The juxtaposition of art and commerce took another rubber-soled step forward last week on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. As DJ Joe Quixx spun breakbeats and ViV played live indie rock, a throng of urban hipsters schmoozed over coconut chicken skewers and mojitos served by attractive women in skimpy, sporty outfits, while viewing colorful canvases by local artists Refa One, Attaboy, and Dan Fleres. The occasion was the grand opening reception for the new Adidas Originals store, an ultratrendy boutique dedicated to advancing the idea of sneaker couture by blurring the lines between shoe store and art gallery.
Built by the Austrian architectural design firm EOOS and one of nine such high-concept retail outlets in the country (the others are in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Chicago; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; Philadelphia; Portland; and Washington, DC), the new store seemed more inspired by MoMA than Foot Locker. Subtle neon-blue accents, contrasted with open white space and ceiling-mounted track lights, added to the futuristic, tech-y feel. Historical artifacts, such as a high-top basketball shoe originally worn by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, lay enshrined in a display case with all the élan of a Ming Dynasty vase.
Of course, it was still a store. The racks themselves were full of limited-edition footwear — like the Halfshell, a high-fashion version of the classic shelltoe — in exotic color combinations, luxurious leather coats, $225 gold nylon hoodies, and warmup jackets with the names of sports heroes like German soccer superstar Franz Beckenbauer or boxing legend Muhammad Ali on the back. Not that any of these sporty togs were destined to become soaked with gymnasium-generated sweat; this was “lifestyle” apparel, after all, a point driven home by the inclusion of some pieces from the “Safety” line, a workwear collection with a distinctive Euro-industrial style that looked like something Kraftwerk might have worn onstage back in 1978.
The lavish opening was all part of creating a buzz; passersby without invites naturally wondered what the hell was going on, while those lucky enough to score one of the trefoil-decorated, blue-colored invites felt as if they were part of the in-crowd elite. The scenesters seemed content to spend the evening chatting up acquaintances while waiting in line for yet another complimentary beverage, although a few sneaker pimps could be seen making purchases as the evening wore on.
The company’s decision to locate in Berkeley — not San Francisco, mind you — was no accident. Adidas PR rep Jean Fawcett, who flew down from corporate HQ in Portland for the occasion, pointed at the Telegraph Avenue foot traffic as she explained her employer’s thinking. “Look at it,” she said. “You see so many different types of people out here. You have people from all over the world, and the entire United States. Just the energy and the diversity. And then you have the history on Telegraph. This is the most historic part of Berkeley, you know?”
The store plans to regularly keep blurring the lines between art and commerce by hosting events featuring DJs or live music. And while “die Marke mit die drei Streifen” is admittedly a corporate consumer product, what Adidas is trying to do with its Originals stores should bring a certain flavor and style to “The Avenue.” Of course, if you have a problem with the marketing of commercialism as culture, feel free to blame Pop Art avatar Andy Warhol or Run-DMC, the authors of the rap song “My Adidas” — who, after all, started the trend.