I wouldn’t know what to say really.
Well, you handled it relatively smoothly.
For me, this whole Collector’s Project is a really interesting project so I just wanted it to roll out in the way it should be rolled out. At the end of the day I just thought when it’s time for it to all come out, then it will come out. Share the experience in the right way.
Right, a bit of patience can pay off beautifully in the end. But reaching back to the beginning, you’ve obviously been close to the brand in the sense of a product, an adidas product, for a long time…
…and we even know about that without having to talk to you a lot, but how has your relationship with adidas as a company been, before the Collector’s project, before the Spezial Exhibition?
I’ve known Gary a long time. I met him more than ten years ago and we share the same passion: we both love adidas trainers, and similar types of shoes, such as ’80s running shoes. We’ve always talked over the years about trainers, and discussed different things that could happen or go on. I suppose the Spezial Exhibition and the Collector’s Project were two opportunities to connect and work on something together. The Spezial Exhibition was fitting because it was about showing adidas shoes over a long period of time and with my thing being vintage shoes. Besides the books that I’ve had my shoes in they’re not out in the public arena so it was a nice opportunity. It’s not very often you get to see lots of adidas product – vintage, new, old, samples – over the last thirty years in one space. So it was brilliant, even I wanted to see it myself.
No doubt, we were blown away.
Just like the exhibition, the Collector’s Project was a great opportunity to do something interesting related to trainers.
With vintage being such an important point of your passion, how would you define the term itself?
To me vintage is the ’70s and ’80s.
So, ’90s shoes wouldn’t be vintage?
They are, but maybe only up to 1993. When I’m talking about vintage I’m talking about the magic era, the ’70s and the ’80s. To me that’s the blue box that’s not your traditional blue colour, with the old tissue paper and all. That’s vintage to me. Growing up times. But after ’95 I don’t see it in the same way as the ’80s. But the ’80s and ’70s are really my two eras where I look at them and say “wow, magic shoes.” Yeah, just magic. Classic, classic, classic, iconic adidas shoes.
What do you think is the oldest shoe you have? Do you have anything from the ’50s or ’60s, or something crazy old like that?
I’ve got some shoes from the ’60s, late ’60s, I think. A few of them. And then ’70s and ’80s as I’ve said. I love running shoes, so a lot of my running shoes are from the ’80s because they’re based around ZX running shoes. That’s early ’80s and that’s my passion. When I see a running shoe–
You’re running after it?
Yeah, they’re the shoes that kind of wake me up.
But these are all deadstock so you’re not wearing any of these?
Are you wearing any vintage stuff? Or is it like, if it’s vintage it’s not getting worn?
I have a few doubles, so I could wear them, but when I look for old vintage shoes, how they look when they’re brand new in the box (still nicely wrapped in the tissue paper and the whole lot) is the buzz, the connect. That takes me back to that original time of looking at them. So to wear them I would need to have more than one pair. Otherwise I’d probably not wear them because it’s too hard to find them again in that condition. There are exceptions, as I have worn a couple, but in real terms I wouldn’t do it, I would just keep them. They look too good. A lot of collectors don’t do this, they wear them, but for me I like them in the original state.
Since you love those shoes so much but you’re kind of forced to not wear them because you want to keep them factory-fresh, what are you wearing? Are you wearing re-issues?
Yeah. And obviously now I’m wearing my own shoe!
But things like the Ransom x adidas Military Trail. You know that one?
It uses a ZX running sole, it’s sort of a mid-boot. I also like the ZX Boat, do you know that one?
Yeah, we know that one too.
It’s funny because the things I like are still based on running shoes. I like that because even though I love vintage stuff, I also love progression. So I kind of like both sides. But for me the progression needs to still have a strong aesthetic of tradition, so if you look at the Military Trail you’ll notice it uses a ZX running sole, and this is how it still maintains something of the tradition, but it’s moved forward. The upper is slightly different. The ZX Boat is similar, it’s got adidas in it hasn’t it? It’s got that classic-ness to it but also a bit of modernity too, because it’s created a hybrid, something new.
Right they did that with the Badlander, they ressurrected it with the modern day Hikelander.
Yeah, I know the Badlander.
Kind of similar.
I’m also wearing Kazuki’s 84-Lab shoes. They’re nice. He did another shoe I wear, it’s funny because I’ve never seen anyone wear it, to tell the honest truth. The ZX Moc.
The moccasin one?
Yeah, it’s a creeper style upper with tassel laces. I like those, just because they look different. They have a bit of tradition in them but they’re quite new. It’s funny actually because I don’t wear such typical adidas shoes with the traditional three stripes, it’s more of a mix.
Yeah, Your wardrobe seems to be a bit different from your collection actually. Now how are you telling the age of a vintage pair when there’s no writing on the shoes? Because obviously that’s what you care about, so are you remembering when they came out? Or do you have a technique for how you are able to figure out the birthdate of a shoe?
Part of it is visual, because I’ll know certain types of sole units were from a certain period of time. The shape, again, from a certain period of time. I suppose when you’ve been collecting shoes for such a long time there’s certain silhouettes that you find out are from a certain point in time, so you can kind of gauge roughly what year they’re from. Roughly, I say, you don’t know for sure because even with a lot of catalogs you’re still gonna come across loads of surprises. You’ll find shoes that aren’t in any catalog. And I think that’s the interesting bit about collecting adidas for me, there’s just so many shoes out there. People always said to me “you’ve got loads of shoes” but I’ve always felt there’s loads more to find.
Are you collecting catalogs too, got a little library going on?
I haven’t got loads, but I’ve got a few. I used to, but I’ll tell you, nowadays they’re so expensive!
Yeah, for real.
Before you used to get catalogs quite cheap but now they’re going through the roof! Three hundred pounds.
Yeah, that’s crazy!
Yeah, it’s good reference but–
Not worth three hundred pounds, huh?
With three hundred pounds I could buy a pair of shoes!
Two pairs maybe, huh?
Exactly, that’s what I mean. I’d rather have two pairs of shoes than a catalog.
Also considering that you’re not wearing them and obviously you’re concerned about preserving them, do you have methods for how you store them?
Naw, my shoes are in storage and there’s not really a method to it as long it’s not really damp. I don’t really have a process to it. But there are certain ones that, due to the sole material, are gonna disintegrate after a while. When it happens, it happens. There’s nothing you can really do. When I get an opportunity to find them, it’s very hard to turn it down and say “no, I don’t want them”, even though I know the sole’s gonna do that. For example, I’ve got the original Forest Hills, and when I got them they were brand spanking new. Then, ten or fifteen years later, I go to open up the box and it’s all rubble. Or I’d be able to see the sole beginning to get a bit sticky and then gradually it starts to break up, little bit by little bit.
It’s a sad state, but there’s nothing we can do, as collectors. What about rituals? You have any rituals you go through when you’re buying or looking at your shoes? For example, over here at eatmoreshoes we love to grab a fresh pair of trainers (whether new or used, vintage or modern) and immediately get the laces out and re-lace them, all nice and straight-like. It’s a must, and not just for photography, it’s a meditation of sorts. Do you do anything like this?
No. For me, if I get a pair of shoes and it’s not laced, it doesn’t get laced.
My boxed vintage shoes stay as they are. So if they’re laced, they’re laced; if they’re not laced, they’re not laced.
You don’t even modify them at all?
No, the only time was for the Spezial Exhibition. A lot of the shoes I showed there were only laced for that exhibition because they had never been laced before.
How did you feel about that?
I didn’t mind. It had got to the point where I wanted to share my shoes and for people to see them correctly they need to be laced. But normally they just wouldn’t be laced.
Any other habits, non-lacing related?
Not really. I think for me, part of the thrill is actually trying to get the trainers. The buzz is the search, the hunt. That’s where the biggest buzz comes from really, for me. That’s the interesting bit, you’re traveling and meeting people, it’s an experience. So that’s the part of it that’s quite interesting. And then you get them, and you’ve got them, haven’t you?
Yeah, so then it’s like, onto the next one!
Right, yeah, exactly.
About the hunt, are there any details you can tell us? Possibly describe a day in the life of the hunt, or how your hunt even begins? The process you go through?
[Robert takes a long pause for thought]
It’s happened in so many random ways: going on work trips, seeing old friends, meeting people online. Originally it was just connections, a friend of a friend or so. It was really strange, because in the beginning, it just seemed to happen. Everything seemed to fit into place. I was always meeting people that for some strange reason were able to tell me about a place to go to. Maybe back then it was a lot more open, possibly because it wasn’t such a popular thing. People weren’t so precious about the topic, it was like “oh, mate have you tried there?”, or “I know someone.” And then you just go. I used to go to France a long time ago and again it was a friend that told me about a shop years back and I went there and the guy at the shop and I became good friends. You just end up meeting people, one thing rolls into another, you just connect. It’s not a massive community but you do meet loads of good people that have stuff so the rolling-effect was quite immense, and led me to finding all this stuff!
Did you ever find yourself flying places, just to pick up a pair of trainers?
I used to go to France regularly, and I’ve been to Japan.
Just to pick up a pair?
No, but a massive part of it was trainers, wasn’t it? I always wanted to go to Japan, and it wasn’t solely about that, but it was a big factor in it. I’ve been to lots of places in Europe, such as Poland, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, just meeting people and hearing about things. I was also lucky because I always used to go on work trips but at the same time planned to hunt for shoes. It’s like “I’m going to this country, so right, what’s in that country?” You started doing a bit of research. I had bought some stuff from someone in Barcelona before, so on my way there another time I said “right, now I’m able to actually come to Barcelona, I know someone there”, so it’s better. As soon as I got there I booked a taxi to take me down to see the shoes. It’s part of the trip. It’s funny because as I’m thinking about this topic I remember back when I was in school, we took this school trip to France, and it was the same thing. We were going on this school trip to France, but all I was thinking about is “alright, where’s the adidas shop in France?”
[we all laugh]
I always wanted to buy a pair of adidas shoes to go back to London with that no one else had got. That’s what I was thinking about. I’ve obviously continued that same thought pattern everywhere I’ve been really.
And through all that travel and tracking down trainers, what’s your favorite pair of shoes, that you either have now or used to have?
I suppose one the biggest is the adidas Jeans, the red one. Just because I had it when I was in school and I had hounded my friend about those shoes and then he actually got me pair. We found them in his dad’s warehouse. That is quite a significant one because it was like you’re hounding somebody for something and you want it and then they actually find it!
That was the first time that you actually got to the end of a hunt, huh?
Yeah, it was a time that I was actively looking for shoes and I had hounded him for a long time about it and he always said “my dad ain’t got any more stuff”, and then he phoned me and obviously he’d found it. How surreal is that? I’ve asked him to look and I’ve always told him that this is the shoe that I like the most but for him to actually find it out of every shoe there is (and obviously quite a rare shoe to find) brand new in the box, it’s quite one in a million. It’s funny because even while this project has been going on my friend I used to go to school with messaged me online. We haven’t spoken in ages and he said “I remember at school I had my ZX 310 and you had your red Jeans!” And look at that, it’s something like secondary school and he still remembered it. It’s so funny; it’s obviously a poignant thing in my growing up but then when he wrote it down it showed that it’s a poignant thing in his growing up too, because he still remembers it.
Nostalgia and thoughts of the past are a huge part of trainer collection to some. You talk a lot about the concept, that when you look at a shoe it takes you back to a certain time.
And that they’re really like windows to past experiences.
Yup. People have it with music, don’t they? People will collect records and they have that same experience that it throws you back to a time and a place, really quickly, very easily. You can hear a note, you can hear a beat, you can hear a sample, and it’s the same thing: you see these trainers and it just throws you right back. Really easily. I think that’s the interesting thing about the Spezial Exhibition, people came in and asked “why aren’t the shoes named?” or “why isn’t there any labels?” and it’s partly that the experience of trainers isn’t about the name, it’s about the experience you had in the shoe.
Beyond that historical trip you take looking at a pair of vintage trainers, do you have any other philosophies or ideas about collecting that you haven’t mentioned yet?
[Robert pauses for thought]
If you think about the way a trainer is made, it’s for a sport, isn’t it? But none of us do any of those sports actually. And that’s the interesting bit, they’re made very sport-specific. But realistically, where the fashion and trend came from has nothing to do with sports. Nine times out ten none of us ever wore them for the sport they were made for, besides when we were at school, our connections to it don’t require us to know what it does or to know its capabilities. We simply don’t do those things in it. I love Micropacers but I’m not gonna run in them or measure my stride or anything like that. I just love the look of it.
You’ve probably never even used a Micropacer’s clock, huh?
That’s what I mean!
Because the design is coming from a very purist place, that’s why and how it can end up looking like that, because it’s got an intended function. The designers process has come from a consideration for what it’s made for and thats how you get different shapes and different silhouettes and different designs. If it wasn’t this thing of “we’re gonna have a shoe with a clock in the tongue to measure your stride” then you wouldn’t have a shoe looking like that.
Maybe that’s what you like about the Kazuki Moc’s: that they’re combining different functions into one form?
Yeah! And obviously I’m coming from a design background so I love design. I love it when it comes from a purer place because the purity can only really come from that clean idea, the concept of “I’m making a running shoe with a clock in it.”
Right. And the rest, the colorway?
Well, straight away there’s futuristic-ness in there. I don’t know, and I can’t say, but maybe that’s where the silver colour comes from. That’s why it makes that shoe iconic and interesting, and the same like Tubular.
Certain first decisions inform the rest of the decisions and so forward rolls the design process…
Yeah. Just the idea of having Tubes in the sole will help to create a different visual aesthetic and that’s why I collect adidas on a broad scale. While some people pursue specific styles, such as the City Series shoes for example, I instead do all shoes because it’s a design thing also. I like the casual shoes, I like the runners, and I’ve even got some of their medical shoes because they just look interesting. But the really interesting bit about them is that they each also have a purpose. I suppose it’s like how a lot of men buy clothes, such as Stone Island jackets, CP jackets, Left Hand jackets. They all have this sort of technical aspect, they can do something, but nine times out of ten you’re never gonna use it for sailing, are you?
Probably not. But how far can it go?
Left Hand did a jacket that was nuclear-proof or something!
And of course, you don’t even want that day to come but you like the idea that this jacket has such technical ability built in there. Even the 3M material – Stone Island have made complete 3M jackets for many years – you know I love 3M on adidas trainers because it adds something. That’s why I put 3M on my shoes. I was always fascinated by it, how light could hit something and light that thing up. When I was a kid it was like “wow, look at those, it’s like light!”
On the subject of your shoe, it definitely stood out in the pack a bit as the other collectors went more traditional in their references. But you seemed to go off the beaten path to design something that isn’t so straight forward. We hadn’t seen ZX shoes in such a colorway before and we’re wondering where your inspiration came from?
I like history but I also like the future. I like both. If I think of the shoes I wear these days (that I’ve mentioned above), it’s that kind of hybrid-ness that hooks me. When picking my model I knew I wanted a running shoe without a doubt. There’s nothing else it could have been. But I also wanted a bit of simplicity, because as you know running shoes can get complex these days with loads of colours and design, at least compared to the past. What I wanted was something that had a simple upper to it, but I wanted that sort of earthy-ness, that earth tone that I could wear anything with it and it would work. It reminds me a little bit of a Jamaican vibe as well, kind of like Clarks Desert Boots. Mixing Desert Boots with running shoes. Simplicity, good materials, nice suede, but mixing it all with a bit of technology. The sole, the colour blocking, the grey block, the 3M, all that technology in there, but against that upper which is a kind of earthy-ness, or more natural. So it’s really just mixing the two concepts together. I like hybrid things. I like nature but I also like technology, so in a sense to sum it up: my shoe is nature and technology combined.
We dig the depth you go to in your design Robert, and it definitely shows through. What about the details that you put into it? Like you put your name on it, you gotta do that of course!
And also you put your own Brooksy logo which looks like the reels of a tape cassette?
Yup. That comes from when I grew up listening to dance hall and reggae and a lot of live recordings of dance hall sessions and most of this came on cassettes which I’ve been collecting for years. At that time I was listening to Jamaican music all the time and I always bought it on cassettes. I love audio cassettes, that’s why the reel is my thing. It’s like a historic thing but it’s also an authentic thing. Tapes are maybe your first personal connection to music. You either buy vinyl or cassettes. So mine were cassettes more than vinyl.
And was there meaning to the color blocking on the cassette reel?
It’s Jamaican. The black, green, and yellow are the colours of the Jamaican national flag.
Oh, of course! Showing your roots in the details of your design, we like that. And what about your branches? What’s next for Brooksy?
I’m quite a free-spirited person so there’s no definition to what’s coming next. If there’s something I want to do I just go and do it. At present there’s a million and one things I want to do.
We’re right there with you Robert. Big congrats from eatmoreshoes on this experience and thanks again for taking the time to talk to us about it. We’ve only one last, totally non-trainer related question to ask, if it’s not too personal. We’re just wondering how long you’ve been growing your dreads for?
About seventeen years.
And how long are they?
Down to my bum.
That’s dedication man, and if we’re not mistaken it parallels a little bit with your collecting and probably your designing too.
I guess that’s the kind of person I am: I’m a dedicated guy. If I’m into it, I’m really into it. As we say in Jamaica, we give it the ‘full one hundred’. If I’m into something I go deep, I’m not a surface person.
written by Dylan Cromwell
photography by errol