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.