Korn’s Adidas Collaboration Was Decades in the Making

Jonathan Davis, James ‘Munky’ Shaffer, and Brian ‘Head’ Welch discuss Korn’s long journey in sportswear and new Adidas collab.

The members of the metal band Korn, with their heads of long, knotted hair and abrasive music, did not look much like athletes to executives at Adidas in the ‘90s. Adidas was happy to have Korn wear its products onstage and in videos—frontman and lead vocalist Jonathan Davis seemed to live in Adidas tracksuits for the middle part of the ‘90s—but wary of aligning with the group beyond that.

The official reason was they were musicians and, at that point, Adidas wasn’t in the habit of regularly giving big contracts to musicians. (Korn’s subversive imagery couldn’t have helped in convincing the conservative Germany company.) The band received free Adidas gear, but they were not basketball players or soccer superstars, and hence ineligible to become official brand partners. Korn saw it differently.

“Dude, what we do is a fucking sport,” says Davis.

Sportswear companies typically do not make shoes to suit the specific needs of rockstars, so when Davis wore models like the chunky Adidas Supermodified, he had to customize their fit. He was concerned with how they would help him perform as much as any athlete. Before shows, Davis would sinch his shoes up with the laces, choking them to better accommodate his narrow foot. If he didn’t, his Adidas became projectiles.

“How hard you’d rock on when you were young,” says Korn guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer, “his shoes would fall off.”

“They would fly off,” says Davis.

Korn’s frontman suggests that although musicians aren’t seen as athletes, they pay a greater physical toll over more years than the average athlete.

“Usually they retire at 40 or some shit. We don't,” Davis says. “We gotta keep going through the pain.”

The band has kept going for three decades now. Since forming in Bakersfield, California, in 1993, Korn has released 14 albums, sold over 40 million records, and influenced a generation to pluck on seven strings. In that span, its relationship with Adidas ebbed and flowed.

At first, Davis and Korn were content just to be in touch with Adidas. The brand’s entertainment marketing office in Los Angeles supplied them with as much product as they wanted. Davis customized his tracksuits, making Adidas shine even brighter with a brilliant array of purple sequins. Their 1996 album, Life Is Peachy, even had a song called "A.D.I.D.A.S.,” although the twisting of Adidas’ etymology into a prurient backronym probably didn’t help endear them to the brand.

Somewhere in there, Korn decided that free sneakers were not sufficient to retain their loyalty. Adidas would not give them a deal. Then Puma, longtime rival to Adidas, signed Korn to a deal in 1998 worth a reported $500,000. Later, Korn wore Pony in the 2000s before floating back to Adidas, where the promo gear flowed again in the new millennium.

Adidas and Korn rekindled once more in the 2020s, and consummated their relationship last weekend with the release of their first official collaboration. The collection includes Korn-logoed versions of the Adidas Supermodified (with the Life Is Peachy album art on its outsoles) and the puffy Adidas Campus 00s (with “A.D.I.D.A.S.” text under the tongue). There are tees and two tracksuits, one an impossible-to-find colorway in purple sequins after Davis’ own—he calls this the “crown jewel” of the range.

The Adidas collaboration recalls Korn’s earliest fashion choices, and looks as if it were ripped from the brand’s mid-’90s run. How did it finally happen, decades later? Korn’s members give credit to Adidas product manager Ben Asquith and designer Joe Ling, who hounded brand higher-ups to approve it.

“Months and months have gone by to get up to this day of refining the collab and teaming up with those guys and figuring out what it is that we want to design and stuff,” says Munky.

Korn had to cut down on some ideas and keep some for themselves. Davis, who has Supreme in his closet and bought limited-edition “Raygun” Nike SB Dunks years ago, is still a collector, so he still wants to have an edge on the general public.

“They made a batch for family and friends,” says Davis, “so there are different ones that aren’t available.”

And there is more to come. Adidas and Korn are already planning new releases in 2024, although none that the band members can reveal yet.

“People that collect this shit are going to lose their shit,” promises Davis.

Korn x Adidas Campus 00s sneakers black white

In fact, they already are. Munky’s son spotted a pair of the Korn x Adidas Campus 00s sneakers on the resale market ahead of their release.

“When he was on StockX looking, he's like, ‘Dad, there's a pair of your shoes for $500.’ I'm like, already?” Munky says. “That’s amazing.”

Korn’s members are plugged into sneaker culture partly through their kids. The rockstars are not above entering app raffles for drops on behalf of their children. In Los Angeles last week, at an intimate launch event at the Adidas Originals store on Melrose, Davis’ 16-year-old son wore Bape sneakers with a Korn tracksuit from the Adidas collection. The kids are now chummy with Asquith and Ling from Adidas, who banter with them like older cousins.

Complex spoke with Davis, Munky, and Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch at the Adidas event last week, the band surrounded by a buildout of their Adidas memorabilia. There, Korn discussed their history in sportswear, their allegiances to different brands, and how they became part of the Adidas family. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Did you ever think this would happen?
: No, especially after it's been, shit, 25 years. It's kind of crazy that we did all this and we fought so hard and wanted to do things with them and they were very cool to us.

They made me that sporran, they made me an Adidas kilt, they made me that [tracksuit] for the 20th anniversary, but they couldn't put something out from us, like a collaboration. They would always come back and say, “We're a sports company. We're a sports company. We're a sports company.” Alright, cool.

But to come now full circle and see how many people really fucking engaged with this and feel something from it, you know what I mean?

How did it all start? How did you pick Adidas in the beginning of your career?
: I feel like it came because Jonathan was like, he first started out as a DJ, and you brought that hip-hop influence.

Davis: Well I liked the B-boy stuff. It was all New York, that culture. It was Run-DMC, the break-dance culture, fuck—LL Cool J and Eric B. & Rakim, that whole, you know what I'm talking about, that scene.

I was into that. These guys were into more hair metal, and then I got into new wave, but this is when we were kids. Ultimately what made me wear it, because it was kind of a rebellious thing. I think we were trying to go for something—at the time, in 1993 and ‘94, what did rock bands look like?

It was the leather and all this shit. Everything we did was a complete opposite, even to the fuckin’ name of the band. The shit we did, the sportswear. Everything we did was not what was expected.

Head: We wanted to go against it.

Davis: Against everything.

Head: Once that hair-metal scene was done, me and my friends in Bakersfield, we were into Slayer and then NWA, you know. Cannibal Corpse and Metallica and all this, and then Public Enemy. And it was this extreme hardcore rap or hardcore music, and it just blended well so—it was natural.

Munky: Remember how much we were into the Geto Boys? We played those records so many times.

Davis: And Dru Down.

Munky: All that: Outkast, The Pharcyde. All those bands.

Davis: We took Pharcyde on the road with us. We did a tour, and Pharcyde opened for us.

How soon did you realize that people were starting to dress like you and wearing Adidas?
: It was pretty quick.

Munky: It was quick.

Davis: It became kind of the uniform if you were into Korn and stuff like that, but what also happened is, I think at the time we were with Immortal. I had that jacket here; they did that jacket. We were doing the Adidas thing. Adidas realized that and then they started going after every band. They’d go, "Hey, wear our shoes."

They were giving out free shit left and right, and they totally went to all of the bands, and that kind of organically, through everybody, came up. And then by that time, that's when I started to go, "Fuck this. I want to have my own shit."

I'm just weird like that. If someone's wearing something that everybody can have with that, I have to do something that makes it mine. I have to modify it. 

That's why you wore it in the first place, right? To stand out and not to look like other people.
: Yeah, to stand out. Not to be that. So, I'm like, fuck this. I got to fucking—hell no.

I was thinking I love old Vegas-y shit. Liberace. Everything that came out super theatrical, had sequins. Every time when you wear sequins you just come out and you’re glistening onstage, sparkling and shit with the lights, and then that motherfucker [points to sequined tracksuit] was born. I asked Adidas—they're like, “No, no, no, no, no.”

So I got a seamstress and I hired this lady in ‘95, 96. I hired her for like $5,000, which is a shit ton of money for the time, to sew that for me. I'm all, “I need that.” And originally I wanted real sequins, but it was too much money to have to sit there and sew each individual one. So she found that material and then made those for me.

Did you tell Adidas you were making it?
: They didn't want to be part of it. No.

Munky: I don't think you told them.

Davis: I didn't tell them. No.

But you had a relationship with them already at the time?
: Yeah, I got the suits for free. They sent me the suits, but then I customized them, and that's how that came around.

Do you remember who that was in the Adidas L.A. office? Maybe Ole Ostergard?
: Ole, I think it was.

Munky: Yeah, that sounds familiar.

Davis: It was Ole, yes.

Were you able to put in requests, or were they just sending you stuff nonstop?
: Anything we wanted. We could put requests in, and they would randomly send stuff, and we'd go to the office, and they'd give us new shoes.

That's why we always had the new shoes because they'd send us stuff, and as the band grew and grew and [they] saw we were wearing it, they'd become more involved giving us [stuff]. We didn't have to pay for anything, but it wasn't about like, "Hey, we're going to make you something and market it and sell it." It's just your thing.

Do you remember when it changed for you in terms of not wanting to wear it for free?
: Follow the Leader era, that's when we switched because another company came around and did something different. But those two companies have been competing since the fucking day they started so, whatever, but the inception of the band and just that whole time was very punk rock, and it was cool and Adidas was a big part of it.

Do you remember the brand's reaction to the song “A.D.I.D.A.S.”?
: I don't remember. I was so fucking drunk. We were all fucked up.

Munky: We were too busy having a good time.

Davis: I don't even think they said anything. I remember years later there was like—when we reconnected , it was Atticus’ friend, who was English, who was in charge of Adidas here. He was like, "You guys are ambassadors of Adidas—what the fuck? Why aren't they doing this and that?"

I'm like, “I don't know.” That's where it really hit that we did make a mark for the company.

It was interesting to look back on the video. Adidas is featured pretty prominently in it, and if I remember correctly in that era on MTV, there were certain brands and logos you couldn't show. Did they blur out the Adidas in the video?
: They blurred it out. 

Munky: They’d tape it, black tape it.

Head: We got away with a lot on MTV.

Davis: That was who? Joseph Kahn did that video.

View this video on YouTube

You have Carel Struycken in it. The tall guy from Twin Peaks.
: Lurch, Lurch was in it. That was crazy. That video was insane. I was in the back smoking. I was out of my mind.

I'm just saying, just being real. That whole thing was pretty amazing though. I remember when we were talking about doing the video and we told the label what we wanted to do, they're like, “Absolutely fucking not. You can't be fucking dead in the video.”

Munky: “You can't be dead in a video.”

Davis: “What are you talking about?” And that was the big fight; we fought and got our way. It's just how we were, and once it was done they're like, “Oh.”

Head: It was disturbing and it worked for us.

Davis: It worked really good. We didn't perform at all in it. We were dead the whole time.

Munky: Only until they pulled us out of the—what do you call it?

Davis: Until the middle part. The body bags. Oh, out of the fridge?

Munky: Yeah, the fridge, I guess, the mortuary fridge.

Did you ever have any feedback from Adidas in terms of how much effect you were having on sales or anything like that? Did they share that with you?
: We would sit and talk—I’m gonna be honest—I remember we would sit and talk so much shit. “Do you know how much money we’re making these motherfuckers—what the fuck? Just giving us free shit and they're making a grip.” And we’d just sit there and talk amongst ourselves.

But it wasn't even about that. That was our thing.

Before you ever had a relationship.
: We were kids, man; that was our thing. We’re all gonna wear Adidas. It was our gang.

Munky: It was the look, you know?

How did the Puma thing come about?
: That was just years and years of not getting any support, and they came at us with a check. First time I ever got, any of us, had got a check to fucking wear something. We had no idea. We were little; we were kids.

Munky: That was before we finished the Follow the Leader album.

Head: We were hurt that Adidas wouldn't work with us.

Davis: Because we wanted to do this.

That was your first choice.
: We wanted to make these and sell them, and I wanted to make a shoe, and we really wanted to, but Adidas were not having it.

I suspect that none of your peers were thinking about that at the time—bands on your level trying to do merch like that or sneaker projects.
: They just didn't do it at that time. Then later it comes out. I saw all the collabs they did: Missy Elliott did a shoe, Red Hot Chili Peppers, they did it with all these other rock bands. And I'm like—I got them all; I bought them—and I'm still like, what the fuck?

You bought them despite your pain?
: Because I like them. I like collecting shoes, but it was weird. But who knows? There were higher-ups that were scared—I get it. There's no bad blood whatsoever.

I think that that was that era in the ‘90s where every brand was still so obsessed with being a sports performance brand that I don't think they understood yet what musicians could do for them. Even though Run-DMC was in the ‘80s, they still hadn't fully grasped what that could mean.
: They didn’t understand. 

Head: And Run-DMC wasn't vulgar. 

Munky: There were no F-bombs in the song.

Davis: Sorry, guys. I can't help it.

Do you think that held you back? The vulgarity of it?
: I think it propelled us.

Head: Mighta scared them. 

Davis: Well, with Adidas, yes. We were too…I don’t know?

Munky: Open?

: Dangerous.

Head: Edgy.

Davis: Edgy, yeah, get all the adjectives.

Did you reconnect with Adidas at any point in the interim or just now?
: Just now. That's when Atticus Ross, his buddy—remember we were doing See You on the Other Side? He came to the studio, and he's like, "It's a travesty what has happened here. What do you guys want?" And he took us to Santa Monica. This was 2005 or 2006. He had us go down to Santa Monica where [Adidas] had their thing, and he’s like, “Go.” They gave us a bunch of shit, and I was like, OK, we're cool, and then I hit him up. There was a girl named Porsche there, and I hit her up and that's how I got the leather suit.

Munky: I remember that.

Davis: No, I got that off of Atticus; he gave me that. I wanted that for the 20th anniversary because I wore the black and red Adidas tracksuit. That's the one tracksuit I don't have. It mysteriously disappeared, but that's what I wore for the 20th anniversary. We went and did a tour, and somehow I got that.

Korn Adidas track pants

Did you try and parlay that into “Let's do a project together,” or were you just happy to have it?
: I didn't know who to talk to. I got it through Atticus, and then when we did that, we talked to him. That was in 2005. They made me a kilt. That was just like, “Here, yeah, we’ll make you this.” And then that was it.

Our managers at the time bought that brand Pony, and then Pony made a shit ton of kilts, and we had all tracksuits and all that stuff. So we went over to that, and then that went down to tubes, and we were like, “Whatever, we're just going to fucking wear what the fuck we want. Fuck this.”

Munky: We kind of went back to the Adidas stuff.

Davis: We did, wearing the kicks, and I went wearing another sports company’s shit for a long time too.

How did this collaboration start up?
: The kids contacted us, Joe and Ben.

The designers?
: Yeah. I think they did a thing with Pleasures, and we did a collab with Pleasures, and somebody over there was curious about us doing something with Adidas, and I think they put them in contact.

Were you surprised after all these years?
: When I heard about it, after all these years, I was like, what the fuck?

Munky: We were in Europe and we got a phone call from our manager, and they're like, "Hey, while you guys are in Europe, you want to go to meet with the Adidas people? They want to do a collab." I'm like, Adidas?

In Germany?
: We got to go to the campus. We’re like, “Really?” It's the real campus, not some bullshit here in the States. It's the campus.

Head: We were like, “Come again?”

Munky: They just gave us the whole tour. We went through the archives; they gave us the history.

Head: We went into the vault.

How cool was the archive? You had to put the white gloves on?
: You had to wear the white gloves. Kept those fuckers.

Munky: I still have those.

Davis: I got to hold the first fuckin’ Superstars. I got to hold the first ones. I held the Run-DMC tracksuits. They have them in there. Everything that's ever been made.

And now there's going to be a Korn piece in there one day.
: Oh, I got a picture. It's in there now. They took the purple-sequins suits in there, and I got a picture of them putting [them] into the fucking box.

Munky: That's so cool.

Davis: And I'm like, wow, that's forever.