words, images & interview // Nick DePaula:
With over 65 years of product heritage helping to power a deep archive of beloved models, the adidas brand has been drafting off of its past icons and introducing new modern lifestyle products through its Originals category recently to much success.
Whether it’s been the Pure Boost or Tubular franchises, we’ve seen new introductions earn the brand a growing fanbase and ample momentum, leading into its latest statement level product launch. And sure, Kanye has helped a bit, too.
Now at the helm of the category’s design language for just under two years, adidas Originals’ VP of Global Design Nic Galway has looked to bring a mix of wearable silhouettes, considered uppers and unwavering cushioning to the brand’s latest products.
After joining adidas in the late 1990s, the former automotive and transportation designer has led teams working on collaborative projects like Y-3, and most recently helped to set the direction of the much-frenzied Yeezy Boost line.
I caught up with Galway recently in New York at the global launch of the adidas Originals NMD, his latest design offering rooted in being clean, wearable and comfortable. Check out our in-depth conversation below, for more about the design language and styling of the brand’s newest sneaker.
Be sure to also check out our very own adidas Consortium x Nice Kicks NMD Runner PK, dropping this weekend on Saturday, February 6th in San Francisco as part of the adidas Consortium Tour.
Nick DePaula: Can you first share a quick overview of your background and current role at adidas?
Nic Galway: When I came into this brand, I joined in the beginning of the jump. Back in the 1990s, we only made sporting products, and I joined right at the moment when all of the collaborations were just beginning to start. I really caught that moment, and I worked with everyone from the very beginning.
That took me on a journey from Yohji [Yamamoto] to Stella [McCartney] to what we created with the fashion projects. Then, more recently, I took over the role of Vice President of Global Design for Originals. That’s been for around 18 months now, and I’m bringing over all of those learnings from before into Originals.
NDP: The Micro Pacer, Rising Star, and Boston Super all helped to inspire the NMD — how’d you balance pulling cues from each model and keeping the design still modern and clean?
NG: What I wanted to do was really create something modern, and something very new. When you do that, there’s always the risk that people won’t connect. Where I think I have such a great opportunity, is our archive is so strong. When you combine the past and the future together, you bring context to that new innovation.
That was really the process. I’ve always loved the shoes from the mid-80s, because that was a moment in time when everyone was thinking about the future, and that was reflected in the product at that time. I wanted to connect those iconic blocking details, and bring them into a new generation of products.
NDP: What were some of the key items from a materials & cushioning standpoint that you guys knew you wanted to incorporate?
NG: What I always want to do with Originals, is I don’t want to always be stuck in the past. I want to influence the past, and I want to help people remember the past. On the other side, our brand has great innovations with Boost technology in particular, and it’s industry leading technology.
I wanted to bring that into a new context. Boost and PrimeKnit were the key materials, and then they informed how I created the product with the team. Adding in the elements of the past helped to balance that.
NDP: Being that this is a lifestyle shoe from Originals and not a performance shoe from Running, how do you make sure that you give it a lifestyle lens, so the consumer isn’t confusing this alongside the UltraBoost?
NG: One thing we really wanted to create, is that when you see the shoe from a distance, it’s somehow familiar and you recognize that iconic blocking. It’s very much from the past. When you get closer to the shoe, then you can see the innovation and the technology.
That’s interesting for us, and from a distance you can see the iconic elements from Originals. That’s what separates us, and it’s something we can do, that other brands can’t.
NDP: Are there any shifts in streetwear or clothing trends that helped to shape how the NMD was designed? It seems to be a silhouette that works well with tapered pants and joggers.
NG: Of course, and just like in clothing, it’s the same in sneakers – people want to always progress. You never want to get stuck in a moment. We wanted to really convey tonight how the shoe could be worn, in a very graphic way. Clothing has really evolved to where people love to show off their sneaker, and how you combine that with the shoe is interesting.
NDP: A lot of your biggest designs have been the higher end Y-3 or Yeezy models. How have you looked to halo that design language into the in-line Originals silhouettes, to reach a broader audience?
NG: What my past experience has allowed me to do, is it’s allowed me to show a confidence to the brand. When you work with Kanye or you work with Yohji Yamamoto, you can go places where maybe you couldn’t go on your own. That’s one of the reasons for partnering.
Once you go there, and you see the response these products have, then it gets people within the brand to say, “We can go further with this.” I spent a long time working on many of these projects, and now we’ve really seen the opportunity to say, “Lets bring that into everything that we do.”
I’m seeing it all of the time, when I’m reading the blogs and seeing the comments. I love to see people engaged and having an opinion. I don’t mind if people really love or have a different opinion, but I want people to be engaged.
NDP: What’s your sketch process like? So much of your sneakers are wearable and you seem to design with on-foot style as such a premium. Do you draw toe downs first, or have a certain order that you design?
NG: I actually don’t sketch. [laughs] I mean, I do occasionally, but only thumbnails. I make things. I always start with fabrics, materials, tape – whatever – and I make things.
I make the sneakers myself, and they’re not perfect, but it’s a study. Then that really informs the silhouettes. If you just draw, you get stuck in side views or top views.
NDP: And not everything that’s rendered will always translate to 3D too, as we often see in footwear.
NG: Exactly. You can cheat with sketches too. When you make things, you can’t cheat. When you make things, you start with one idea, and then it evolves. You start to see new opportunities, and you’ll see in most of my work, that it’s very silhouette based. There’s a place for sketching, but I really just like to bring all of these things together. You see that more and more in our studio now, and I’d love to see that rub off on new generations of designers.
NDP: That’s an awesome approach to hear you walk me through. Aurelien Longo is a designer under you that I’ve noticed has really created some great silhouettes in that style as well. I love the Qasa II slip-ons that he did.
NG: Definitely, and he’s a great guy and great designer.
NDP: Lastly, the first read on the NMD is the bold color rectangles along the midsole, of course, but what are some of the more minor details that you like most on the shoe?
NG: When you get up close, the thing I like most about the shoe is there’s no element from the shoe that you can remove. If you look at the shoe and its elements, every single piece has a purpose, and there’s no decorative element on that shoe. You see it from a difference, and you might reference a sneaker. When you get up close, you’ll realize every piece is considered. It might reflect the past or the future, but if you remove any one element, the experience of the product will be different.