published in SSAW Magazine Fall/Winter 2013, p. 174-179

Dirk Schönberger on freedom of creation and the collaboration principle for adidas by Raf Simons.

As one of the most quintessential designers of the early 2000s, Dirk Schönberger defined and pushed the idea of what menswear could and should be. Patchwork trousers, ruffled shirts, slashed fabric and detached sleeve cuffs were recurrent themes and constituted his defined signature. in 2004, he presented a collection that featured athletic formal wear and striped track suit bottoms – an omen, prophecy and, maybe subconsciously, promise for his personal future and design career.

After working for Joop and being celebrated as well as criticized for his progressive ideas, he joined the Adidas Sports Style division as creative director in 2010 where he is currently overseeing the y-3 and SlVr collections as well, and most importantly, the various designer collaborations. Here, Schönberger enters the dialogue not only with the brand’s symbols and history, but with other designers such as Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and, most recently, Raf Simons. When do attitudes collide? What meaning do the three stripes hold? And how does one cater to the inevitable question of performance versus aesthetics, day to day? An interview with the golden boy turned big gun who, quietly, accomplishes it all.

Hi Dirk, lovely to meet you. How are you today?
I’m really well. Working on the Y-3 show and the Originals campaign in New York.

The most important question to begin with, which shoes are you wearing right now?
I’m wearing the energy boost shoe in neon yellow. I love this great combination of the most innovative technology for a running shoe and its pure modern design.

How big is your team, how can we imagine the scene in your studio?
I work with several teams in Herzogenaurach, Portland and Shanghai. The way I work with the Y-3 team is very different than with the Originals teams. There is no typical scene and that makes it exciting.

Could you quickly talk us through your design career and personal history?
I studied in Munich and right after i went to work for Dirk Bikkembergs who at that time was one of the most inspiring menswear designers. He encouraged me to start my own line which I did in 1995. Then, after 12 years I moved back to Germany to work as creative director for Joop. And in 2010, I joined Adidas as creative director for Sport Style.

How would you define and describe the mood of the 2000s in retrospect?
It was the decade of hedonism. It was a bit like dancing on a volcano. Then people got tired of that and started to look for content and not only super- ficial ideas.

Networks, innovation, optimi-zation, multi-tasking, parallel identity. Can clothes answer those needs?
If they would, they would be an overloaded mess.

Tradition, handcraft, tribal culture, the archival. How do you think fashion can push forward humanist ideas and build heritage?
If you look at fashion today and the references to the past – sometimes literally, sometimes deconstructed and totally overhauled – I think it is the field which will leave the biggest footprint in the history in modern life.

Looking back at your own line and work for Joop which was often referred to as ‘avantgarde’ – did you feel misunderstood and ahead of your time?
I did what I believed was right at that time and didn’t feel misunderstood. But I don’t like the word ‘avantgarde’ really.

Can design ever be ‘too much’?
Yes. When it is purely decorative and doesn’t have an innovative new look as an object.

Looking at your oeuvre, names such as Comme des Garçons, Calvin Klein and Dries van Noten come to mind. Deconstructing sportswear and traditional tailoring in a similar manner, what are your thoughts on these designers?
For me, Comme des Garçons initiated the passion I have for fashion. And when you look back at Dries van Noten’s career, he is one of the most impressive creative designers there is.

What is your connection to Raf, you know each other from Antwerp?
We both started out around the same time in Antwerp and got to know each other. I am very pleased that we now have the possibility to work together through Adidas.

Working together on the adidas sneakers collection, what was the leading principle?
It is important that both sides bring something to the collaboration. For me there has to be a connection. With Raf, I know he has been a fan of the Adidas Stan Smith and his work always has a lot to do with youth culture. It is always forward thinking and questioning the status quo of fashion, and I think it’s important to challenge it.

How important was the equation of performance and design for the final range?
The performance and the technology side of sportswear is fascinating and it brings something completely new to fashion. The Adidas by Raf Simons range brings the fusion of sport and fashion to the next level.

How many styles were developed and how can we envision the actual design process?
21 unique designs for Spring/ Summer 2014 and then there are 8 unisex models in up to four colors and material executions. Raf is given creative freedom. I don’t want to intervene at all. It would make the collaboration weaker. The moment i would step in is when an idea is too far off Adidas as a brand, but I haven’t experienced that so far.

How does one reinvent the sneaker?
Never look back nor be too literal. Have an own point of view. Be radical and uncompromising in your approach to challenging fashion and sportswear.

If you had to pick one style from the Raf collaboration, which would it be?
I can’t just pick one...

With its current portfolio, Adidas is on the top of its game. How does it make you feel?
Adidas has always been a pioneer in bringing sports to a fashion audience. Our collaboration with Yohji Yamamoto was the first of its kind, fusing sport and fashion. The appeal of this new look has surely opened doors and influenced other fashion brands to follow suit.

What do the three stripes metaphorically stand for you?
When I was kid, Adidas was a sports brand only. But I loved the look of their footwear and used it for daily use and not just for sports.

Do you own art? Which are your preferred artist and most loved artworks?
I’m into Gerhard Richter for example...

How does the Dirk Schönberger closet look?
I like tuxedos. I have also begun to match some casual items into my look, like chinos, and I like to mix and match few different styles together. I always like to incorporate some trendy and unique pieces.

Are you emotional or analytical? Colours or black- and-white?
Black is my light. black, and for the same reason, white are the perfect alternatives for revealing apparel silhouettes and creations. And black is the most stylish of all the achromatic colors.

And one final, dear question: Will you come back?
The idea of having my own label again is certainly in the back of my mind, but I like my job at Adidas. I might consider setting up my own label again on the side. We’ll have to wait and see. But won’t ever do only that.