One such writing below—excuse any blunt language, it was a different audience. Re-reading it, I think April is mostly right saying coolness is eternal. As for Guerillasports, it has since disappeared into the coded ether, but the creative legacy lives on: I still talk to my three partners in that project daily. This installment is a story about a run-in with a supremely uncool dude in the airport. But first, a quick review of the topic at hand. When I left off, I said that Coolness is that all elusive form of Western enlightenment.
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Baysie Wightman met DeeDee Gordon, appropriately enough, on a coolhunt. It was Baysie was a big shot for Converse, and DeeDee, who was barely twenty-one, was running a very cool boutique called Placid Planet, on Newbury Street in Boston. They wanted simplicity and authenticity, and Baysie picked up on that. Remember what Kurt Cobain was wearing in the famous picture of him lying dead on the ground after committing suicide?
Black Converse One Stars. There are just too many people wearing it. We have to make a shower sandal. DeeDee works for an advertising agency in Del Mar called Lambesis, where she puts out a quarterly tip sheet called the L Report on what the cool kids in major American cities are thinking and doing and buying.
Baysie and DeeDee are best friends. They talk on the phone all the time. They get together whenever Baysie is in L. What they have is what everybody seems to want these days, which is a window on the world of the street. But sometime in the past few decades things got turned over, and fashion became trickle-up. The sneakers of Nike and Reebok used to come out yearly. Now a new style comes out every season. Apparel designers used to have an eighteen-month lead time between concept and sale.
The paradox, of course, is that the better coolhunters become at bringing the mainstream close to the cutting edge, the more elusive the cutting edge becomes. This is the first rule of the cool: The quicker the chase, the quicker the flight. DeeDee is tall and glamorous, with short hair she has dyed so often that she claims to have forgotten her real color. She drives a yellow Trans Am with a burgundy stripe down the center and a Mercedes SL, and lives in a spare, Japanese-style cabin in Laurel Canyon.
DeeDee uses teen speech to set herself apart, and the result is, for lack of a better word, really cool. She has curly brown hair and big green eyes and long legs and so much energy that it is hard to imagine her asleep, or resting, or even standing still for longer than thirty seconds.
The hunt for cool is an obsession with her, and DeeDee is the same way. DeeDee used to sit on the corner of West Broadway and Prince in SoHo—back when SoHo was cool—and take pictures of everyone who walked by for an entire hour. Summit, definitely. They had a big trend with the whole Melrose Avenue look—the stupid goatees, the shorter hair. It was cleaned-up after-grunge.
There were a lot of places you could go to buy vinyl records. It was a strong place to go for looks. Then it went back to being horrible. Man , I love that woman! I used to think that if I talked to Baysie and DeeDee long enough I could write a coolhunting manual, an encyclopedia of cool. But then I realized that the manual would have so many footnotes and caveats that it would be unreadable. Coolhunting is not about the articulation of a coherent philosophy of cool. Ask a coolhunter where the baggy-jeans look came from, for example, and you might get any number of answers: urban black kids mimicking the jailhouse look, skateboarders looking for room to move, snowboarders trying not to look like skiers, or, alternatively, all three at once, in some grand concordance.
Or take the question of exactly how Tommy Hilfiger—a forty-five-year-old white guy from Greenwich, Connecticut, doing all-American preppy clothes—came to be the designer of choice for urban black America. Who could forget the rhymes of Mobb Deep? Then again, maybe it was all Grand Puba. Who knows? One day last month, Baysie took me on a coolhunt to the Bronx and Harlem, lugging a big black canvas bag with twenty-four different shoes that Reebok is about to bring out, and as we drove down Fordham Road, she had her head out the window like a little kid, checking out what everyone on the street was wearing.
We went to Dr. One guy she listened closely to was maybe eighteen or nineteen, with a diamond stud in his ear and a thin beard. He was wearing a Polo baseball cap, a brown leather jacket, and the big, oversized leather boots that are everywhere uptown right now. Baysie would hand him a shoe and he would hold it, look at the top, and move it up and down and flip it over.
How she managed to distill this piece of information from the crowd of teen-agers around her, how she made any sense of the two dozen shoes in her bag, most of which to my eyes, anyway looked pretty much the same, and how she knew which of the teens to really focus on was a mystery. Baysie is a Wasp from New England, and she crouched on the floor in Dr. Near the end of her visit, a young boy walked up and sat down on the bench next to her. He was wearing a black woollen cap with white stripes pulled low, a blue North Face pleated down jacket, a pair of baggy Guess jeans, and, on his feet, Nike Air Jordans.
Baysie laughed, too. He tried them on. He rocked back and forth, testing them. He looked back at Baysie. He paused. He looked at it hard. In the car on the way back to Manhattan, Baysie repeated it twice. That kid could totally tell you what he thinks. Diffusion researchers do things like spending five years studying the adoption of irrigation techniques in a Colombian mountain village, or developing complex matrices to map the spread of new math in the Pittsburgh school system.
The new seed corn was introduced there in about , and it was superior in every respect to the seed that had been used by farmers for decades. Of two hundred and fifty-nine farmers studied by Ryan and Gross, only a handful had started planting the new seed by In , sixteen took the plunge. In , twenty-one more followed; the next year, there were thirty-six, and the year after that a whopping sixty-one.
The succeeding figures were then forty-six, thirty-six, fourteen, and three, until, by , all but two of the two hundred and fifty-nine farmers studied were using the new seed. The critical thing about this sequence is that it is almost entirely interpersonal. According to Ryan and Gross, only the innovators relied to any great extent on radio advertising and farm journals and seed salesmen in making their decision to switch to the hybrid.
Everyone else made his decision overwhelmingly because of the example and the opinions of his neighbors and peers. But then something strange started happening. Baxter and Lewis—tall, solid, fair-haired Midwestern guys with thick, shiny wedding bands—are shoe men, first and foremost. Baxter was in the National Guard during the Democratic Convention, in Chicago, and was stationed across the street from the Conrad Hilton downtown, right in the middle of things.
Today, the two men work out of Rockford, Michigan population thirty-eight hundred , where Hush Puppies has been making the Dukes and the Columbias in an old factory down by the Rogue River for almost forty years. They took me to the plant when I was in Rockford.
In a crowded, noisy, low-slung building, factory workers stand in long rows, gluing, stapling, and sewing together shoes in dozens of bright colors, and the two executives stopped at each production station and described it in detail. Lewis and Baxter know shoes. We were seated around the conference table in the Hush Puppies headquarters in Rockford, with the snow and the trees outside and a big water tower behind us.
By late , things had begun to happen in a rush. First, the designer John Bartlett called. He wanted to use Hush Puppies as accessories in his spring collection. Then Anna Sui called.
A few months later, in Los Angeles, the designer Joel Fitzpatrick put a twenty-five-foot inflatable basset hound on the roof of his store on La Brea Avenue and gutted his adjoining art gallery to turn it into a Hush Puppies department, and even before he opened—while he was still painting and putting up shelves—Pee-wee Herman walked in and asked for a couple of pairs.
Pee-wee Herman! In , the company sold four hundred and thirty thousand pairs of the classic Hush Puppies. In , it sold a million six hundred thousand, and that was only scratching the surface, because in Europe and the rest of the world, where Hush Puppies have a huge following—where they might outsell the American market four to one—the revival was just beginning.
The cool kids who started wearing old Dukes and Columbias from thrift shops were the innovators. Pee-wee Herman, wandering in off the street, was an early adopter. The million six hundred thousand people who bought Hush Puppies last year are the early majority, jumping in because the really cool people have already blazed the trail. Hush Puppies are moving through the country just the way hybrid seed corn moved through Greene County—all of which illustrates what coolhunters can and cannot do.
These are, after all, the people who spent hours sifting through thrift-store bins. And why did they do that? Because their definition of cool is doing something that nobody else is doing. A company can intervene in the cool cycle.
It can put its shoes on really cool celebrities and on fashion runways and on MTV. It can accelerate the transition from the innovator to the early adopter and on to the early majority. There was the president of the Hush Puppies company, of Rockford, Michigan, population thirty-eight hundred, sharing a stage with Calvin Klein and Donna Karan and Isaac Mizrahi—and all because some kids in the East Village began combing through thrift shops for old Dukes.
Fashion was at the mercy of those kids, whoever they were, and it was a wonderful thing if the kids picked you, but a scary thing, too, because it meant that cool was something you could not control. You needed someone to find cool and tell you what it was.
When Baysie Wightman went to Dr. This kind of customer testing is critical at Reebok, because the last decade has not been kind to the company. In , it had a third of the American athletic-shoe market, well ahead of Nike. Last year, it had sixteen per cent.
Coolness, Part 2
Baysie Wightman met DeeDee Gordon, appropriately enough, on a coolhunt. It was Baysie was a big shot for Converse, and DeeDee, who was barely twenty-one, was running a very cool boutique called Placid Planet, on Newbury Street in Boston. They wanted simplicity and authenticity, and Baysie picked up on that. Remember what Kurt Cobain was wearing in the famous picture of him lying dead on the ground after committing suicide? Black Converse One Stars.
Malcolm Gladwell on the hunt for cool
You know them. They are, in a word, cool. Like jazz, trends are unfixed, changing, and--more often than not--fleeting. That's why it can be so hard to uncover them. In this exercise, the quest to find cool becomes a game and an immersive team building experience.
Coolhunting is a neologism coined in the early s referring to a new kind of marketing professionals who make observations and predictions in changes of new or existing "cool" cultural fads and trends. Coolhunting is also referred to as "trend spotting," and is a subset of trend analysis. Coolhunters resemble the intuitive fashion magazine editors of the s such as Nancy White Harper's Bazaar — A coolhunting firm is a marketing agency whose exclusive purpose is to conduct research of the youth demographic. They then compile their data and produce reports detailing emerging and declining trends in youth culture as well as predictions for future trends.
The story behind Malcolm Gladwell’s favorite coolhunter
Gladwell, the Canadian journalist and author, has been a New Yorker staff writer since The piece describes the different approaches of coolhunting and induces the reader to gradually understand what the term really entails, with examples from varying scenarios. Something deemed cool is made into a phenomenon through an intricate set of steps that take a certain level of skill to fully grasp. In focusing on DeeDee and Baysie, Gladwell describes how they look, talk and dress.