Crooked Tongues

There are a lot of sneaker websites out there. None, however, are quite like Crooked Tongues (www.crookedtongues.com) (CT). Not only do you get first dibs at seeing the newest sneakers, you also get a sneaker forum where you can discuss your sneakers with other sneaker fanatics, and interviews with people from Nike and other major sneaker producers. Everyone who knows sneakers best can be found on this site. Format sat down with the men who operate the site day to day, Gary Warnett and Charlie Morgan, who explained the structure behind the site.

“We would rather be the guys who get the correct story with the good images even if it’s a few hours later than phone cam pictures and unsubstantiated supposition. It’s like Fox news versus the BBC: one is respected for its history and rigor, the other is lampooned for is jingoistic tabloid sword waving.”

Format: Many of today’s sneaker sites merely focus on selling sneakers. This site, however, focuses on a series of different things which include articles related to the evolution of certain sneakers, and interviews with individuals related to the sneaker culture. What made you decide to take that route with the site?
Gary Warnett: I think it’s important to flesh things out a little. We’re fans, so our role is a nice excuse to find stuff out ourselves that we wanted to know. As a result, we share that [with others]. From day one, with the proto-CT pages on Spine Magazine in the early 2000s, there was something of an information overload, so it was a standard that needed to be maintained. In the interim a ton of solid sites have sprung up–many are blog-based, and they do the job well in terms of getting the info up as soon it’s announced.

We’ve always been about analysis, context, and critique amid the babble, so it makes sense to try to offer something a little bit different. Sometimes this works to our advantage. Other times, in the case of critical analysis, it’s been detrimental, but we’ll keep sticking to our guns. I also think it helps to offer a little cultural or historical information, even if it’s just a sentence. For me, and I usually try to write something I’m feeling, it can bolster a shoe’s appeal if it’s presented in its correct cultural framework. Or maybe I’m just weird. We’ll still keep on pumping it out regardless. And we try to provide content at a level that could match the quality control of the printed page.

I’ve got respect for what you guys do, Inquiring Mind, Fader, and Vapors putting their publications up for free, plus Slam X taking that step too–it’s admirable. At the end of the day, sneakers are sneakers, but we want to do our job to the best of our abilities. Over-analysis can kill it, but there’s a balance that can aid appreciation. And we want that enthusiasm to prove infectious, even if it dooms us to cultdom rather than mass media, Kanye-name-checked balling–Though that would be nice.

Charlie Morgan: We always favored the journalistic integrity route; it goes hand-in-hand with how and why we got as heavily immersed in footwear as we have. It’s not just about having the shoes, it’s about knowing the story behind them, historically, sub-culturally, whatever. We would rather be the guys who get the correct story with the good images even if it’s a few hours later than phone cam pictures and unsubstantiated supposition. It’s like Fox news versus the BBC: one is respected for its history and rigor, the other is lampooned for is jingoistic tabloid sword waving; in the long run good will win out.

Format: How do you decide who you are interested in interviewing for the site? What qualifications must they meet?
Charlie Morgan: It normally comes down to connections, friendships, and more often than not a PR push on behalf of one of the brands. The thing is we have been really lucky with a lot of the guys we have had the good fortune to sit down with. Most of them love the fact that they get to talk about their chosen careers. It’s great to be able to mention some small, long-forgotten nugget of information and get somebody riffing off it for hours. We have heard some amazing tales over the years.

Gary Warnett: It works two ways really. Occasionally on release of a product, someone will offer themselves or a colleague for interview purposes. I like to make things as informative as possible. While it’s never going to be a Pulitzer winner, I’d hope that our line of questioning offers at least a minor break from the norm; designers are normally deep, so it’s always going to be kind of interesting. And our user base (and ourselves) want to know some nerdy stuff. We want to give them that and learn ourselves in the process.

The second way, if there’s someone I respect, be it Shawn Stussy or Dante Ross, then it’s an instant qualifier! Same goes for Steve Van Doren. Even the most tenuous association with sneakers is enough to warrant inclusion if I slip into fanboy mode. Obviously in the future we’d like to target some equally heavy hitters, but if [an interview] results in nothing but rehashed press release babble, then it’s pretty much scrapped or judiciously edited so only the good bits remain. The truly cool interview subjects on the whole give the best interviews, especially if they’re a little worse for wear at a launch party. Then we ambush them with the dictaphone.

“If [an interview] results in nothing but rehashed press release babble, then it’s pretty much scrapped or judiciously edited so only the good bits remain.”

Format: What changes can we expect from the site in the near future?
Gary Warnett: A redesign to make it easier to use, expansions to the online store that we recently re-launched so it becomes the definitive spot to pick up vintage and new releases, new t-shirts, some unexpected collaborations, and a ton of long-winded interviews. At the moment the forthcoming CT Adidas aZX ZX 9000 is our focus, ready for its October drop. Just more of that good stuff–I’m not sure there’s a point when there isn’t three or more collabs simmering on the backburner, but those collaborative fires always need stoking otherwise projects fizzle out fast. Obviously beyond team-ups, we’re keen to build the brand as its own entity. But we see other sites evolving at a rapid rate too. It’s very easy to fade into irrelevance, and we’re looking at ways to tie our News section in with the online store without compromising the content and sacrificing the critical element. And we want to syndicate more print content into established print magazines.

Charlie Morgan: It’s about time we brought the ruckus with a new site design but don’t expect drastic changes, doing this for almost a decade I think we have a pretty good angle on what works and what doesn’t. We recently re-launched our sister site Spine magazine and learned a few hard lessons along the way. I think the one area where you will see a lot happening is the retail side of things; we are making a concerted effort to pull together a unique product mix. Essentially we want to bring that Crooked vibe to retail–that same level of discretion and exploration.

Format: Any plans to make the site into a print magazine?
Gary Warnett: We’re print magazine heads and hoarders from the Face, Read And Destroy, HHC, I-D and Phat era onwards. There’s a ton of content from us and our sister site Spine, and a lot of pieces never uploaded for whatever reason, and with close to a decade in existence, and regardless of the earlier statement about quality control rising, I don’t think there’s any substitute for a well-designed, content-heavy publication in your hands. Sitting around with some $400 robot book simulator is simply not going to cut it. Online is great for a quick fix, bookmarks, and a constant feed of updated info, but with honorable exceptions, it still feels like fast food delivery of information. For that rapidity you have to sacrifice quality control. We’re always working the angles and weighing the options of a physical magazine.

Format: How did the site originally come into existence? Whose idea was it?
Charlie Morgan: The site was a spin-off from Spinemagazine.com. It’s a cliché, but Spine in its initial incarnation was way ahead of its time. The content was unique as was the delivery; the only real problem was the distinct lack of audience. CT was launched as a more focused offering with a slightly more viable economic policy (we sold shoes to cover the costs). Spear-headed by our inimitable boss Russell, essentially it was a crew of London locals who all hooked up in Soho, London, on the bench outside Bond International (RIP). Ten years later it’s still here along with a creative agency that was launched on the back of CT and Spine, although a lot of those involved in the early years have gone on to do their own thing.

Gary Warnett: Spine was optioned as a clothing label, but to promote it Spinemagazine.com came into being. It was a massive success and the clothing aspect never fully materialized. Now we’re set for hip-hop blogs, but in 1999-2000, less so. Rap-wise, it was lots of aggressive forums, some sites that are no longer with us – (remember having Nikepark and platform.net bookmarked?)–it was around the same time Niketalk (still a ridiculously good resource for information) launched, and we have to give shouts to RTHQ and Being Hunted. But while there were some great Japanese sneaker resources out there, the Spinemagazine features on esoteric bits like the Kukini and Tuned Air struck a chord. CT came about that way in 2000, and all involved were sneaker-obsessed. Starting as a temporary blog/bulletin board and with emphasis on the store to follow, it got a “proper” launch in 2001. It snowballed from there. Along the way [Charlie and I] got involved. Charlie used to contribute to the infamous “Spine Dungeon” and I wrote some badly worded pieces on Artifacts and Hard 2 Obtain albums that I was surprised but pleased were ever chosen to publish.

“I’m always distressed at the lack of completely new designs. If one comes along, we jump on it.”

Format: How do you decide what shoes you are going to feature?
Gary Warnett: Whatever’s interesting. I’m always distressed at the lack of completely new designs. If one comes along, we jump on it. Some shoes are offered, and some we commence PR/brand harassment as soon as we glimpse the line art. If it’s really bad we like to critically annihilate it, but we try to keep it constructive. But we prefer picking good stuff and heaping praise. At the end of the day, we’re fans, but for all the perks, we want to place ourselves in the shoes of someone who’s actually shelling out £80 for the product. Cracking paint, bad materials: we’re going to call that stuff out.

Charlie Morgan: Generally if we couldn’t stand up and defend [a design] against a jury of our peers then it doesn’t get in. There are a hell of a lot of crappy shoes in the world!

Format: Is it safe to say that the whole crew are Sneakerheads?
Charlie Morgan: “Sneakerhead” is one of those terms that I think will always be contentious; for the most part, those of us that work directly on the site have a long-held passion for shoes. Within the company as a whole there are a few chaps who have caught the bug but not all of them get it on a personal level.

Gary Warnett: I hate the term “Sneakerhead.” I hope I’m not one. I bet I’ve used it numerous times on the site though–laziness on my behalf! I love sports footwear, but it certainly doesn’t break the top ten of my interests if I was dull enough to list them. Those interests like reading, movies, and music, and a ton of sub-cultural knick-knacks have certainly aided my knowledge, desire, and appreciation for sneakers. So shoes are an accessory, a byproduct of those interests. We all need something on our feet, and I guess sneakers play a big part as a status symbol and as a stylistic element in the sub-cultures I’m fixated with. I don’t go to sleep and dream about footwear. I don’t even collect. I hoard: physically and mentally. It’s a fixation.

I cram on top of my existing knowledge of nothing in particular. One week it’s Nike Terra releases, then it’s Dade County hip-hop, the next it’s Alpha Project experiments, then Santa Sangre, then NYHC, then it’s all things nautical, then Adidas Forums, then John Milius, then UK-made NB. I’m all over the fucking place; not in an “I’m so eclectic” way, but it’s a higher elevation for me. I just like filling my brain with all sorts of crap. I bore easily.

Format: What is your goal with the site?
Gary Warnett: Keeping it thorough, trying to set standards, maintain some integrity and keep building. Ideally the site offers some documentation of street style, brings people together, and spews high quality output that people are feeling. We’re always looking to evolve. Fly-by-nights come and go, but Crooked Tongues is constant.

Charlie Morgan: To carry on regardless. We have loads of projects on the go, although not all of them ever get to see the light of day. We are in no great hurry to do anything, but that’s not to say we’re not looking to progress!

L. Marie Knight

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