The Original Subcultures of the adidas Gazelle

We look at the different cultural fringe groups that helped propel the iconic sneaker into the mainstream.

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If the sneaker world had a fountain of youth, the adidas Gazelle may just have drunk from it. First released in 1966, what first began as a performance-oriented training sneaker has superseded its initial purpose to become an iconic silhouette, emerging every decade and touching upon almost every major subculture to become a truly timeless icon.

Now, following the phenomenal success of the Stan Smith, adidas is looking to revitalize the Gazelle as its next retro bestseller — this much seems likely, given the sneaker’s simple yet characterful design that has allowed it to be co-opted by so many fringe cultural groups while being tied down by none. However, in this post-subcultural world of ours, it’s important to note the mark that disparate youth movements have left on the court sneaker in the past half-century, from Bob Marley to Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher. Below, we round up five of the most prominent groups to idolize the adidas Gazelle.

Reggae

adidas Gazelle Subculture History

Right: Bob Marley. Left: Selah Marley.

As the face of the reggae and Rasta movement, Bob Marley is undoubtedly known for his music and “One Love” philosophy. His profile is instantly recognizable the world over, but as much as the rastacap is an inseparable part of his outfit, so was an adidas tracksuit, and on his feet, a pair of Gazelles. Marley was probably drawn by the sight of the bright golden yellow of the Gazelle’s twin sister, the Mexicana, which was released in anticipation of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. An avid soccer fan himself, Marley wore Gazelles both on and off the field — a style that was picked up by his reggae contemporaries and has been passed down to his grandchildren, most notably Selah Marley who sported the model in a recent “Style Tribes” campaign for adidas Originals.

Terrace Casuals

adidas Gazelle Subculture History Arguably the subculture most strongly associated with the adidas Gazelle, the terrace casuals of ’80s-era Thatcherite Britain grew out of soccer culture prevalent in urban centers the country over. While the casuals’ uniform stayed loyal to higher-end continental sportswear brands like C.P. Company, its Stone Island offshoot, Lacoste and Fred Perry to differentiate themselves from the less-privileged soccer hooligans, it was adidas that was the rallying cry around which young lads gathered.

Naturally, given its reputation as an indoor soccer shoe, the Gazelle was a perfect fit for them, becoming something of a status symbol in the process. As adidas consultant Gary Aspden told Complex, “We called shoes like Monaco, Madeira and Samoa the ‘poor man’s Gazelles,’ as they had suede uppers but were a fiver cheaper than the Gazelle. Gazelle was the shoe everyone wanted.” Given the strong resurgence of casual fashion in the menswear realm of late, the Gazelle’s reintroduction seems at the very least destined for success among this particular crowd.

Hip-hop

adidas Gazelle Subculture History

The Beastie Boys rocking their Gazelles.

While the casuals did much to help proliferate adidas and Gazelles throughout the UK, it wasn’t until the advent of hip-hop legends Run-D.M.C. that catalyzed the merging of street and sportswear — indeed, their track “My Adidas” certainly marked the beginning of this irrevocable shift when they performed to a packed audience at Madison Square Garden on their 1986 Raising Hell tour, imploring tens of thousands of fans to lift their adidas sneakers in unison. adidas responded in kind with a multi-million dollar deal and its first-ever collaboration with non-athletes in the form of a limited-edition Superstar, thus reaching an entirely new audience. Meanwhile, Run-D.M.C. had opened the door for other hip-hop brands to follow in their stead.

As the 1990s came around, the adidas Gazelle found its champion within this sphere in the Beastie Boys, who were charmed by its retro aesthetic and European roots. In mutual fashion, as hip-hop’s popularity in Europe spread, so did the popularity of related silhouettes like the Superstar and Campus.

However, since these particular sneakers were considered niche in Europe and elsewhere, the small band of hip-hop heads across the pond had to make do with sneakers that were widely available, and the Gazelle filled this gap beautifully. Similarly, the b-boy subculture in both the U.S. and UK incorporated the Gazelle into their getups, with figures like Rock Steady Crew’s Ken Swift and English crew Broken Glass adopting it with fervor.

Grunge

The ’90s is widely considered the golden era of the adidas Gazelle, and along with its adoption by hip-hop, the sneaker also found a home within the grunge subculture. Kate Moss was arguably the Gazelle’s poster girl within grunge, rocking the shoes in her off-duty model looks which she often paired with boyishly oversized overcoats. An archival image of a doe-like Kate in a simple black spaghetti top, cheekily biting her nail with her legs crossed on the sofa while wearing a maroon pair of the Gazelles, would resurface this June as part of adidas’s “Remember the Future” campaign as the first push to reintroduce the classic into the current streetwear vernacular.

The same shade of maroon Gazelles found their way into another mainstay of ’90s grunge, namely Danny Boyle’s seminal work, Trainspotting. Ewan McGregor’s Renton opens the cult film dashing down Edinburgh’s Princes Street in the three-striped sneaker, forever emblazoning it into the minds of anarchists and nihilists as the footwear of choice for those who wanted to stick it to the establishment. Grunge and heroin chic thus became a defining fashion through much of the ’90s, with the Gazelle figuring centrally within.

Britpop

adidas Gazelle Subculture History

Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher flanked by his collaborative Gazelles.

At the opposite end of the ’90s music spectrum was the Britpop phenomenon, which reacted to stark neoliberal government agendas of the time with “more celebration than commiseration,” as opposed to the oftentimes self-pitying persona of the grunge movement. However, proponents of Britpop were not exempt from the pull of the Gazelle, with representatives of the genre such as the Stone Roses, Blur and Supergrass making the sneaker as much a part of their stage appearances as their Union Jack electric guitars. Above all, Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher became Britpop’s premier devotee to the Gazelle. “When I gave up drugs I had to obsess about something, and I’m not into cars, not into jewelery and all that kind of thing, and I had loads of guitars, so I set off on a quest to collect adidas trainers,” Gallagher reasoned to The Independent. adidas went so far as to honor that obsession with Noel Gallagher-endorsed special edition Gazelles, his sullen face staring out from the tongue in gold for perpetuity.

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