When you’re strapped for inspiration, YouTube is an easy way out for blog entries. Spending 30 minutes there puts you through multiple rabbit holes. Film trailers lead to documentary snippets that lead to lectures, before taking a sharp turn into timeworn VHS uploads of unsettling oddness. I always emerge enlightened but unsettled. Takedowns are so frequent that upping them here is destined to lead to black boxes and dead links, but having spotted the creepiest commercial I’ve ever seen, a manic Japanese commercial for the Goonies II NES game, the bloke from Limp Bizkit hosting a 1991 skate jam and a background reminder that Chicago team coloured Air Jordan 1s hit the sale racks with a vengeance in 1986 due to overproduction in the quest to find something I spotted a few weeks back and wanted to share here, I felt they all warranted a mention too. That video I was hunting was a 1989 commercial for Sports Fanatics, a store in Watertown, Massachusetts that specialised in sporting merchandise. This volume of team jerseys, sweats and hats deserved bars, and Sports Fanatics seemed to get the Saturday boy who owned an Eric B & Rakim tape in to spit half-arsed bars about replica hockey shirts long before Fabolous put out Throw Backs as a bonus track. Erie, Pennsylvania’s Play It Again Sports would try to play the goofy white rapper card five years later with Dr. Jimbo spitting about second-hand athletic equipment (with a Special Ed nod in there too), but it loses points for being too deliberately wacky.
My friend Steve Bryden is one of the folks who helped give me my “career” 11 years ago, and he and Ted’s Know Dibi Dibi show is one of my favourites from Know Wave’s UK division. Because they were strapped for guests, they let me appear and talk rap and shoes — in fact, there’s plenty of alienating trainer talk — with lots of points that just trail off in caffeinated streams of consciousness. There’s also loads of Lil Wayne, plus a Bone Thugs and Phil Collins finale. Shouts to Professor Bryden for the invite.
If you’re looking for inspiration, Douglas Gunn and Roy Luckett’s first Vintage Showroom book is a goldmine — all the joys of a combined Lightning, Free & Easy and Mono on a good month, but with the bonus of informative texts in English. This London institution has a spectacular archive, and one volume wasn’t enough, so Vintage Menswear 2 releases this November. Hopefully this will be another trove of eccentric but brilliantly functional attire that’s rarely spotlighted. I’m intrigued by the early 2016 release of a book by Mark McNairy entitled F____ Ivy and Everything Else on the Harper Design imprint too, but I need to see more information on that one.
Whoa. I wasn’t expecting that CT obituary to spread like it did, but I’m glad people are taking an interest in that company’s history. It deserves to be in the spotlight for its contribution to the culture. In the meantime, I’ve been amusing myself by watching archaic Foot Locker ads, like the 1981 one where the mighty John Goodman wanders into the store pre-fame and asks for every single brand possible (this was two years his role as working class Joe eating Egg McMuffin in a 1983 McDonalds ad) and the bizarre brand loyalty spot above from 1983 in all its white-toothed cinematic glory. Then there’s the 1987 depiction of a colourful, dystopian future where some kind of zero-gravity robot-lobster claw game is the #1 spectator sport shown during a Superbowl XX1 ad break. Because of YouTube, the baritone part of 1988’s Come to the Stripes still gets sung by me during any prolonged conversation about FL’s current contents. This 1989 Australian effort merges American style pop rock with an Aussie voiceover talking about bargain aerobic tights, plus a locker full of Nike rarities like the Air Pressure, as well as some classic trainers. In the early 1990s, it gets a little too stylised and Paula Abdul on us — thankfully, no matter how slick your ads get, you can’t stop the back room buffoonery and fotojack72 was on hand to upload videos of him and his buddies acting a fool while working at his local Foot Locker in 1991, complete with this Harmony Korine-esque footage of a man dancing to Check the Technique by Gang Starr while clutching a red shoe.
Huck is a great magazine. That it seems to sell well enough to stay in print is a miracle — after all, most conversations about British magazines dwelling on radical culture, photography and creativity are rooted in past tense, because they have a tendency to disappear one day. The Church of London’s work is always superb and after the What I Love About Movies book via Little White Lies, Huck are dropping some artistic motivation in Paddle Against the Flow — a well priced compilation of quotes to memorise and quote as your own until you get called out for it. If you can’t trust advice from Spike Jonze, Kim Gordon and Dave Eggers, who can you trust? Paddle Against the Flow drops next month.
Crooked Tongues is gone in its current form. I’m oddly relieved about the whole situation, but I can’t claim to be entirely nostalgia-free.
14 years ago I was just a Crooked Tongues fan. I relied on CT for news and insight on the subject of shoes — it was pioneering and design-led, run by a bunch of obsessives scrutinising every element and bringing a level of criticism to collecting at a point when brands had realised that old stuff was worth re-releasing. At the time when Crooked Tongues was gathering steam, new technologies and interesting contemporary shoe design had started faltering. Collaborations were few and far between. Hype culture seemed to exist in six degrees of separation. I looked up to what Crooked, Spine and Unorthodox Styles were up to from afar. I attended the launch of CT as a fan at the then Conran co-owned Great Eastern Hotel in January 2001 after a build-up to a store spin-off from Spine Magazine’s 2000 articles on shoes like the Air Max TN (which would be the model with the troublesome tongue that inspired the site’s name) that were pioneering in their English language, Brit-centric nature after I’d spent a couple of years browsing occasional pickups of Japanese publications like Nike Park. It made a huge impact on me.
Before the store launched, CT took a message board format from summer 2000 to the cooler months, with people demanding to know what it would consist of. When it went live, people baulked at some of the wild prices, but an inventory that included the then difficult-to-get Dunk and plenty of Jordans impressed me. In the years that followed, superb ACG (flipped to GAC) and Force tribute tees that included barcode prints inside the them (taking the lead from the U-Dox Co-Lab Recon pieces) and glorious Ziplock packaging with over designed cards to give them shape, plus Mo’ Wax style sticker sheets brought that painstaking approach to digital to the forefront. Contrary to popular belief, the CT Forum was introduced a while into the site’s lifespan around Easter 2003. It boomed. A lot of friendships were formed and the Today I’m Wearing thread was pioneering in its on-the-foot showcase place to brag. What One’s Wearing was far ahead of the street style shoot wave too.
CT’s summer 2004 New Balance 576 project was a difficult project for the team to get off the ground because NB were stepping into new territory with it. In my opinion, there’s never been a better collaboration of its kind. I visited the cramped Ganton Street offices for a job interview to freelance for them (wearing Metro Attitudes and a Stüssy tee) in July 2004 just as the 576s were released and grabbed myself a free pair of the white/greens for my trouble. The idea of even being considered as an affiliate was an honour, and after some articles about Complex Magazine, RWD (and other things that I can’t recall for the site) I was invited to a terrifying shouty, smoky meeting at the Berners hotel in winter of that year regarding the redesign of Crooked Tongues. I stayed freelance.
In late 2005, on the Saturday that the Footpatrol Stab dropped, Russell Williamson offered me a job with Crooked. I visited the plusher new office, saw a sample of a Crooked Tongues adidas Century Lo and a matching track top. I was going to be paid to do some descriptions of deadstock and adidas copywriting, despite no actual experience writing copy. At that time, my father was extremely ill and I was feeling a bit lost to say the least — my dad passed away the following summer but got to see me doing something I loved which I know gave him some comfort, because I’d been drifting up to that point. Sorry to get heavy, but you can’t put a price on that. So to me it will always be bigger than some shoe store.
2006 to 2008 were an incredible work experience, getting to travel, getting to contribute to collaborations with Charlie, C-Law and the team (naming everyone is too difficult because a lot of great talents passed through that door). Oh, and grabbing quite a lot of free shoes too. After a lot of talk regarding external companies buying into the store, which now had official New Balance and adidas accounts, As Seen On Screen got involved. Nick Robertson even visited the office at donuts and talked about what the store could be. They bought into it and those on the CT team had the unusual experience of attempting to run the site, an increasingly professional store (now with Nike and Vans accounts) and working on agency work for adidas Originals at the same time. ASOS eventually decided (in September 2009) that CT should be run from their Greater London House location.
Charlie, Niranjela and I went over to the office to see what the situation would be and while Niranjela wisely opted to stay at U-Dox, Charlie and I acted like complete clichés after we saw a canteen filled with models and, after being surrounded by a staff that was mainly annoyed men for several years, decided to give it a go. We heard murmurs from a few folks claiming that CT was irrelevant then and while I’d concur that its credibility had slipped with the scene’s sense of being a best kept secret giving way to the new norm of owning 10+ pairs, it’s nice to see that most of the moaners are even more irrelevant now.
At ASOS we were told to treat it like a startup, with our own glass walled office (which would become a gradually diminishing space that varied from floor to floor until it ended as some corner desks elsewhere). After starting work there, Charlie got a better offer to join Vans in March 2010, and I was the last of the Kingly Street CT team to remain. Still, it was a pay cheque. One ill-fated relaunch in partnership with our old agency would alienate a lot of the forum users (bearing in mind that Twitter and Facebook were building in popularity by this point). It’s here that my nostalgia for Crooked Tongues comes to an end. A meeting with some guy who was probably called Dan*, who held up a King Apparel t-shirt with a J Dilla logo of some sort and and told us that, “This is by a really cool brand called J Dilla…” made me hyper-aware that CT and ASOS probably weren’t the ideal match.
Still, with friends like Amberley and Mubi on the squad, we still managed to do some amazing stuff, with a tiny team. The assumption that we were some vast conglomerate because we were ASOS affiliated was untrue. By 2011, the sense that CT wasn’t wanted by either ASOS or its old agency** was clear. After ASOS took a majority stake of the site in April 2013, that September the site was relaunched and Crooked Tongues looked worse than ever, ceasing to innovate entirely. The site went downhill fast. Bug-riddled, run by folks who weren’t interested in trainers, it should have been put out of its misery then and there. I feel like I said my goodbyes to it when we had leaving drinks to split CT and U-Dox apart in late 2009, and when key team members exited in subsequent years. This just felt like a formality.
That ASOS’s official statement on CT’s closure called it “Crooked Tongue” was proof that we were probably not top of their priorities at any point in the last few years, but I like ASOS a lot. They just didn’t fit with each other — fast fashion and detail-led obsessions aren’t a marriage made in heaven. The idea, according to their press release, that ASOS could deliver the CT experience themselves from now on is unusual too — maybe if you want a Hype tee to go with your inline AM1s that’s the case, but reports have taken that as CT being absorbed into ASOS. That’s not what happened — at present Crooked is currently closed, but it wasn’t absorbed, moved or anything like that.
Speculation was rife over the last few weeks surrounding Crooked Tongues’ closure. Some blamed the end of the forum (taken away as part of the September 2013 relaunch against Mubi and I’s wishes), but that was wrong. The forum had become barren. That was nostalgic talk for nostalgic people talking about old shoes on an old format. I owe the CT forum and the people on it for my career, but that place had done its job by that point and become the jump-off point for several more British projects. Sales in the store were up significantly year on year. The blame didn’t lie with ASOS — it was with the entire infrastructure of CT.
When a site dedicated to shoes doesn’t actually seem to care much about its subject matter or show signs of wanting to be better, it needs to be put to sleep. It’s a shame, because Crooked Tongues still has a lot of potential. The UK scene is bigger than ever, but there’s lack of quality control, a mass of sycophancy, integrity jettisoned in favour of a 10% commission, bad PR work, reposters who give minimal credit and maximum click bait in the headline, and a whole bunch of screen grabbing, image jacking hashtag shitbags. I’m not much of a fan of what the scene became, but I’m not big on what CT turned into either. Crooked Tongues went through a lot of changes, and I think there’s room for one more redux (minus me this time).
After all, if it wasn’t for the world that Russ, the two Christophers, Steve and the rest of the founding crew created, I would be a far unhappier human being right now.
*A former ASOS employee and not my friend Dan — a man who most certainly does know that Dilla is not a clothing brand — who coincidentally worked for King at the time.
**Russ has pointed out that this wasn’t the case. My perception was that everybody lost interest.
Sometimes an image is so good that it renders any text obsolete. Snoopy in the legendary Gucci Tennis from the book to coincide with 1984’s Japanese Snoopy in Fashion exhibition is a perfect case study. Idea Books Instagrammed it this morning and made my day. Even better than Donald Duck in Timbs. Speaking of wheat workboots, a couple of good promo print projects arrived in the post this week — Oi Polloi’s always excellent Pica~Post is back with some extra metal, an interview with Patagonia Alpine Outerwear Christian Regester and Mr. Gary Aspden (it’s heartening to see the low-key looks of the SPEZIAL Ardwick become an object of desire in a world where the same old Technicolor yawns get eBay bids) who really, really went on the campaign trail for his labour of love after years of not doing too many Q&As — Next’s role in casual culture, a picture of Gary with a spaniel and a Preston b-boy crew called Mystic Force makes this amazing. The increasingly prolific David Hellqvist (aka. the Baron) has done a good job with the Document project on the Timberland topic — there’s fashion talk in there, design talk and a really good conversation between my friends Nick Schonberger and Ronnie Fieg on the topic of the brand and its connection to NYC that I loved (sample quote: “Chris Webber used to buy 15 pairs of Timberland at a time”). That’s the kind of insight I want to read when we’re talking about brands that I’m smitten with.
Despite lasting for over 104 episodes before it was canned, The Word was treated like televisual Super Noodles by critics and establishment figures alike for half a decade. We, the target audience, appreciated it though, and 19 years after its final episode screened in March 1995 (watching Strike’s performance of You Sure Do from that broadcast this evening had me emotional), there seems to be a worthy amount of nostalgia for those 808 State soundtracked opening credits and the lawlessness that followed. As those reviews preempted online coverage, their toxicity has deteriorated, so we’ve forgotten the disorganised outside broadcasts and hopefuls munching on plates of dead skin, emptied colostomy bags and filtered the best bits into those memory banks. What was good was great — like live performances by artists who, in a concerted bid to show no respect to the live format, made classic TV, or George, Zippy and Shaun Ryder getting acquainted — but there was a lot of rubbish in the mix. It was sometimes like the contents of an issue of The Face being bellowed from the stage during a nightclub PA, but that was part of its appeal — sincerity shuffled self-consciously alongside humiliation and irony. We watched that thing religiously as its excesses elbowed it from a tea time slot to the post-pub position. It was there that a generation planning to go harder the following night would exit the pubs, get home, skin up with terrible hash, crack open more beers and watch it alone or in a heavily populated front room. The Word was great group TV every Friday around 11pm.
The two segments that stayed with me weren’t the usual suspects either. One was a late 1993 segment where Mark Lamarr investigated Desert Eagles and chatted to the Franklin Avenue Posse and Steele from Smif-n-Wessun about it, before a return to the studio where Terry quizzed forgotten rapper K7 (of Come Baby Come fame) on the subject of firearms. The second was a February 1994 piece from the same episode where Rod Hull attacked Snoop Dogg (mentioned here a few years back) on Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight’s son Travis back when he rapped as Chilly Tee (he now heads up LAIKA). Where else were you going to see stuff like this? Beyond these clips, it’s worth noting that The Word Appreciation account on Dailymotion has at least 17 full episodes uploaded — there’s all kinds of misses in there, but the gems remain and it’s best streamed late in the day and under the influence. Just like it always was.
Still no proper update right now, but if you’re not suffering from Visible Air fatigue, there’s a shit ton of nerdery over here for your viewing pleasure and it might be more appreciated by the audience here than over there. Nowadays, marketing wants to rise above the shabby glory of the efforts above and below but somehow falls short of these thirty-second masterpieces. I like to watch these things to remind me why I like shoes when I’m suffering from the fatigue of PR people and communication folks taking the easy way out with everything and feigning love for product.That Sneaker Corner commercial from 1991 is tremendous (shouts to the uploader, wtcvidman) in its “Morrie” Kessler from Goodfellas style old-school salesman enthusiasm. It’s good to see that their Brooklyn spot is still standing — places like that are an endangered species. I’m not sure that Cal Stores are still open, but everything’s better when it has Oh Yeah by Yello on the soundtrack. I think Sneakers Plus in New Jersey is still going though. Salutes to the little guys — there are not enough of them or the grey importers around these days. Everyone sells the same stuff in exactly the same way. At least these folks made an effort.