On February 8, Daniëlle Cathari was nervous. Her collaboration collection for Adidas was about to release at the brand’s New York Fashion Week preview in a day filled with fans, press interviews, and celebrity attendees like Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin, who both arrived in her new designs. The collection was almost a year in the making – visits to the Adidas headquarters in Herzogenaurach, creative sessions with Jenner, the muse for the collection, and a month-long release schedule with exclusive product drops in New York, London, Paris, and Shanghai.
Cathari caught Adidas’ eye in early 2017 when she showcased her first collection during the Vfiles New York Fashion Week runway show. A student at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, Cathari was entranced by the Adidas track suit and chose to showcase her talent by re-working the iconic three-stripe set. Instead of taking legal action, Adidas brought her on to the team to be the mind behind their Spring/Summer 2018 Capsule collection, a two-part collection of colorful, re-worked tracksuits and feminine athletic wear. Forbes spoke with Cathari from her home in Amsterdam to hear about the now sold out collection, the transition from student designer to an Adidas collaborator, and what’s next for the emerging designer.
Adidas is an iconic brand around the world—do you remember what your first experience was with the brand as a child?
I did gymnastics for 12 years and I always had the tracksuits on, particularly this green army color. I love the whole aesthetic of Adidas.
How did the collaboration begin?
Adidas reached out to me after VFiles, which was in 2017. We met in Herzogenaurach at the headquarters and where we had our first meeting and started quickly after that to collaborate for the first collection. We started picking colors and I had this whole vision already, so I came with a concept and a mood board and my designs. It was very open, there were some restrictions but I could do almost anything. The starting point for the inspiration was the classic 90’s Adidas pants with the pico fabric and the stripes and snap buttons. The next step was keeping their brand DNA and my design DNA so I added in my style of a deconstructed element, working with a lot of contrast. Then we brought in Kendall, since she’s already a part of the Adidas family. She became our muse and the face for the whole collection. Then we did the shoot in LA and then it was already February and we had the New York event. It all went very quickly.
It’s amazing to see a brand want to collaborate with you instead of seeing you as a threat. Do you think that imitation is the highest form of flattery? Were you afraid when you were developing your original designs that Adidas would see it?
In 2016, it was just a student project where we were told to create three looks that represented our signature. I just knew I wanted to do something with the tracksuit. So I gathered a ton of their tracksuits and started to take them apart and tried to reconstruct them in a more feminine way. I didn’t even think about, “Oh I’m using their brand, their stripes, I’m chopping up their projects” until Adidas saw it and was like “she’s actually using our products but in a totally different way.”
What was the biggest takeaway from being in the room with Adidas, in their think tank, and creating a line for them?
I feel very blessed to have gotten this opportunity. I just created my original tracksuits for a school project, I never thought “What if Adidas contacts me?” I’ve studied design at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute but working at Adidas is so different. It taught me how the fashion industry actually works, it’s so fast which is good but just to see how it really works is the main thing I learned.
How much freedom did you receive during the design process?
I had a lot of freedom. It was very naturally collaborative – 50% their DNA and 50% mine. It could have been so hard, but it was truly so easy to collaborate.
Kendall Jenner was the muse for this collection. How was she a part of the design process?
We met each other last year during NYFW in September and we shared a love for the brand and shared a style. We had the same vision and she was also very into the whole 90’s vibe that we were working with to create with this collection. We had a really nice talk about our styles.
The tracksuit is a classically male athletic silhouette, but your designs are sexy and feminine. What is it about the tracksuit that appeals to your style?
For me, comfort is key. 9 out of 10 times I’m wearing track pants or something sporty-chic. The trackpant is just what you said, made for guys, but I wanted to re-interpret that for a more feminine silhouette. I like to work with contrast – it’s a part of my design DNA.
Do you think your style is particularly feminine? What’s your everyday outfit?
Definitely not feminine. If I’m wearing track pants I’ll pair it with a nice pleated top. I like to contrast more high-end pieces and feminine pieces with more sporty or menswear pieces. It’s what I have in mind when I’m designing.
How do you think beauty and fashion standards in Amsterdam affected the way you designed a collection to attract the masses?
Amsterdam is so small, not a ton happens here. The standards are super down to earth. We have a word for it – I can’t translate it into english but the standards are just “normal.” So I’m always looking to other, bigger cities like New York. I love New York, I want to live there soon.
What do you think Adidas as a big brand is looking to tell the fashion industry by trusting an emerging designer on a new collection?
I think for them they wanted to see what could be done with the brand. What I’ve done is my expression of love for the brand and how I see Adidas in a different way.
What is the biggest pressure you feel in the fashion industry and how are you using clothes to overcome it?
Just to know your design DNA. I love to work quite conceptually and create a balance between the rational and emotional, especially with deconstruction. Finding these balances through contrast. You are always having to find a balance in life, so that’s the place I come from when I start my designs.
What’s one piece of advice for young designers?
Find your signature aesthetic and build on that. Just create what you love and have a strong identity.
I’m postponing my graduation for now so I can focus 100% on this collaboration. The second drop is in April and I want to launch my own collection this year so I’m working on that too.
The Adidas x Daniëlle Cathari collection is now sold out. Sign up here for updates on the next drop.
*This article was originally published for Forbes.com.