August 9, 2019
Nobody has ever looked at a practical, mass-produced vehicle and thought, “Damn. That’s cool,” and people don’t stop and admire blank white walls. Do you know anyone who collects objects that are made fast to be cheap? Easy answer: no. But, those products are everywhere; they serve a purpose. They’re not cool.
Few things in this world have the cool and the cachet to appeal to almost everyone. The architecture of the Louvre, the enormity of the Grand Canyon, and the magnificence of the Sistine Chapel—they all will stop you in your tracks no matter who you are. Watching Jimi Hendrix show off his experimental technique when performing the National Anthem at Woodstock on that white Fender Strat might be one of the coolest things ever seen. Even the least informed onlooker who paid witness stood in awe that day.
The divide between functional items and things that are cool is vast—and everyone knows it. But, with all the products, objects, and stuff in this world, what makes certain ones, cool? That can be answered.
I’M A PICKUP MAN.
It’s like Joe Diffie sings, “I never knew you were a pickup man.” The point I’m making with that is: you are what you own.
Dog people, cat people, my college or your college, truck or car, left or right, football or futbol and on and on. From shoes to dogs, people buy or attain certain things to assemble a figure, mentally and physically, that represents who they are to the outside world—an identity. A person doesn’t base his or her identity on paper plates or the kind of toilet paper they use. We base it on, say, a cool truck, the house we live in and various other desirable, meaningful items they have in their lives. These beacons of existence become the light to shine out into the world. A physical object that says, “I’m a pickup man.”
Why was it ever cool to smoke cigarettes?
If it was all sickness, stink, coughing and expensive nobody would’ve ever started smoking. But when you think about the idea that you’re holding fire in your hand, the thought becomes more attractive. Put one between the fingers of James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and James Bond smoking becomes cool by association.
Right or wrong, association matters, and people purchase their identity with that in mind.
Can cool exist in a vacuum? Maybe. Does cool need community? Probably.
If a person lived in Nowheresville, U.S.A., they could still be rad and own things considered to be universally cool. And, if nobody ever saw this person, they could still be cool—but to whom? They would think themselves to be “normal” and others wouldn’t label them as anything so it’d be moot.
Now, let’s say this small community of people living in Nowheresville, U.S.A. makes their clothes, and they’re stylish. They also make hand-crafted, swanky decor fitting of their desirable little homes. Next thing you know, some publication finds out, arranges a photoshoot, and overnight half the country is super into making axes if only to adorn a wall. Why? Because this righteous, little community decided that handmade axes are badass.
Strands of cool within a community can spread like a plague into an unvaccinated population. Then, before you know it, all hell breaks loose, and everyone’s scratching that itch via Amazon.
intentionally crafted, and not for millions of people.
This is one of the most critical distinguishers of cool.
For instance, in 1965 Ford made 1,000 Shelby GT350-H Mustangs for Hertz Rental Cars. This car is incredible anyway, but when you consider that Ford only made a thousand of them (and as a rental car!), they get that much cooler. Old Gibson J-45s weren’t mass-produced; Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t design houses for everyone and the 1953 Triumph Thunderbird 6T that Marlon Brando rode isn’t a cookie-cutter scooter. These things were crafted, intentionally, and not for millions of people. They’re rare, and that adds to the fascination and ultimately the cool-factor.
Certain few things in this world fit all the criteria above. There’s not a surplus of objects tethered to an identity with a cool association, linked to a broader community that are hard to find. But there are entrepreneurs out there, people driven to make something cool. People who need help breathing life into an idea until it becomes iconic—until it’s cool enough to speak for itself. Need help with that?