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How Adidas Became The Kingpin Of Music Collaborations In 2014

Looking across the spectrum of 2014 where music and fashion met, the most glaring takeaway is that the year was one full of collaborations. There was the usual kind: musicians starring in campaigns, soundtracking shows, collaborating on special tour wardrobes, and designing everything you can think of from run-of-the-mill capsule collections to train-shaped handbags, rotten teeth, and lint rollers. Then there was an entirely new subset you could call a kind of movement: musicians getting into activewear.

Beyonce inked a deal with Topshop to build out her own athleisure line. Her little sister Solange teamed up with Puma once again on another splashy sneaker collection. Even Bad Gal RiRi got into the sportswear game, reportedly signing a seven-figure contract to come on as the creative director of Puma. But, out of all the activewear brands who collaborated with musicians this year, no one had a stronger roster than Adidas.

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Adidas not only signed the most musicians this year, let alone powerhouses like Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, they also built the most well-rounded team. Kanye brought real-life design experience to his post, having already shown two runway collections and collaborated with Nike on three runs of the Yeezy that were so successful to the point where a pair of his most recent sneaker, the Red October, hit eBay for $16.3 million.

Pharrell likewise arrived at Adidas with an already impressive résumé that included his former Ice Cream sneaker line at Reebok, his own Billionaire Boys Club clothing line, and partnerships ranging from Bionic Yarn to Comme des Garçons.

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Meanwhile, Rita Ora, another kind of serial collaborator, provided a feminine perspective for Adidas with her capsule collection, which ended up feeling more ready-to-wear than workout attire with pieces like a leather sports bra, a patch-covered beanie, and crop tops.

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And, with his street cred and non-traditionally-commercial lyrical prowess, Pusha T gave Adidas an edge against their competitors. (In a similar vein, Reebok has since hired fellow rapper minimalist Kendrick Lamar as a global brand ambassador to buff up their image.) Glancing at Adidas’ lineup, the narrative that emerges is that everyone on board is an underdog in some way.

As much as 2014 seems like it was a breakout year for Adidas, and, maybe, an anomaly in the breadth of their partners, the brand has always been a hub for creativity and collaborators with a unique point of view. Ten years ago, the brand was the first to build out a joint-venture line with a runway designer when they took a chance on the then-relatively nascent Stella McCartney, whose namesake fashion house opened up only three years earlier in 2001. Before there was “Adidas by Stella McCartney,” the clothing label took a chance on collaborating with another emerging designer, the far more divisive Jeremy Scott, who’s now the head of Moschino. For both partnerships, Adidas kept the designers’ names front and center on the label, giving them equal—if not more—shine for their work for the brand. And that history of propping up their designers is part of the reason Adidas has been able to attract this level of talent.

Jeremy Scott for Adidas Originals

Last year when Kanye did his interview with Sway heard ‘round the internet, he griped about how in his mind, they cut financial corners with him. “So, then I start turning up in the BBC interview, so [Nike] said, 'OK cool, we’re gonna give you a bigger sandbox to play in. We’re gonna give you this amount right here to design, and two collections a year, and 30 skews — that’s the amount of items that you have. Would that make you happy, Kanye?' And I said, 'Well, I need royalties. It’s not even like I have a joint venture. At least give me some royalties.'” Nike didn’t oblige, so Kanye turned to Adidas. “The old me might have taken this Nike deal because I just love Nike so much, blah, blah, blah,” Kanye told Hot 97 afterwards, “But the new me with a daughter takes the Adidas deal because I have royalties and I have to provide for my daughter.”

Adidas has also agreed to give Kanye the tools to build out his first full-on ready-to-wear line for a sports company. From what we’ve seen and heard, it’s going to be “amazing” and “all about themes.” What kind of themes? Judging by the first look at it, a pair of moccasin Yeezy sneakers, suggests futuristic with throws to heritage. Judging by the size of the “Yeezy Fabric” binder, it will also be textile heavy. It doesn’t feel like a stretch to assume that Ye will continue with the utilitarian feel he put forth with his most recent A.P.C. collaboration. But one thing is for sure, considering its release is imminent, Adidas is poised to dominate again in 2015.