Gary Warnett of Gwarizm
I’ve been meaning to interview Gary for a minute. From my geeky, obsessive perspective, it’s far cooler than interviewing owners of brands who turn over millions a year or who have a host of coveted trainer collabs under their belt. Gary Warnett is pretty much like you and I, he’s an enthusiast but also a normal guy. He has gained notoriety through writing for a host of magazines, such as Hypebeast and ID, but his most notable work is probably his humble blog, Gwarizm. For me, who was still drinking formula milk when James Jebbia was screenprinting his first t-shirts, Gwarizm has been a vital source of information and insight; it encapsulates a generation and also feeds my weird craving for knowledge about what kind of blanks BAPE used in their early seasons and how the Air Max 93 came into existence. Anyway, we sat down with him recently, via email, and quizzed him about general nonsense.
What follows is an interview which I edited whilst under the influence and is probably riddled with typos as a result.
Pusha T’s new album. Album of the year? I think it probably is.
I would agree. I’m a huge Push fan. Remember that era of Re-Up Gang tapes during their label issues? Even the Funeral Is great from when they didn’t have their voices. I miss Clipse but even as a non-believer I respect Malice’s religious rebirth – I’ve heard those gents lived the life. Once I used to think Malice was a better rapper because he made those little references to Kojak that showed his age and that “I’m the reason the hood need a dental plan” line was perfect and brilliant. That Pusha is a popular artist is fantastic — especially after like, 14 years signed. He respects the old artists but he’s very progressive — that cold-blooded delivery is amazing. He’s very lyrical without it all getting all tedious and technical. It’s not a classic album but it’s well structured — between him, Kendrick and Danny Brown, rappers seem to have gotten their mojos back.
What else have you been listening to of late?
Hmmm…Gucci Mane, Danny Brown, Cam’ron and some Scritti Politti. Shuffle just played me John Barry’s main theme from Howard the Duck. I wasn’t mad at that. Oh, and lots of Combat Jack Show episodes.
For those that don’t know, or didn’t bother reading my intro to this feature, you’re probably most renowned for your blog. What were your initial intentions when starting it?
Renowned is a very grandiose description of the corner of the Internet where I dwell. To be honest, that thing was just started because I wasn’t into blogs I was seeing. I resisted blogging for ages back when the hype sites were letting people have those little blogs in blogs. Acyde gave me a blog on the site he had at the time and I was determined to just blog British stuff, but I burned out on content after a couple of months. Then Slamxhype gave me a blog and that was fun for a while but they changed the passwords — kind of like coming to work at a voluntary day centre and somebody’s changed the locks. I just wanted to write about something other than sports footwear — and I know I’ve not stuck to that —so I set up this WordPress blog in summer 2009 and it was just meant to be a place to write about anything I felt wasn’t already out there or in one place.
Are they much different to how they are now? I mean, The Reference Council was originally conceived as an idea to make money and now it maybe gets us a few pairs of trainers a month…
Ha ha ha! You learnt the reality of the situation. But I like the Reference Council because it has an opinion and an edit. I definitely lost my way somewhere so my intentions are all over the place. It ends up being used as a promo one day then a place for something strange. I never wanted it to be a moneymaker and it hasn’t been, but I guess it was a nice showcase of some other things.
Touching on the subject of “gifting,” what’s the coolest gift you’ve ever received from a brand?
I have a pretty bad jacket and shoe habit, so I do okay. But it’s a little vulgar to name names and products — I once did a presentation at Nike World Headquarters on basketball shoes and they gave me a Nike shoebox made in the Innovation Kitchen from an actual basketball court. The craftsmanship is nuts. I really love that because it reminds me of one of those bizarre dream-like moments — a reminder it actually happened.
It’s crazy to think that a blog, which is so sparse and basic in it’s layout, could be so big in 2013, but the nostalgic aspect of it, coupled with genuinely insightful content, works really well. I guess that’s more of an observation than a question, but I’ve always viewed the site as an amazing resource for the likes of us who didn’t grow up with Supreme, FUCT etc. That educational aspect, was it intentional at all?
I actual have a couple of grand to make that blog look better and a URL etc, but I haven’t got round to sorting it out. It kind of ticked over as a hobby and I couldn’t be bothered with aesthetics. I’m happy to have a tiny audience that gives a crap. If the audience was bigger then I’d only sabotage it by giving kids who wanted the latest Air Max images 600 words on Michael Dudikoff films or something equally silly. So if someone comes and uses it as a resource and it makes them go off and read up on something interesting then that’s mission accomplished. That makes me incredibly happy. It used to be all angry, but it has mellowed lately because I’m old and complacent now. Brands come calling sometimes and often that puts me off the brand. Or PR people for a brand I wrote about getting in touch — whoa, you’re getting in touch because you’re paid to say the brand is great. I never even know how to reply. So I might have given some free brand consultancy over the years. And I don’t get this whole “we don’t recycle press releases!” boast that some people put out there — really? That’s your USP? How can you be so proud of the staggeringly obvious?
Speaking of Fuct, you recently contributed to Erik’s 20th anniversary book, how did that come about?
I believe that my friend Ed who runs the excellent Heavy Mental site and is very on point with everything mentioned me to Erik. We’d been in touch before, but I think Ed made the suggestion.
In your article you speak of FUCT’s grim points of reference, is that what first attracted you to the brand?
I was attracted to FUCT by that name and the pictures from The Warriors and other films I love. In the last 15 years, you’ve readily been able to get films on tees and sweats but I remember being blown away that there was a Goodfellas tee with that slight subversion. The quality of those prints is crazy though.
Although a lot of their output is geared towards American consumers, do you think it was those grim sensibilities that also gained the brand support here in Britain?
I think there’s a shared moody streak but I think the key to FUCT’s success was universal in that teenagers found something that seemed authentic and as mad at the world as them. It’s a testament to Erik’s skills that it had an aesthetic beauty too.
You also refer to FUCT and their early output as “anti-nostalgia.” Leading on to a more general view of streetwear, do we, as consumers and fans of this subculture, pine too much for those halcyon years in the 90s, before it all became too corporate?
I think it was anti-nostalgia in that it merrily subverted some classic totems of Americana. It’s funny that we get nostalgic for something that seemed to hate nostalgia. Having said that, I think there’s an enormous amount of affection in the designs — a respect for the strength of the graphic identities.
Is a dose of anti-nostalgia required?
Yeah. I’m at that horrible nostalgia point in my life. I tried to implement a nostalgia-offset on my blog at one point — every time I wrote about something old, I did a carbon offset style contribution of writing about something very new. I think it’s important that brands piss people off — I see a lot of hate for what people like Virgil Abloh do, but I think the brazenness and the marketing is great. They’re making things that irk an old guard and that’s great. People saying “You’re just paying for the name on a cheap t-shirt!” sound like my mum back when I was a kid. I like V-Files a lot. Anyway, it’s important that kids grow up to facepalm at photos like, ‘I can’t believe I wore that!” Back when everyone was dressed in Red Wings, buffalo checks and raw denim I don’t think there was that scope for future shame.
FUCT seems genuinely authentic, and always has done. Is it even possible for an emerging brand in 2013 to cultivate that sort of authenticity? (What I’m getting at is the circumstances from which FUCT evolved, versus what is now a very business-led industry) Or are FUCT one of the last remnants of a past world?
If a brand comes up with the alternative to a norm and puts in the same attention-to-detail on something I don’t see why not. I don’t think you could activate a zeitgeist with a printed t-shirt or car company parody though — it would have to be a very different form. Everything is so wide-eyed and earnest and keen to make friends on social media that someone needs to piss on the picnic.
I guess that leads us onto what is new, be it brands, music or art, which genuinely excites you?
I’m currently interested in Jointrust, Needles, Acronym (still killing it), the mere thought of Mike Tyson’s impending autobiography, Boldy James and Maxime’s new shop.
Also on the subject of new, you recently collaborated about Reebok. Tell us a bit about that and the inspiration behind these trainers?
I’m a big fan of the Reebok Classic. I mean, my dad wore it and every kid I ever knew who got into trouble did too. So I thought it would be fun to play on the criminal connotations of that shoe because that’s the elephant in the room for most brands — criminals sell shoes as much as athletes, but a brand can’t necessarily promote that, for obvious reasons. I, as a partner thought it would be cool to make the shoe a tribute to the wide boys and geezers who made it huge. Originally there was this whole Supermalt concept — I was going to homage the label’s colours because this is a pub shoe, right? And I don’t drink. But the whole non-alcoholic pub shoe concept is only vaguely present on the final thing because I decided to go a different route.
So there was this idea of putting a tan leather Reebok Classic in a prison suit for its past crimes. And maybe creating a fictional prison issue shoe if sportswear brands were looking for government contracts.
That orange canvas has embroidered arrows to tribute pub wear from over the years like Lacoste, Polo and YSL, but the broad arrow was a prison suit marking from back in the day that made you government property. I saw it engraved on a 1940s shoe’s toe in a book of vintage clothing. So we had that embroidered material custom made. The orange is a bit US prison overall and the grey lining is HMP prison sweatshirt themed. You have to give a Classic an ice sole and back in the day there used to be all sorts of stuff under the ice and with the Classic sole pattern being spotted at so many crime scenes in the past, I put some arrows user it.
The shoe itself is a Reebok Classic. I’ve got to say; to actually make that shoe cool again is some achievement by Reebok. Maybe our US or European readers won’t “get” that statement, because it’s a great silhouette, but it was also branded the “burglar’s shoe of choice” by the Daily Mail (not that they have a clue about trainers, never mind politics). It’s amazing what good marketing and good collaborations can do for a brand in changing perceptions…
I think the shoe definitely got given this stigma, but to be honest, the Cortez and Air Max 95 got similar audiences and I love it. I think any “chav” talk is irritating snobbery from the fennel classes. The Classic is a piece of British pop culture from the late 1990s and early 2000s and should be celebrated thusly. The whole 1983-era white on white Reebok garment leather story is a huge part of sport footwear’s history. I grew up aspiring to afford a pair of Reebok Phase Ones or 4600s. I’m from Bedford, so I feel that the Classic was part of my hometown’s uniform. I think the UK has a unique connection to the classic — Reebok might not have been a UK brand since the late 1970s, but the Union Jack is still on the side. A man once tried to buy a pair off my dad’s feet in the late 1990s at a night market in Indonesia.
Where can we buy it?
You can buy it from your local indie spots like Solebox, Sneakersnstuff and Packer from October the 12th.
What else have you got planned for the future?
Hopefully a quiet November. Then some more work with brands, new jobs and a book project on sports footwear that keeps stopping and starting.
Thanks to Gary for taking the time to speak to us, I’m down for any interview which can combine Cam’ron and trainers. Check out gwarizm and educate yourself. Peace.