As time seeps from seconds into decades, places lapse slowly out of recognition and streets become mapped through time with memories. London’s restless transformation is interrupted only by recollections of what was, who was, where. Robert Brooks’ is a Hackney layered with the ghosts of long-gone trainer shops, shops I’ve never heard of, shops where, as a school boy, he bought his first pairs of Adidas Kicks.
For Robert, as collecting takes the form of journey, so trainers came to constitute a ‘timeline of growing up’. It was Adidas, always Adidas. Look, quality, material, style, ‘if you was somebody… then the best trainers were Adidas’.
Working outwards from the brand’s more basic models Kicks and Rom, Robert set his sights on the more technologically advanced Torsion Precision. ‘I had to keep looking at this thing [in a catalogue]… and my girlfriend at the time thought I was crazy’. Travelling fifty miles from Dalston to Milton Keynes, an adolescent Brooks finally sourced the trainer from the catalogue image he had become so absorbed by. ‘When I actually got them it felt really serious’, he notes. Through time as the search has complexified, so have Robert’s travels, with itineraries spanning warehouses all over Europe, to Paris, Frankfurt and Poland, each stride strengthening Brooks’ formidable collection.
IS BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW
WHERE IT'S GOING TO TAKE YOU.'
If the journey is the thing itself, the trainers picked up along the way become pieces salvaged, relics of time itself. Brooks did not self-identify as a collector from his first adventure out of London into suburban Milton Keynes. ‘You wouldn’t view it as collecting, you just keep and absorb. It’s like picking up little relics that you just hold onto.’ And this holding on is more about clutching at time and the past, the forgotten histories that are revealed when he holds in his hands trainers from the TRX range so highly revered during his youth.
‘I can look at loads of my shoes and remember moments… it isn’t about the trainers. It’s people-related. It’s moment-related, so it kind of throws back lots of memories of the past.’
This is a past that is increasingly in the present, Brooks notes, recalling the long-term trend for Shoreditch pin rolls which now universally alter trouser length all over the country. ‘It’s a re-lived experience’, he explains. ‘For us, that’s coming from a Jamaican culture hitting London. But obviously when you rolled up your jeans you could see all of your shoe’.
TIMES OF JUST BEING YOUNG AND DOING YOUR THING.'
This re-lived experience is manifested in the trainers themselves, as Adidas designers such as Kazuki Kuraishi continually strive to adapt originals, retracing the lines of the initial aesthetic but bending forward into 2013, ‘giving them a new lease of life, a new journey to go on’. Brooks’ role within Adidas’ Collectors Project, in which five collectors from around the globe were invited to Herzogenaurach to redesign their favourite Adidas trainer, enabled him to rework the past, making his own limited edition version of the ZX550 trainer which had eluded him for so many years. No one Robert knew had ever owned or even seen a pair, so here a pair was; Brooks’ gift to the collecting community.
Robert’s passion for collecting cannot have an end point when the goals themselves are not always coherent: his is a search located within maps pieced together from bits and pieces of information collected along the way. ‘Years ago, my friend gave me this really old Adidas catalogue. And that became like my reference point.’ By making physical the catalogue’s pages, as well as collecting outside its boundaries, Robert Brooks has curated his own version of Adidas’ history. The catalogue, ‘a book of 50 pages of Adidas from that time,’ became a guide from which Robert can further establish his collection.
But no book can detail every shoe produced by a brand, even within a prescribed time period; this is knowledge owned not by Adidas as a multinational corporation, but by the brand’s collectors. These are individuals for whom Adidas constitutes far more than just a brand, people whose running trainers exist eternally fresh within those iconic bright-blue boxes.
Some people look for completion, for life’s boxes ticked and job dones. Running a marathon. Buying a house. Marriage. Kids. But there will always be another trainer, a whisper about a colour way that Brooks hadn’t previously known to exist, and so his timeline expands, becoming more densely packed with memories as every new pair of trainers is obtained. Others could have viewed Robert’s curatorial role in the Adidas Originals Spezial trainer exhibition as a stopping post, but for Robert Brooks, occasions like Spezial merely represent marks on an ever-evolving timeline that stretches languidly into infinity.
Trainers exist in multiple points in time. Creation, discovery, re-discovery. Brooks’ journey as a collector weaves in and out, drawing lines between each points. It may be ten, fifteen years between Brooks’ discovery of the existence of a pair of trainers and the moment that he physically finds them, forgotten, in the dank basement of a European sports shop.
IT WILL COME.
Read more about the Collectors Project at www.adidasoriginals.tumblr.com