Tag Archives: crooked tongues

SPEAKING IN TONGUES

crookedtongues2001

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.

VINTAGE INTERNET HYPE

I hate the overuse of of “street culture” as an umbrella term for what blogs frequently promote. I’m sure as fuck not “street.” But I can concede that the big overpriced, overhyped brew that fills blogs and expensive magazines has gone overground in a major way. That’s not to say that the blog realm hasn’t been a major topic in boardrooms globally for years, but the Art in the Streets exhibition at MOCA and Jay-Z’s Life + Times portal site feel like some big-budget crossover moments to tether multiple zeitgeisty moments. If you’re still deluding yourself that a Supreme tee on your back and pristine boutique-bought Dunks make you part of an “in the know” secret society, you’re misguided. That look has blown the fuck up.

Pharrell buddying with NIGO, Lil Wayne with the BAPE belt, Dilla in Stussy and ‘Ye in Supreme in Vibe’s November 2003 issue were just the beginning. Lupe’s ballistic nylon Visvim backpack, Bun-B’s streetwear fandom on the Weekly Drop and MURS talking Undefeated circa 2006 gave way to a limited edition lifestyle becoming the norm. That Jay would get involved (after all, he’s a business, man) was an inevitability. It’s something bigger than street culture — it’s the new face of aspiration across-the-board. The definition of what constitutes hype is gradually spreading to keep pace with the hyperactive, OCD minds of the consumer – chairs, electrical goods, business matters, luxury goods, supercars, big budget movies, pencils and architecture are all contenders now. They don’t need a screenprinted or pleather tie-in tool to justify inclusion, because things done changed.

Just as popular culture has appropriated the hype, the hype is picking from popular culture. It’s a good move too, because I was becoming increasingly jaded by the five-brand circle beat-off that created a rut that nobody could be bothered to queue for. I still can’t see much on the Life + Times site that Hypebeast, Complex, A Continuous Lean, High Snobiety and Selectism can’t fill up my RSS or Twitter timeline with. Casting my mind back to Slam X Hype, Hypebeast and High Snobiety’s early days, it’s mind-boggling to see something that started purely from fandom become the prototype for every attempt in the quest to win the hearts and minds of a particularly sophisticated audience — you can’t just stick lurid colours on something and tell them to wait overnight for it any more.

Jay’s move is a more intelligent echo of Damon Dash’s (as an aside, I love what he’s doing with Creative Control) America magazine release a few years back. Dame knew there was something there to harness beyond the voluminous denim and hefty fleecewear, but it got derailed by an ego trip. Shawn seems to have lifted elements of that halfway-there business plan in his predictably calculated manner. The site deserves some credit for creating content rather than aggregating it, unlike those curious bottom feeder URLs that lift from the blogs. Bear in mind that Jay’s “little brother”s much-feted blog started life happily heisting content from the likes of High Snobiety without a credit. I liked the shot of Jay’s Margiela sneakers too, but I’m in no doubt that Madbury and Street Etiquette were screengrabbed into the Powerpoint presentation to secure funding for the site.

So if a lifestyle portal like Life + Times represents some sort of neo-hype megabudget, mainstream movement and the blogs we check regularly are hype in its traditional, easily-digestible form, what about the proto hype outlets that helped to inspire a whole movement? They deserve a little more credit than they get.

It’s curious to think that hip-hop was one of the last subcultures to truly embrace the internet, given its power on Trending Topics nowadays (witness the recent afternoon of Earl Sweatshirt awareness), but the notion of looking at rap on the internet seemed downright goofy and at odds with the “keep it real” culture of the time (though these 1993 alt.rap entries are a charming reminder that folk have been saying “hip-hop’s dead” for almost two decades — even during a perceived golden age). Platform.net was a pioneering site on its creation circa 1996 – a proto Complex.com in some ways, that got plenty of corporate interest from the likes of Sony back when the internet scared brands the first time round and everyone threw money at unprofitable business models.

Platform offered, well…a platform for record labels and clothing brands, plus original content that sometimes talked to me like I’d never heard of hip-hop, but let me hear Ghostface’s ‘Apollo Kids’ (RealAudio, yo) for the first time, while hosting HAZE, Strength, Trace and Triple 5 Soul‘s online presence…or something like that. It was a particularly overdesigned site, but I used to visit frequently. It had vanished by 2002, but the site’s founders, Ben White and Tina Imm were part of the original Complex team in 2002. It was an ambitious move at a time when online hip-hop consisted of white men arguing about Atmosphere on message boards or sparsely designed online stores, but it pre-empted the culture’s ownership of the web.

Relax, Street Jack, Boon, Lodown and Mass Appeal provided plenty of paper content circa 1999, but it was also the time when plenty of sites began offering collated information in an English Language format. My respect for Being Hunted and RTHQ is substantial, and something that’s been covered here before several times. 1999-2001 felt like a silver age of online hype culture. Both Being Hunted and Rift Trooper HQ were utter fandom — otaku levels of interest via Europe (Germany and the UK respectively) and the blueprint for the blog realm.

Spine Magazine’s London-based mixture of sneaker, skatewear, sticker and magazine fixation, plus extensive hip-hop content is the reason I do the job I do now, but it felt utterly fresh on its debut, offering the same excitement that Phat magazine offered seven years earlier (also involving Mr. Chris Aylen too) — it also spawned online store Crooked Tongues in late 2000 (that model of sister sites would become more ubiquitous later on down the line) and even had a Recon collaboration. Now, anyone might be able to have a blog (Crooked and Spine had Blogger functions — one of the first times I ever saw the word mentioned) but it currently feels like a collection of vaguely overlapping, cliquey closed circles. Back then, simply registering an interest got me involved (big thanks to both Christophers, Steve and Russell).

Nike Park was a good source of Nike news during the Alpha Project days and a purer time when brands were a little more apprehensive of internet fandom. That would lead to Niketalk in late 1999, and Nike Park’s spam-filled message board came to a close in early 2000 — shouts to Collie, who supplied plenty of Euro exclusive images to the Nike Park and Niketalk back in the day. Fat Lace deserves props for maintaining since 1999 too (not to be mistaken for the UK-based rap ‘zine which also deserves props).

Online stores like the Tokyo-based resellers Concept Shop (Simon from Concept Shop seemed to be a frequent poster on a number of forums), Streethreds (now Hanon Shop) and Shoe Trends with their enviable collection of Air Max and FrontPage ’98, clip art laden site fill me with a certain nostalgia for electronically window shopping.

Mo’ Wax may have been struggling between 1999 and 2001, but their bulletin board proved pretty damned influential. Just as the label let cultures converge (with varying degrees of success), as with the Crooked Tongues forums, plenty of friendships were forged between likeminds on that site, with its noisy intro and black background for extra migraines. Splay seemed to operate alongside it. By the way, if you’re assuming that forums are redundant, bear in mind that Hypebeast’s forums were a breeding ground for Street Etiquette, On Award Tour and OFWGKTA (plus the Celebs Rockin Heat! thread is one of my favourite things on the internet). I remember Futura making some very gracious visits to the Mo’ Wax site too, long after the launch of his labyrinth website and around the time of the Booth-Clibborn book launch. At least I assume it was him, because anonymity on that site was a piece of piss. Superfuture and Tokion seem to slot in alongside those sites too. A fair amount of users spilled onto FUK as well.

My Internet Explorer (what can I say? I was saving for a Mac) bookmarks seemed congested at the start of the 21st century, but in retrospect, there was barely anything out there. Nothing. That’s why I feel the original obsessives deserve a little shine. I don’t think they knew how far things would go — from blindly navigating a collection of quotes and Lenny’s scanned-in photography and sketches, to a pair of Futura AF1s on Rozay’s feet. Worlds most definitely collided, and a fair few who deserved it got paid. Those who didn’t get paid deserve to be remembered too. Proto hype sites, I salute you. Internet pre-2005 seems to be gradually disappearing from memory and from Google search (I’m blaming defunct hosts too), but the dead links and missing in action images form the unassuming backbone of a snowball effect in the years that followed. Gotta love that old-world web design.













COLLABORTIONS

Bad

I never wanted to be pigeonholed as a ‘sneaker dude’ – that’s why this blog has mercifully evaded the subject, unless it’s dealt with in a manner that’s a little stranger than a straightforward history. Back in mid-2006, I experienced a little buzz among marketing/design types onine when I hastily wrote something for Sneaker Freaker to promote the Crooked Tongues adicolor shoe. The baffling thing was, I thought ’10 Sneaker Collaboration Commandments’ was pretty crap…one of the weakest things I ever compiled for Woody and the crew. It didn’t help that I had started full-time at Crooked after the shoe had actually been designed. Plus I was a writer, not a designer.

Still, I was briefly feted for my insights into where designers were going wrong despite no experience in design. I felt like a charlatan – all I’d wanted to do was evade a boring interview by trying to parody Frank Blizzard’s masterpiece. One of the prominent Joshs whose made a name for himself online (apologies for forgetting the surname) praised my brutal mutilation of the English language when I “hilariously” removed an ‘a’ to make the word ‘”collaboration” to describe the sort of tat that was being pumped out at the time. That kind of thing was considered funny in 2006. I think.

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