Something old, something new, something borrowed, something with a hint of Punk? Adidas’s ‘Remember the Future’ Gazelle relaunch campaign adapted the old wedding rhyme with a twist. The brand’s collaboration with Instagram artist Doug Abraham, aka @bessnyc4, is a dynamic piece of brand communication tailored to the tastes of Generation Snapchat/Instagram. The multimedia image that this partnership produced is compelling in its use of re-appropriation and collage as visual and conceptual tools for brand storytelling.
A Tale of Two Icons-tapping into 20th century myths
Abraham’s animated image of a young Kate Moss, shot by Denzil McNeelance in 1993, lies at the heart of the campaign and harnesses the popular mythology of two so-called ‘modern icons.’ It conflates Moss’s rock and roll Cinderella tale of a lanky Croydon teenager with Gazelles’ enduring subcultural popularity.
The campaign’s quotation of the 1990s is not incidental. The era’s pared down, grungy aesthetic is currently trending and has been interpreted by cult brands from Vetements to Glossier. The campaign image was therefore carefully selected to be both familiar and new, to capture the rebellion and naivety of 1990s youth culture from an unseen angle. This strategy has been successful as the image immediately calls to mind Corinne Day’s now iconic photographs of Moss at the start of her career. In McNeelance’s photo, a fresh faced Kate tilts her head in a pose that is simultaneously flirtatious and awkward. Her black outfit exudes the casual cool associated with the off-duty model look, while her burgundy Gazelles have an almost magical quality. They stand out on her feet like Dorothy’s ruby slippers reimagined for a skater/grunge audience.
The photograph fuses the cults of Moss and Gazelles. The image is not only a generic reference 1990s style, it also recalls a specific chapter in Moss’s career. 1993 was a significant year for the model; she appeared on the cover of Vogue for the first time and was catapulted into global fame by Calvin Klein’s controversial campaigns. The choice of date therefore is key to the image’s storytelling potential, as it depicts a turning-point in a narrative that has passed into popular consciousness. Moss appears in the photo as a star-in-the-making and not as an established icon, which makes her both a relatable and an aspirational figure. Her adoption of Gazelles is suggested to be a personal choice rather than the result of a paid endorsement. She is portrayed as an authentic Adidas Original, a real person whose unique style, symbolised by her choice of sneakers, has been instrumental to her success. This narrative of daring and self expression no doubt appeals to Gen Z and Millennial audiences, many of whom might be aspiring creators and influencers who wish to model themselves on this narrative.
Remix Rebellion-Cut, copy, paste
While Moss stands in as a signifier of Cool Girl #stylegoals, creative collaborator Doug Abraham a.k.a. @bessnyc4’s reinterpretation of the 1993 image imbues the campaign with a rebellious attitude. The piece that he has produced for Adidas is a manifesto for creative kleptomania based on the tagline ‘Steal from history. Nothing is sacred’ and incorporates different collage traditions (scrapbooks, zines and even glitch art) to align the cultivation of personal style with avant-garde image-making.
Collage is a pictorial technique that involves the reconfiguration of disparate elements. Associated with subversion, it has surfaced time and time again as a critical tool in the hands of avant-garde artists who questioned the status quo. In many instances, this entailed playing with mass media such as newspaper clippings, posters, and even product labels in order to highlight their role in disseminating cultural ideologies. Richard Hamilton’s 1956 photomontage, for example, parodied 1950s advertising cliches and their suggestion that happiness could be attained through the purchase of fashionable consumer goods.
Abraham’s own multimedia Instagram collages poke fun at today’s brand and celebrity obsessed culture. His bessnyc4 account is a vivid departure from formulaic Instagram feeds that promote idealised, airbrushed lifestyles. The artist’s graphic reconfigurations of porn clips, beauty ads and cute animal videos seem like a conscious rebellion against the pleasantness of ‘basic’ imagery and the bland aspirations they perpetuate.
Though Abraham’s clip for the Adidas Gazelles campaign is more celebratory than critical, his trademark subversive style has a halo effect on the sneakers. His use of collage as a creative medium signals that these days originality doesn’t solely rely on invention, it can also derive from the combination of powerful pop cultural elements. The concept of appropriation, a key characteristic of much postmodern art since Andy Warhol, is made explicit in the short interview video that accompanies the campaign film on Adidas’s Youtube channel. Abraham explains “I think of re-appropriation more as being materials, just like paint is a material, or a pencil is a material. Images are materials.” Consumers are encouraged to look at Gazelles not as mere shoes but as potent symbols to be used to define oneself in relation to or in defiance of the mainstream. This is a tempting offer that already seems to have resonated with audiences. It is also a step towards reframing Adidas into a creative collaborator.
Punk Echoes: ‘No Future’ repurposed
One of the most interesting aspects of the campaign is its riff on Punk’s creative legacy in both visuals and attitude. The movement’s echoes are discernible throughout the clip, for example in the ‘Punk facelift’ (shaved head, studded choker, heavy makeup) that Moss is given in one of the remixes. (See the screenshot above) But creative energy doesn’t come from simply copying a look. Instead, it is the quotation of Punk collage forms such as home-made zines, posters and leaflets that generate deeper meaning. The DIY aesthetic evoked throughout the film brings to life a creative community of makers, and it is this reference that speaks the most powerfully to Adidas’s aspirations of becoming a creators’ brand.
What defined Punk as a subculture was its anti-establishment, anti-capitalist ethos. Its hostility towards the mainstream necessitated a visual language that reflected members’ outlook and created a sense of community. A rough, unfinished aesthetic emerged that poked fun at consumerism and traditional middle-class values, most memorably on the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen album cover. The 1977 collage imposed Queen Elizabeth II’s head over the Union Jack and obscured her face by the phrases ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘The Sex Pistols’ in cut-up lettering. Zines, album sleeves, flyers were made by fans, friends or the bands themselves and fostered a participatory culture that encouraged action rather than passive consumption.
Adidas seeks to emulate Punk’s counter-cultural sense of community in order to appeal to Gen Z consumers who who are thought to be more collaborative, entrepreneurial and conscientious than previous generations. It has even adapted the slogan ‘No Future’ (originally Sex Pistols’ lyrics from God Save The Queen) in its communications. The phrase ‘future’, struck out by Adidas’s famous three stripes, has been a feature in ads since the brand launched its ‘Your Future is Not Mine’ campaign in January 2016. (According to the company’s social media pages, the three stripes stand for past, present and future.) The clip featured brand influencers (including artist Design Butler, lifestyle blogger/model Aleali May, singer and DJ Kyu Steed and Cleveland Cavaliers’ Iman Shumpert) negotiating their way through a dystopia of narcissism, technological alienation and environmental disaster. While this short film positioned Adidas as the brand for those who reject the worst that mainstream culture has to offer, the subsequent ‘Remember the Future’ clip invited the same audience to collaborate by redefining Gazelles. As a result, a re-purposed Punk attitude serves as the basis for a brand universe that can be supported with deeper engagement through social media call to actions.
The Bottom Line
The bessnyc4 x Adidas collaboration has produced a compelling and layered communication piece. It references a trending aesthetic (the 90s), invites a social media influencer to create a link between art-making and personal style (Instagram artist bessnyc4), while also packaging its endeavours as part of a greater project of creative collaboration. Adidas’s appropriation of Punk is particularly interesting in this context. Their move is part of a greater trend that has seen Punk iconography go mainstream, encouraged by recent events such as The Met’s PUNK: From Chaos to Couture exhibition in 2013 and this year’s Punk London initiative that celebrates the movement’s 40 years through a series of events. However, instead of taking the obvious route of copying the Punk look, Adidas reinterpreted the movement’s legacy and aligned it with the cultural references and emotional needs of the next generation.