Artwork: Skaters © Greg Foley
To be cool is to be a master of finesse, of the ability to play a hot hand without letting anyone know the score. Cool is to have grace under pressure, style without trying, and simply the ability to play it low. It is the unflappable panache that sets one apart and shows that they can not only play the game—they can write the rules, should they wish.
Cool is what so many aspire to, and so often fall short. It is being hot without cracking a sweat, and in doing so, everyone around you feels relaxed and at ease, so compelling is your effortless chill. Since the flappers rose up to rebel against the constraints of Victorian times that decimated an entire generation with its hateful nationalism that gave birth to World War I, the counterculture has become the central force of cool in modern life—for it is here, far away from the squares, that cool is born.
Illustrator Greg Foley, creative director of Visionaire, V Magazine, and VMan, has partnered with writer and style editor Andrew Luecke to create COOL: Style, Sound, and Subversion (Rizzoli New York, May 9, 2017). Organized by decade, the book takes us across the past century looking at the youth culture movments around the globe that are paragons of cool.
It’s all here, from Pachucos, Teddy Boys, and Black Panthers to Disco, Riot Grrrls, and Sapeurs—COOL catalogues the scenes to the point that those in the know will recognize sources. But for those just getting caught up, this is the perfect place to begin, as each section presents a brief history of the scene, the sound, and the look.
Throughout each decade are playlists, provided by select contributors including A$AP Ferg, Kelis, Ice-T, Marky Ramone, Shepard Fairey, Peter Saville, Michael Stipe, Nile Rodgers, Glenn O’Brien, Stefan Sagmeister, Andrew W.K., Fischerspooner, and Susanne Bartsch.
In an era where everything is at your fingertips, what could be easier for anyone who wants to get down with a new scene, without ever having to leave your home? But then the question becomes: Is that cool? Or might it mark you as a poseur? In the world of cool, authenticity matters above all.
As Sasha Frere-Jones writes, “[These styles] begin on the street as expressions of resistance and definitions of a cohort. The moment the monied want their boutique version of that style, cool is gone and the style ends its organic phase.”
It’s a fitting reminder: cool is not for sale. It is a not a pose, it is a poise, an attitude, an approach to life above all. This is what makes it ever changing, forever seeking the edge, always in search of that which has not bee appropriated, commodified, and watered down to meet the dull palettes of the squares. Cool, inherently, is too fresh for most at first taste. Rather than follow the trends, it sets them—years and years ahead.
Perhaps this is why the coolest of the cool become myths, legends, and icons that we reflect upon long after the movement has ended. Their integrity, innovation, and passion continue to inspire generations ahead, so true that they ultimately become both of the moment and timeless in a way that only the cool can.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.