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This new exhibition is celebrating Liverpool’s trainer obsession and the part Wade Smith played in it

11 months ago

This new exhibition is celebrating Liverpool’s trainer obsession and the part Wade Smith played in it

A new exhibition is opening this month celebrating Liverpool’s love affair with trainers and the part Wade Smith played in bringing them together.

Mad on Adidas has been created by Chris Lee who worked at Wade Smith for 17 years, helping build it from an early 80s casual culture start in Slater Street to its Mathew Street heyday when he was responsible for buying the brands which made it famous. 

He says Adidas hasn’t just been his own personal favourite across five decades, it was also crucial in the making of Wade Smith.

The exhibition will feature around 100 items from Chris’s own personal collection of memorabilia – everything from shoes to catalogues, adverts, badges, posters and promo gifts. There’s even his first hand-written receipt for an Adidas bag, priced £13.50, from back in October 1983.

It will also include 12 new paintings of iconic Adidas trainers painted by local artist Nick Beedles which will be available to buy, and a soundtrack which Chris has curated from songs which were played in the shop back in the day.

Wade Smith

He says anyone visiting Mad on Adidas will get a firsthand look at the fashion, music, and lifestyle of the 1980s, the works of art that capture the spirit of that period, and discover more about the significance of the opening of Wade Smith in Liverpool.

He explains: “Rob Wade Smith was the area manager for the Adidas concessions, and because Topman in Liverpool was selling more than any other city in the country he realised Liverpool was the place to go be.   

“In those days you’d go to the greatest lengths to have something rarer than someone else and one of the things that started the whole training shoe phenomenon was the fact that you could get slightly different training shoes in different countries.

“There could be 15 different ranges around Europe, so if you went abroad and brought back a pair that was different people were envious of them. The differences made them more wantable.

“Liverpool and Everton fans would buy them to bring back and sell because they were so much cheaper in Europe at the time, and the demand was there, so that it fuelled it as well.”

Chris joined Wade Smith at 16, first to cover on the shop floor for a week while owner Rob went on a buying trip to Germany, then as Saturday staff before going full-time. He was made a director when he was 21 and ended up doing the buying and designing the landmark stores. 

His own trainer obsession began even before he landed his first job.

“I’ve got catalogues from 1980, from way before I joined in ‘83, and you could see all the different training shoes out there. Adidas would have a factory in Austria, in Germany, Yugoslavia, Poland and a lot of the running shoes were made in France. Austria’s Wimbledon shoe was slightly different than the German one so there were those nuances.

“When I was at Wade Smith we always had a mentality of finding something different because there was an energy and an excitement around that.”

Wade Smith

In the years since, Chris has kept his collection in boxes, so full that he’s having to seriously edit everything down for the Mad on Adidas exhibition. In fact, this is just the first phase of a bigger plan; he also has a book in the pipeline and he intends to recreate Wade Smith’s first store in Start-Yard and fill it with shoes from that era.

He’s still going through piles of memorabilia looking for one of four original pictures which were on the wall in Slater Street, although he has managed to track down an important piece to go on display.

“I’ve got one of the first Wade Smith bags which wasn’t a Wade Smith bag it all, it was a Beatle City bag from Seel Street because Rob forgot to buy any bags to put the shoes in! I actually had to buy that on eBay from America.”

The exhibition launch will coincide with the opening of phase two of Start-Yard, adding an extra 10 units for start-ups and creatives.

Chris is already deciding which of the 12 paintings to reserve for himself. “They’re all meaningful to the time or to me personally, and they look amazing. I’ll probably end up buying the Trimm Trab, but I could quite easily keep them all,” he says.

Mad on Adidas launches at Start-Yard from July 28, then it’s open weekdays from 9-5pm. 

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