When it comes to high-octane, high-performance sports brands, it’s striking to note just how many are German. From Adidas and Puma to the various German fashion labels which have embraced the sporting look in their designs, the dynamism of sportswear is particularly strong in Germany. German brands are particularly technically adept – if this were a marathon, Germany would be racing ahead.
Given the supremacy of Adidas in the world of sports attire, it’s surprising that the label’s first shoes were made in the laundry room of a home in a remote Bavarian town. Adidas, first known by the less catchy name Gebrüder Dassler Schufabrik, was founded by Adolf Dassler, later joined in the business by his brother Rudolf. Adolf Dassler had worked in a local shoe factory and the brothers made rubber sports shoes using pedal-powered equipment. In 1936, Adolf Dassler persuaded US sprinter Jesse Owens to wear Gebrüder Dassler Schufabrik sneakers in the summer Olympics in Berlin, where the athlete won four gold medals.
The unique factor? The label’s innovative technological advances. Due to the brothers’ increasingly sour relationship, in 1948 the company split; Adolf renamed his part of it Adidas, and Rudolf founded a competitor that would become as substantial as Adidas: Puma. The split was a bitter one and the residents of their home town, Herzogenaurach, became known as ‘bent necks’ because they looked down at people’s feet to see which label they favoured – and thus which side of the feud they had taken.
Screw-in studs were a novelty when Adidas applied them to the soles of lightweight football boots for the 1954 World Cup. They aided grip and flexibility, and went on to become standard for footballing footwear. Part of the development of Adidas footwear involved consulting athletes about their needs and adapting designs as required. Today Adidas outfits countless teams and sportspeople and the name is woven into sporting history.
The company remains as passionate as ever about developing intelligent technology that works to absorb impact and provide cushioning; in 2013, it devised ‘energy capsules’ that are embedded in Adidas soles and are designed to store energy and return it to the runner. Puma has also gone on to become a benchmark for experimentation and style, collaborating with the world’s leading sporting stars and fashion brands. Germany’s leadership in sports attire is, at least in part, founded on these two world-beating brands.
This leadership in high-performance sportswear has led to a notably strong sporting influence on every aspect of German style. Street style, including the sporting look, is an integral part of Germany’s prominence in international fashion, thanks in no small part to the biannual Bread & Butter trade show in Berlin, which celebrates street and sports fashion.
In the Mitte district of the city, cutting-edge fashion boutiques are found next to sports emporiums such as Puma and Adidas. Bread & Butter’s offices are even found above the city’s Adidas store; the fusion of sports labels with innovative fashion, such as wearing a pair of Adidas sneakers with a Raf Simons skirt, is effortless and natural. As Karl-Heinz Müller, the organiser of Bread & Butter, notes: ‘Because Berlin has never been a big fashion capital, we’ve had to stand out in other ways, and the natural evolution of that is that we specialise in streetwear and sportswear.’
A culture of connoisseurship has grown up around sports pieces. This focus on sports has trickled naturally into Germany’s luxury fashion labels. Michael Michalsky, creative director of Munich-based label MCM, has helped turn the sneaker into a cult status item with his branded high-tops in zinging acid shades. Escada has similarly embraced a dynamic aesthetic with its Sport line, which offers clean-cut polo-shirts and insulated jackets and gilets for spring. Even its mainline dresses and blouses come with sports-inspired accents such as zips and buckles.
At Hugo Boss, it’s a similar story – neat, lightweight sweatpants and tops with insulating webbing and racing-inspired jackets feature, and it’s no coincidence that Jenson Button is the face of the brand. At Wunderkind, German style titan Wolfgang Joop’s high-fashion offshoot label, the aesthetic is artful and quirky, but the sports influence is still felt keenly in vests for spring covered in baseball-style lettering and sporty stripes. Sportswear has always been inherent to Germany’s style culture and the country’s top brands, from the functional to the high fashion, continue that heritage.