By Gary Warnett, Author and Journalist
Words by Nikolaj Hansson / Illustration by Sine Jensen
Gary Warnett knows everything. Well, almost. A self-acclaimed fanboy, Warnett has pushed his knowledge throughout publications and magazines within the areas of design, menswear, sneakers, street culture and music. He co-founded renown sneaker community and store, Crooked Tongues, has co-authored several books and written articles for the likes of i-D, Dazed Digital and Complex all the while doing commissioned work for major brands and designing sneakers with Crooked Tongues. He truly is an encyclopedia of many things. We sat down with the humble brit for a review of the sneaker community, printed matter, the British demography and much more.
Why do you think collaborations are a necessity in today's world of sneakers and menswear?
You know what? I don't think they are a necessity. There's a lot of crap out there that indicates that someone with the purse for a brand or some agency acting on their behalf just discovered blogs and the notion of streetwear. In an ideal world, collaborations would only occur because they made a certain sense — maybe a brand can make something that a company can't, so they work together, or culturally it's a fit, or both brands have a huge mutual respect so they create a capsule collection. A lot of collaborations I've seen at the moment — especially on the shoe side of things — are just tacky, needy rubbish. I've worked on projects where I don't think it was a good fit and as a result, the product came out looking mehhh. I have a lot of respect for brands like Nike who realised that less can be more on the collaboration front — relevant partners and good marketing.
It can often seem as if shoe designs have ended up in a cycle, where new technologies are applied to old silhouettes, rather than designing a new shoe from scratch. What is your perspective on this view?
I'm not a huge fan of the whole upgrade concept because I've nerded out too much and really, really, really appreciate the source material for a lot of shoes and the thinking behind them. Switching up materials and selling it as a new concept seems lazy and regressive. I mean, I'm always down for new colours and materials, but that's not revolutionary, is it? It could be seen as brands waving the white flag when it comes to creativity. If you're gonna do that, you'd better be creating future classics too. There's something about technical footwear being made now, that's solely for lifestyle wear that doesn't gel with me. But if you're in your thirties, you'll remember being assailed with brand new ideas and then the good stuff drying up a little. I'm grateful to the running boom of the last few years for instigating some really interesting product.
How important do you find the aspect of history and cultural context when being in the design process?
I think that too much reverence can kill progression. I'm glad that there's generations coming through who couldn't care less what happened in the past. And if performance or technical product was being made with wear or use beyond its purpose, it would pollute the process a little. Back when brands like Polo, Patagonia, Vasque and Timberland became popular beyond the target market, it was an organic appropriation. Now that kind of thing seems to be part of the process. It's nice to look at how everything slots in contextually as a bystander though.
Reebok x Gary Warnett Classic Leather (2013)
It seems as if the sneaker community has yet to reach a point of saturation. Is there a chance that this will ever happen?
I'm sure it will implode eventually, but the current craze is as big as I've ever seen it since the early 1990s. I don't necessarily understand the appeal of t-shirts, events, paintings and pictures, toys, key rings, tattoos and all the other current stuff that the scene seems to spew out right now, but it's not targeted at me. It's targeted at a different audience who seem to love it. I think people will always want sneakers at some level — it's tough to switch to a more uncomfortable shoe after that. The better brands are avoiding being sucked into the fad aspects while the weaker ones are riding that wave until it crashes.
Being from a generation were most sneakers were a rare find, do you think globalisation has ruined the excitement of buying sneakers?
Not really. When I was overseas, it pushed me to take an interest in books, magazines, clothes, food and other stuff that's native to other countries. It's a shame that a shoe like the Jordan III, which used to be such a rare sight and status symbol, is more of a staple now, but the audience wants that thing in big numbers, so I can't blame a brand for capitalising on it. While there's a boom in shoes, it seems to be confined to maybe 15-20 silhouettes, so there's still a ton of ACG, Terra and Alpha Project things out there that are as cheap as ever to pick up elsewhere. Every time a shoe you loved as a kid and wanted to see make a return comes back, it's pretty much wrecked as a happy memory.
At the moment, it seems that London is taking the lead with regards to population growth, entrepreneurs, new businesses and such, rather than this happening in the larger, rural cities. How do you think this will affect the generations to come?
There's always interesting stuff going on in places such as Liverpool and Manchester; the north is as important to British style and everything influenced by it as the south. Liverpool and Manchester got there first when it came to sportswear, outerwear and a load of brands and looks connected to that. Obviously, all eyes are on London at the moment, but conversely, it's easier to be part of a scene nowadays then ever, even if you're not necessarily there physically, right? I grew up an hour from London and always looked up to it as the motherland, so to speak, but any foundations to work there were made from my hometown. So much is homogenised right now, that scenes are similar all over the place — the joy used to be in the way a culture got a little lost in translation and had its own identity. But those little quirks will always be there — the weather, the food, the drink, the cultural legacies and the ingrained attitudes always make a difference in terms of how Brits approach things. I think London will always have that old world appeal where it's a place to aspire to be for generations of southerners, even if those ascending rents and costs of living indicate that it doesn't actually want them there.
FUCT by Erik Brunetti, Aaron Rose & Gary Warnett (2013)
While larger media institutions have an increased focus on their online presence and cutting back on their printed matter, an increasingly amount of independent, printed publications are being established. Where do you think printed publications will be 10 years from now?
I respect anybody who takes the plunge and puts a magazine together. I like reading sites like Business of Fashion or Grantland that write as if they're on paper rather than that dumbed down shorthand that the internet seems to encourage. I think it'll be harder to survive in ten years as a magazine. I was totally opposed to e-books because I loved the tangible part of reading and even the smell of paper, but I find myself grabbing iBook and Kindle releases just for the purposes of saving space. Just because you have a blog or brand doesn't mean you can create a great magazine; I try to support as many magazines as I can, but sometimes I get the impression that enthusiasm outweighs depth. You can find yourself reading work by people who probably don't do much reading themselves. If I'm watching a boxing match and one of the fighters clearly hasn't put in the work on the speedball, road work, diet and weights, I'm probably going to hope they go down in the first round. I feel that way with some magazines. The next ten years will leave the great publications standing.
Consumers speak their minds through blogs and social media to a far greater extent today than 10 years ago. How much attention do you think the industry should pay to the opinions of consumers?
It's great to see consumers have the platform to express an opinion, but the ability to leave anonymous comments means there's a lot of idiocy in the mix. It's worth remembering that not everyone is willing to back something that isn't tried and tested, so it's a shame that something brave and brilliant might get altered because of knee-jerk criticism. Most things, from films, to art, to clothing and architecture that we revere now, probably would have been subject to slander through the current mediums of faceless, reactionist follower culture. We still need risk.
Everything is moving at an incredible high pace today, with regards to fashion, media and publications. Our attention span is shorter and we only want the most recent stuff. It could be argued, that a decreasingly amount of people truly appreciate the value of proper crafted materials and content. Where do you see this development going in the future?
It would be nice to assume that there'll be a return to an appreciation of handcrafted longevity, but we have to be careful to assume that what a blog or dude with a beard and neck tattoos favours is indicative of the real world. I'm sure that there will always be those who love to delve deeper and love objects, aesthetics, weight and a sense of touch alongside digital entities, but my generation is definitely in danger of becoming extremely out of touch and becoming our parents who used to talk about a time when things were simpler or in their infant stage. Why cram your mind with the little details when it's pretty much out there in one big informational cloud for the taking if and when it's needed? I think unattainability was a great fuel for obsession though.
What is your perception of Scandinavian design, as compared to that of the UK?
I love a lot of aspects of great British design, from tube signs and patterns to street signs, buildings and record sleeves by folks like Barney Bubbles, Neville Brody, Norman Foster, Trevor Jackson or Peter Saville, but Scandinavians seem to be raised to appreciate design from an early age. We're not encouraged to appreciate it because we take it for granted; it's all around us. I think there's a Scandinavian sensibility that gives you exactly what you want, with a few carefully deployed surprises. If we're talking clothing, Soulland, Our Legacy, Acne and Wood Wood manage to retain a certain subversion without ever having to yell it. It's in the details; you can see the graffiti, skate, music or art connections if you know what to look for. I'm not sure that any other region could birth that kind of thing. You need to be very self-assured to get it right and most people would yell about it and make it get very busy and noisy.