Sneakers
From the ground up

Writer and cultural scholar Gary Warnett passed away in his hometown of Bedford, England, yesterday, due to complications from pneumonia. He was 39 years old.

To many of his peers, Gary was the reference: a generation’s historian, documentarian and critic. Very few could express the bridging of cultures—music, art and fashion—better than him. As a writer, words were his tool. Forums, blogs, social media, magazines, SMS and face-to-face conversation were his platforms to critique and praise a culture that desperately needed his voice.

Gary was a friend and peer to Highsnobiety and many of the people who share their thoughts below. We collectively share a common bond of having crossed paths with a man who loved to get into the minutiae of it all, knowing full well that we walked away knowing much more than when we arrived.

On behalf of the Highsnobiety family, our thoughts and best wishes to Gary’s family and closest friends.

Charlie Morgan, Global Digital & Content Marketing Manager at New Balance: Gary and I were kindred spirits, both irrationally obsessed with subcultural totems. We grew up not that far from each other, but it took an early adoption of footwear forums for us to meet.

We worked together for years, riffing on obscure reference points, connecting dots and outdoing each other in the knowledge stakes. Gary would still consider himself a fanboy, a streetwear otaku only a few steps away from the kid queuing outside of Supreme on any given Thursday, but what he perhaps couldn’t see is that he was a made man.

His influence and accomplishments had eclipsed many of those of the generation we aspired to be, his humility ensured that he was more relevant, more important than a lot of the “names” he wrote about. He could walk in to a shoe store and talk to the kids working the floor for an hour; he was still one of them.

The last time I saw Gaz was at my wedding. I saw him dance! Never thought I would ever see such a thing. Beyond anything else, I have lost a dear friend. I’m heartbroken and my thoughts are with his family and loved ones.

Chris Law, Global Senior Director of Design at adidas Originals: It ain’t easy to write a few words about a writer who could write a million words on every subject, all knowledgeable, informed and strong.

Gaz grew up a few streets away from me and was school friends with my sister. According to Gaz, and I don’t remember doing this, back in 1988 I bullied him a bit when I was a teenager, rubbing crisps in his hair because I didn’t agree with his views on the latest Iron Maiden album—7th Son. I thought no metal album should have synthesizers on it.

Years later when I had co-started Crooked Tongues (with a few other close friends) I got an email from one of the forum members: “Shogun Assassin.” We were reaching out to contributors to submit content for the site, and Gary was very interested in submitting some ideas. This was around 2005, earlier maybe.

The email went on past the initial CT bollocks and shoe stuff onto many things that are of cultural interest to me, his life “resume” was a mirror description of myself, to be honest I was a bit confused and embarrassed, as I’d forgotten that this was the same kid with crisps in his Barnet (fair-hair).

Gaz up ’til this point had not mentioned our previous encounters. I’m six years older, which is about 10 school years, but we shared the same passion for footwear, streetwear, hip-hop and hardcore music, and these realigned due to Crooked Tongues, and without trying to sound ancient here, it was a community thing of like-minded individuals way before a lot of what goes on now around sneakers came along. Long story short, we took Gary on as part of the team and we have been close friends since. The whole crew and extended fam is feeling this hard. Without a doubt he was our shining, non-stop talking star.

I could go on for days, but it’s a hard day to write. My friend was an amazing bloke who knew 100% more about shit than 90% of the people within and lurking around the industry will ever care to know. I’ll miss that dry fucker dearly as he was the only critique I cared about and would go to for advice and constructive feedback that meant something.

If you want to be a writer in this game, do the homework, learn the knowledge and drop to correctly. RIP Gaz. Uncle Claw. MK41.

Nick Schonberger, Editorial Director at Nike: While Gary is known by many for his passion for our culture, he is best known by his friends for his love of dogs and compassion for all men and women. It’s worth noting he was so proud to have made an impact in our world. His humility didn’t allow for bluster, but he was a fan first, who ensured we all could continue to find things to love in this culture.

Statement from Nike: Gary’s passion, knowledge of sneakers, authenticity and mostly his friendship will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his family at this time. — The Nike family

Statement from adidas: The footwear industry has lost a source of endless knowledge, inspiration and a great human. We’re privileged to have known and collaborated with Gary and are thinking of his family at this time.

Statement from New Balance Athletics, Inc.: Gary’s knowledge of and passion for the sneaker and streetwear industry was immeasurable. We at New Balance will forever remember his kindness, humor and friendship.

Statement from PUMA: Today we lost an industry legend. Gary Warnett will continue to inspire us in the work we do.

Statement from Reebok Classics: Gary was not only a source of infinite knowledge and passion for footwear and culture, but was even more so a great human being. He will be missed. We offer our deepest sympathies to the Warnett family.

Paul Mittleman, Creative Director at Converse: Our common love was dogs. After that is was sharing and talking about obscurity, the past, the transformation of intercontinental lore and basically just how things moved around the earth. Gary always had a question, and if you asked him one you would get a long answer. I surely will miss him and our banter, as well as our shared hatred for pants rolled tight to show off your shoelery.

Edson Sabajo, Founder of PATTA: The best memories I had with my mans was of course talking about hip-hop, and I mean the nerdy shit—the technical rhyme pattern, the way some rappers be slacking, or being great like a dribble from Maradona…tears and laughters…Kool G Rap baby, Kool G Rap. Rest in Power my friend.

 

Dante Ross, A&R at Ada Music/Asylum Records: Met Gary in late 2002 in London through mutual friends/sneakerheads and the boys from Spine magazine. Stayed in touch with him via the Crooked Tongues site. I wanted a pair of the AF1 Carnivals in 2003 and he tracked me down the Orange black pair and sent me those with a bonus…the yellow pair on the arm for helping make all the records I had made.

We stayed in touch on the interweb, and when he came over in 2005 we nerded out on old hip-hop shit at my then-studio. He was like a kid in a candy store going through my obscure hip-hop 12-inches, and we remained pals.

He was a great dude, great writer and a friend. Very sad to hear of his passing today. When I think of Gary, I think of him as the don of kicks in London and all of Europe. I also think of a funny, self-deprecating like-minded cat who loved old-school obscure hip-hop trivia, had great taste and above and beyond all was a brilliant thinker. One of my favorite people to catch a four-hour meal with and shoot the shit, just a brilliant, funny, warm and knowledgable person.

His insight into the so called “culture” will be sorely missed as will his sense of humor and irreverence. Rest In Power Gary, you were a real one.

Mike Packer, Founder of Packer Shoes: Gary was literally salt of the earth. When it came to this industry, his knowledge, acumen and downright care for the what ifs and whys were unparalleled. Gary was Einstein. Gary cared about the past, but more importantly how to properly curate the future. We and the industry are weakened. May his family only have blessings going forward and his memory be one we all carry forward in our day to day.

Treis Hill, Managing Partner at ALIFE: Extremely sad to hear of Gary’s passing. Gary and I first met in the original Crooked Tongues offices back in 2004. I remember thinking: “Wow, he knows a little too much about sneakers.” He was a walking sneaker Google and really good guy. My condolences to his family and loved ones; he was a great man and will be greatly missed.

Toby Feltwell, Co-Founder of CAV EMPT: I’d only known Gary for a few years, but we’re from the same town, and although he was a bit younger, we grew up noticing a lot of the same things at the same time. He was an amazing person to get nostalgic with because he remembered everything—all of the stuff you’re struggling to put a name to he could recall instantly. But he was always as excited about where stuff was going and where it had come from.

A very gentle person. Terrible to lose him so young.

Going to miss you so much Gary. Photo by @fatsarazzi

A post shared by Gareth Skewis (@garethskewis) on

Paul Ruffles, Former Managing Director at size? and Footpatrol: I loved talking to Gary…I didn’t do so as often as I’d have liked to, but when I did it was always good, almost like a little event (for me anyway). His vast knowledge is well known…I often thought it was savant levels, his absolute to draw comparisons from elsewhere was unsurpassed.

But that wasn’t the most memorable thing for me, although I do thank him for all the knowledge he shared with me, but also for the people I could share it with, the most memorable was his genuine excitement and love for the things we talked about, it seeped out of the conversations. It made me want to go and read more, watch more films and documentaries—whenever I’d see something I thought he’d like I’d show him, but most of the time he’d already seen or read it, but if he hadn’t, his enthusiasm to get involved was undeniable and appreciated…infectious!

He was an elder statesman of the original sneaker community that evolved years ago…I’d compare him to a Shaman that you could always rely on to settle an argument. I remember my first nervous forays into this community. I was completely open and honest the early days on Crooked about who I was and what I did, but my reason for getting involved was primarily driven by personal passion and this was recognized by Gary, who welcomed me openly whilst others were more cynically wary.

I’ve always remembered and appreciated that, and it feels like a pillar of this community has left us. He had a great ability to cut through bullshit and waffle and then articulate it so well into words that would humble you. He was someone that I admired and looked up to and was a pleasure to see face to face (I wish it would’ve been more often). At the fairly recent Carhartt anniversary and book launch I remember him spotting me and giving me a warm big smile, he enthusiastically greeted me and then massively congratulated me on leaving size? and JD. He fully approved of what he saw as a bold move for me personally. Having someone I respected telling me this helped reassure me I was doing the right thing at a time I was somewhat nervous to say the least.

The last and most recent memory, but one of the best, was being involved with Gary interviewing Dave White for the Albion project. The interview took so long, as the conversation enjoyably went off on so many tangents, then seeing these two talents go at it for 40 mins on Seinfeld alone—leaving everyone else in their wake—was amazing to watch. When I gave Gary a Seinfeld pin badge the same day the joy in his face reflected the passion and joy he had for the good things.

I wasn’t as close to Gary as others are, and I’m sure they have even better stories than me…I only wish I had spent more time with him, it would’ve only bettered my life.

Joe LaPuma, Vice President of Content Strategy at Complex: For several years, Complex did a sneaker roundtable at the end of each year. In 2013, we had the honor of having Gary on the panel. Gary’s an expert within the space and he was stingy with his co-signs.

The latter being something that is missing in the industry more and more each day. Gary’s approval on a story, a cover, a video meant everything to myself and Complex and everyone who worked within this industry. He’ll be missed daily, but his work will live on forever.

David Fischer, Founder of Highsnobiety: There are not many that I would link so closely with this culture that we are all apart of as Gary. One of the loveliest guys I’ve met, one of the smartest and wittiest guys in the game. A colleague, a friend, a collaborator. I have a hard time imagining our world without him. Gary, you will be deeply missed and for sure never forgotten!

Jon Wexler, Vice President, Global Entertainment and Influencer Marketing at adidas: There are few people in the entire industry who I respected as much as I respected him—man, can’t believe we have to refer to him in the past tense, it’s still shocking.

Gary lived and breathed sneakers before it was considered cool to be sneaker-obsessed. He was my personal go-to “keep us honest” sneaker historian (the only person comparable to him being Gary Aspden). Basically, I would hit him up from time to time to ask him to call bullshit on me, and if he didn’t, I knew we were going the right direction.

He was also always super responsive and ready to talk sneakers any time I would hit him up. People use the word “community” to talk about sneaker culture a lot, but truthfully it really doesn’t always feel like one—except when I would talk to Gary and the handful of guys with his passion for sneakers.

Matt Halfhill, Founder of NiceKicks: So many great things could be said about Gary Warnett. A true gentleman and scholar of our space, as well as just a guy you would want to spend time with talking no matter the circumstances.

One of Gary’s greatest qualities was his honesty. He wouldn’t sugarcoat things he thought were corny and was never shy of having an open conversation about what he thought was wrong in the business. As a fan of the music, style, and media of the times, Gary was a one of the greatest beacons and historians that our culture and industry ever had the pleasure of knowing.

To many of us in the business of footwear media, Gary was the OG. But beyond his work was a man that was an incredible friend to many and one that will be deeply missed.

In our space the word “legend” is used so often, but Gary was truly was that. He has inspired many people for many years and will continue to in his memory. Love you always, mate.

Yu-Ming Wu, Founder of Sneakernews: Our history has lost it’s greatest historian. Where would I be with out the early writings of Gary? I wish I spent more time chatting with him. I can only dream of reading the book Gary would write about sneaker history. The torch has not been passed on and will probably never be passed on. Rest in peace my friend.

Bobby Kim, Co-Founder of The Hundreds: Gary gave us everything. He really did. We took him for granted, but let’s do this the right way now and pay this man his respects. He was the last of the buffalo. He was articulated by truthfulness, love for the game and incomparable knowledge. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. His absence will reverberate louder than his words.

Frank the Butcher, Senior Manager, Brand Activation and Influencer Network, Reebok Classics: The biggest blessing of working in footwear & streetwear is being introduced to an international community of like-minded people. Gary grew up 3000 miles from me but when we got to talking shit about hip-hop, streetwear, Gore-Tex and sneakers, it’s like we were sitting on the same park bench. The respect I have for Gary is immeasurable and I’m going to miss reaching out to him for random cultural fact checking. Our international community has lost one of its brightest ambassadors.

Pete Williams, Editor-In-Chief of Highsnobiety Magazine: I can’t think of anyone I looked up to more in our world than Gary Warnett. Encyclopedic knowledge of our culture’s past, always at the forefront of the next underground wave, hilarious and brilliant, he was a man who truly knew how to grow older without losing sight of his ideals.

I remember a time years ago in a vast Berlin club, where Gary came over to the “techno” room to say hi, making it very clear he wasn’t into the music and would be heading right back to the hip-hop room. A shining beacon of authenticity, Gary was simply the realest. There will never be another like him. You’ll be dearly missed, Gary.

Eugene Kan, Founder Maekan: I met Gary on the greatest media trip of all-time, the 2008 Nike Pre-Olympic trip in Beijing. I was familiar with Gary’s work before meeting him, and I knew early on that he was the standard to strive for in the industry which at the time and even still now has only a handful of prolific journalists.

One evening, it was just him and I who were aimlessly standing around amidst some BMX demo. I recall being slightly nervous. It’s that feeling you get when you’re in a conversation, and you don’t feel you should be there because you’re intellectually a few rungs down.

I think it was Gary’s humility and self-deprecating humor (or maybe just the Britishness), that immediately put me at ease. There are a lot of things people will associate Gary with, and they’re all tangible. It’s the GORE-TEX, the white T-shirts, the encyclopedia of sneaker knowledge, and a love of dogs, but that’s oversimplifying him.

What Gary brought forth was the ability to inspire you to want to know more, to realize honesty wasn’t something to shy away from, and that you should hold people accountable for the culture you care so much about.

There are moments as a writer/communicator/whatever it may be, that the words just flow. It’s natural and calming. You’re not fighting the words, and you realize that it’s because the impact somebody has had on you is as clear as can be.

Glenn Kitson, Founder of The Rig Out: Gary’s capacity and depth of knowledge meant that any chance encounter on the street would lead you down a rabbithole chat that could start with the Dellinger Web EVA Sole unit of a vintage adidas trainer and end with a tale about Mark E Smith in a north Manchester pub—with stops at Nietzsche, John Carpenter and Mobb Deep in between. Gary could turn a conversation about a 20-second clip of a 1980s horror movie into a three-hour conversation. He had a mind like no other, lucid, sharp, witty and funny as hell. The world has lost a light. He was one of the greats.

Noah Johnson, Senior Editor at GQ Style: I wish I had the chance to get to know Gary better on a personal level, but I can say that he approached his work with a level of intellectual curiosity, historical context, and genuine enthusiasm that I greatly admired and will sadly miss.

There are very few writers covering style, sneakers and the cultures surrounding them with his catholic taste, expansive knowledge, and commitment to always elevating the discussion. His was a clear and essential voice, and I’m just glad we all got to be there to hear it.

Chris Danforth, Footwear Editor at Highsnobiety: Nobody kept it more real than Gary. As a writer, he was the number one guy to emulate. He was a voice and a figure in sneaker culture, and he understood the difference between noise and journalism. He will be missed.

Woody, Founder Sneaker Freaker:In an age of overwhelming corniness and phony influencer status, Gary was the real deal. His opinions held weight, his words conveyed gravitas. He was funny as fuck, but deadly serious too. He was a maverick who said what he thought and not for fame, money or status could his opinion be bought. I know I tried many times to get him to write about some corporate baloney, but if he wasn’t interested, the answer was no. He was pure like that. It’s why he was so loved and universally admired.

Speaking personally, a few words of sage praise from Gary Warnett was the ultimate accolade. I’m sure I wasn’t Robinson Crusoe in this regard – kudos from him was keenly sought, hard earned and when it did come, it was deeply satisfying in a way that is hard to explain. He was the barometer, the benchmark and the gold class standard against which we all measure ourselves in this tight-knit industry.

A few years ago Gary took on the epic job documenting the most innovative Nikes of all time for the Genealogy book. As usual, his writing was brilliantly researched, clever, thought provoking and snappy to the final full stop. It was an honour to bring the pages to life with his help, and I hope we did his copy the justice it deserved. I know it drove him nuts when he found out there was one tiny error in the entire book. Only he would know, let alone care, that a minute detail wasn’t 100% correct.
With huge regret, immense sadness, and outright anger at the universe for taking him way too young, we reproduce this interview with Gary from the Nike Genealogy book. I can’t honestly think of a better way to pay tribute to the man and acknowledge his legacy. The world is a poorer place without his immense presence.

BJ Betts, Tattoo artist and Designer: People find their way into our lives for reasons that are sometimes beyond our comprehension.

I’m a hard sell when it comes to “things happen for a reason” or “it was meant to be” or any other number of excuses when bad things happen to incredible people. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s so far beyond my comprehension that I just discount it as not possible? Who knows. But, that’s where faith comes into play. Either you believe, or you don’t. But, that’s all my opinion.

My guess is that I’ve met tens of thousands of people, and have potentially tattooed more than 10,000 people in my 23 years of tattooing, and have met some of the best people I’ve ever known, and some of the worst as well. I’ve never met somebody like Gary.

Gary could hold a conversation on arguably any subject. His ideas were always next level and his quick-witted humor was legendary. He was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, BUT he never threw it in your face, nor did he make you feel uncomfortable due to his intelligence. He could tell you how a vulcanized sole was produced and next, he would tell you the operating temperature of the broiler at Burger King. He loved life, he loved hip-hop, Kirkland t-shirts, and loved dogs. Actually, he loved whatever you loved, and if he didn’t by some chance, he would tell you in a way that wasn’t crucial or judgmental. He loved to talk about anything, and would do so with such passion, there was NO doubt he was telling you the truth. He was the dude I called when I just didn’t know the answer. He was the friend that gave it to you straight, and could find the best of a bad situation. He was always hyped to hear about things I was doing and was the biggest supporter of all his friends. We’ve traveled the world together and found ourselves in situations that I’m still confused about.

I have so many fond memories of one of my best friends, and could share so many. So how do I sum up our almost 15 years of friendship in a few paragraphs? Well, I don’t, is how. That would be doing Gary a disservice. Gary was visiting me for a few days, and wanted a tattoo of an old Spanish galleon. It was getting late and we had a bunch of other stuff to squeeze in. I told him we might not have time to do the galleon but he was definitely getting tattooed. He says “ok, how bout we do a stallion?”

Now I’m really confused. What does that have to do with anything at all?

It didn’t. It simply rhymed with “galleon”. Oh, and I put the Black Flag bars on the neck of the stallion. Why not. That turned into one of my favorite tattoos. Galleon, stallion, what’s the difference?

I’m simply and truly heartbroken that I can no longer share a daily text, a phone call, or a plate of Turkish food from one of our favorite spots. He’s touched so many lives with his brilliance, his banter and outlook on everything.

The world has lost an amazing human being and there will never be another like him and I have an empty spot in my heart and my life to prove it. Rest easy, G. You’ve worked hard and you’ve earned it. See you on the other side, my friend. Love you with all my heart and soul.

  • Photography: Leo Cackett for Sneaker Freaker
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