CELEBRATING GARY WARNETT
Friends remember one of sneaker culture's greatest contributors on his birthday. WORDS: NICK SCHONBERGER ART: B.J. BETTS
Friend and colleague Nick Schonberger reflects on the contributions of one of sneaker culture’s most invested commentators, the late Gary Warnett, on Warnett’s birthday. Illustrations of Gary’s favorite Jordan editions by Warnett’s close friend B.J. Betts.
Gary Warnett passed away at his home on September 27, 2017. He was 39.
While Warnett left us too early, his written output — vast and varied — remains. Indisputably, he was one of sneaker culture’s most significant commentators. Heralded as the G.O.A.T. sneaker writer (an acknowledgement which made him shudder), Warnett’s acumen for unpacking the nuances of cool, a very complex equation, made him an impeccable ally to the brands he loved.
One of those was, of course, Jordan. But while many fall in love with the Jumpman and all its associated legend through basketball, Warnett’s intrigue was spurred by Jordan’s unique position in the wider footwear world.
Warnett focused on unpacking the broader cultural context of sneaker releases in the community. Warnett was more likely to rattle off every shoe that released on the same day as the original Jordan 3 than the results of the ’88 dunk contest, digging into the nooks and crannies of a given silhouette’s history.
While other interviewers might have asked Tinker Hatfield what it was like meeting Jordan for the first time, Warnett asked if the prospect of creating a signature shoe for an athlete was something of a “poison chalice as a designer.” Hatfield responded, “Not really. I was really fairly naïve about shoe design and the pressures therein.”
This type of candor is the stuff Warnett regularly drew out through his investigations of Jordan footwear. He had his favorites: the Jordan 1, Jordan 3, Jordan 4 and Jordan 11.
Of the 1, he shared that Jordan’s play solidified the shoe as legit, while its appearance on a prominent record sleeve helped propel its hip-hop cool. Warnett knew that the combination of namesake success along with adoption and adaption was reason to celebrate a shoe — he wanted to present the entire context and never let anyone forget that each piece is equally important to solidifying legend.
Thus, when discussing the 3, Warnett was quick to point out how the shoe captured the zeitgeist of its time. Hatfield’s use of elephant print, the pull of visible Nike Air and the minimal upper branding all combined to meet a moment where sophisticated tech was at launch point.
These types of considerations, and Warnett’s mastery of dot-connection, made his contribution to the lore of Jordan remarkable in its holistic thoroughness.
No small feat, and one for which the label G.O.A.T. seems apt.
RIP Gary Warnett.