Illustration by Anna Higgie

Hermann Deininger Remembered

The Franconian gentleman died aged 54

The death has occurred of Hermann Deininger, Franconian gentleman, bon vivant and cerebral adidas executive who left a unique and indelible mark on fashion history. Deininger was arguably the single most important force in creating a key dominant look of the 21st century - sporting life style fashion – by revolutionizing fashion’s links with active sports; and connecting adidas with such luminaries as Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney, Jeremy Scott and Pharrell Williams, he departed this world as a true fashion explorer.

Deininger passed away Sunday 18th May after a distressing period of heart problems. He was 54. With the symmetry that marked his particular life, he died in hospital in Erlangen, some five kilometers from Herzogenaurach, the hometown of Europe’s most important, and innovative, sporting brand adidas.

Deininger was a visionary who understood that a key component of future’s fashion would be a nexus of sporting technology, clubbing clothes, active sports style and designer fantasy.

Hermann first entered adidas as an intern aged 19, rising through the ranks rapidly, until 2000 when he became Head of Global Business Development, where he staged his first major marketing and strategic coup – creating Y-3 with Yohji Yamamoto. Overnight, adidas reinvented the fashion paradigm, and Deininger became an admired player in the fashion universe.

There had been the occasional link ups before of designers making limited edition sneakers for sporting brands, but Deininger was a visionary who understood that a key component of future’s fashion would be a nexus of sporting technology, clubbing clothes, active sports style and designer fantasy. Which is where I first met him, in Paris with Yamamoto, a designer I revered; whom I had reviewed for industry bible Women’s Wear Daily and for whom I had even been a runway model. Yamamoto was such a quirky designer he always included “real people” in his shows, in my case walking the catwalk with a couple of Japanese avant garde musicians and Anton Corbijn, the photographer who was later to direct “Control,” the acclaimed biopic of Joy Division leader Ian Curtis.

Very dramatically, in Yohji’s next shows one witnessed a new fashion direction – as Yamamoto sent out Japanese fantasy fabric sneakers and brilliant medieval high top triple stripe boxing boots. Subsequently, Yohji’s early Y-3 runways outings rewrote the rules about party gear – with super influential marriages of his own voluminous arty samurai silhouettes linked with adidas techy breathable micro-fiber materials. Thanks to Deininger, adidas stole a march on rivals like Nike, Puma and Diadora that it has never really lost.

We enjoyed a fine bottle of Echezeaux, washing down plates of Vitello Tonnato, and a beautiful friendship was born.

That’s when I had my first meal with Hermann; sitting down in the Hotel Costes in Paris with then creative director Michael Michalsky to write a story entitled “The Boys Behind Y-3.” Hermann loved his food and very much appreciated good wine. He was also polite, and smart enough, to recognize that an Irishman in Paris could be a wine connoisseur; politely suggesting I pick the wine. We enjoyed a fine bottle of Echezeaux, washing down plates of Vitello Tonnato, and a beautiful friendship was born.

His prominence in fashion began just as I developed a great interest in Germany, and discovered a whole generation of young Germans who have gone on to leave an important mark on global style. It also coincided with a refreshing change in my life, too – when I became editor-in-chief of Achtung and Sepp, the Berlin magazines invented by Germany’s most influential fashion editor this century, and my best Mitteleuropean buddy, Markus Ebner.

At table, Hermann was marvelous company; curious, courteous and amusingly revealing about working with designers, especially Yamamoto. Germans and Japanese – both polite and considerate people – are ultimately a tricky combination. Because they are also both as stubborn as mules.

“I remember the first day we all got together in Tokyo. I got up and presented to Yohji’s team how we do things at adidas. I talked about Excel spread sheets, price points and product lines. That sort of thing. All the Japanese looked at each other, like they were wondering what was going on,” Hermann told me over a glass of Meursault a few years later in Gramercy Tavern in New York.

“The next day, Mr. Kubo, Yohji’s right hand guy, made a presentation for Yohji’s team. He tossed a piece of flax on the table and said that they had sent this to an old man on a tiny island off Japan who left it in mud for a week, then he made this into an unusual checkered pattern that they brought to Yohji. But after all that, Yohji looked at it and said, ‘Don’t put it in the collection.’ So we were both pretty far apart!” Hermann belly laughed, with his trademark joie de vivre.

Ultimately, Deininger was a standard bearer of a generation of post-war Germans determined to make their country hip and stylish again.

By the late Noughties, Deininger was Chief Marketing Officer Sports Style, semi-permanently on the road, opening path breaking concept Y-3 stores, like in the Meat Packing District in Manhattan. He had also inked deals with McCartney, rewriting the rules about women’s exercise chic – literally creating new categories of fashion. And though Y-3 maybe have never grown into the business that adidas first envisionned, it redefined fashion and indeed adidas. He made German efficiency cool.

The joint venture clearly changed the whole business philosophy and habits of both partners. Both sides went on to sign a flurry of partnerships in the aftermath. Yohji creating bags and luggage for Mandarina Duck, pearls with Mikimoto and boots with Dr. Martens; adidas first linked with Stella McCartney for their highly remunerative gym apparel and then with Diesel to create jeans.

“Doing Yohji taught us how to work with other people, and the possibilities this presented and the flexibility needed to make partnerships work. In this sense Y-3 was vital for adidas,” Hermann explained to me once over dinner in an East Village concept restaurant. Again, he was smart enough to roll out a brilliant series of category breaking collections with fashion icons like Rick Owens and Jeremy Scott. Owens’ ergonomic Gothic minimalism has been remarkably distilled into some fantastic new high-tops; while Scott’s commercial cartoon style lives in his sneakers and party gear for adidas.

Ultimately, Deininger was a standard bearer of a generation of post-war Germans determined to make their country hip and stylish again. He wanted to create functional beauty, provide something unexpected and valuable for consumers; and make good coin for his company. And to enjoy life as he did so.

At shows, Hermann was always smart enough to sit between the right editors and the happening stars. At latter Y-3 shows in NYC, we both hung out backstage with David Beckham – another smart collaboration – and Justin Bieber.

Our annual get-togethers one day took us to Nuremburg, where Hermann had kindly organized tickets for England versus Trinidad in the 2006 World Cup. He ribbed me all through the match; an Irishman and fan of Liverpool supporting Steven Gerrard’s England. The Anglos huffed and puffed to score. The jeering Trinidad fans sang: “London Bridge is Falling Down; Falling Down!” Late in the game, Peter Crouch pulled the dreadlocks of a Caribbean defender to rob a goal, and Gerrard boomed in a huge drive as England managed to survive 2-0.

“You see, we even organized a win for you!” laughed Hermann, his unique gurgling chuckle building to his ebulliently large laugh, as he, Markus and a gang of his hometown buddies all headed post-match to dinner.

In these short weeks after his parting, Hermann’s influence is everywhere.

Markus and I will also not forget that our latest issue of Sepp Football Fashion – which hit newsstands this week – would have never happened without Hermann’s support. Over yet another delicious dinner at Alain Ducasse’s Aux Lyonnais, he green-lighted our ambitious ideas to shoot major adidas players, like our cover stars Cavani and Alves, in edgy fashion. It was not a long discussion. It was a simple toast and nod. Business done Hermann style.

In these short weeks after his parting, Hermann’s influence is everywhere. Before sitting down to write this appreciation of a very special guy, I attended the opening of a Pharrell Williams curated show in Paris’ most happening gallery, Emanuel Perrotin. Pharrell staged a great six-song concert in the cut-stone courtyard before bopping fans: attired in adidas new luxury shoes. Hermann should have been there too.

Heading home, I parked my Jaguar beside Drouant, the legendary 2eme arrondissement restaurant where literary critics vote – over lunch – for France’s major book prize – Le Prix Goncourt. It’s also where we had our last meal; a fine repas with adidas new creative leader Dirk Schonberger; us all enjoying a couple of bottles of Hermitage, ruminating on fashion and the art of living. An existential moment of gentlemen considering what distinguishes each of us on this earth. Considering that it is not the moment of meeting a creator up above that marks out a man, but rather our energy and correctness of behavior to one another while we are still alive. A sense of guilt hangs over me, since Hermann’s love of food and fine wines did surely contribute to his far too early departure, his fine dining weighing on the fragile constitution of an overly busy executive.

So sad we will never share a glass again. Yet, ultimately, it was Hermann who determined that his passage on earth would be relatively brief. The great ones often do that. They pack a lot in and then depart the stage, leaving their friends wanting more. Hermann did that; a great guy; blessed with a patrician sense of curiosity and fine manners, driven to be a success, determined to leave a trace, always respectful, ever determined to learn. We will not see Hermann’s like again.