If ever there was a handbook or how-to that mapped out the clothes and trends that have dressed the cultural zeitgeist for as long as we can remember, it’d be Greg Foley and Andrew Luecke’s latest opus Cool: Style, Sound, & Subversion, which hits bookstores Tuesday. Co-written by the creative director and fashion writer, whose work has influenced the industry for years, and with excerpts from the likes of A$AP Ferg, Glenn O’Brien, and more, Cool makes not only talking about style, but learning about what inspires it and how it works, a top contender on anyone’s must-read list.
Over the course of 100 years, the co-authors take the curiosity that surrounds fashion’s inner circles (essentially, those groups who have, by fortune of being so unique, turned into their own stereotypes), and dissect and illustrate them one-by-one. This technique makes the anthology of style feel more like required reading than just another flair for the coffee table. The co-authors wrote Cool out of their joint lists of subcultures they didn't know each other had, and decided to fuse the two, expanding them each beyond the white, male tropes from the last 30 years. And it worked: Have you ever heard of the Congolese Bills?
"We kind of noticed that the references everybody uses time and time again are a little too narrow. They had been for a while. And they use the same references, too — punk, goth, Teddy Boy — and we wanted to expand that story, and show how rich and diverse the history of subcultures actually is," Foley told Refinery29. "'Had a book like this ever been done?' we asked ourselves, and we couldn't find one that looked that far back and all over the world." From the Lindy Hoppers of the ‘20s to today’s Normcore, no street style group is left untouched, each replete with its own streamable, celebrity-curated playlist (in collaboration with Apple Music).
What's special about Cool is not only its feat in covering more subcultures of style than, really, any of us can even comprehend, but also, just how deep Foley and Luecke researched each one. For example, the two discovered just how political style can get. "We found that a lot of the cultures that are notable are politically motivated, but we had to be careful to include them. Like, the Young Lords and the Black Panthers were conscious decisions. They tie into the catalyst of what a subculture is in the first place," Foley said. "It's youth that really had skin in the game that had to fight for the right to express themselves the way they wanted."
But, across its pages, the book is a celebration of marginalized peoples who were neglected — not a statement on politics. "We were aware that these subcultures sort of stood in resistance to alt-culture, or politics, or socioeconomic situations that marginalized these people. But then, once Trump was elected in November, and we were still wrapping the book up, we thought, 'Wow, the resistance factor of all of these fashionable subcultures is so much more important now," Luecke explained. "Not that we were happy that Trump got elected, but it actually gave our work new meaning that we didn't necessarily mean for it to have. And since then, the political aspects of all of these groups have become more important to us."
For Luecke, one of the main points he hopes readers take from the book is that style is not superficial — it's quite the opposite. "Everybody wears clothes, and to some extent, judges others on what they dress like. And going through each subculture and seeing that style, dress, and music could be such a potent weapon of resistance against mainstream culture was great. It's basically there in every single spread," he said. Though a successful fashion writer himself, Luecke comes from an anthropological background, and believes style to be a part of our DNA.
And, to enhance the reader's experience of digesting such complex, intricate groups, Luecke and Foley worked with Apple Music to curate playlists to help bring the subcultures to life. Hence, the Sound in the title. Each playlist started with five songs and films. "It was so hard just to include five songs, so we just decided to jet this off into its own, whole way of featuring the soundtracks to these things. Once we did that and gave them their own room to breathe in the book (i.e. color coding by decade), we decided it'd be even more inspiring to go to the source of this music, and what inspired them to make what they made," Foley explained. The book's contributors, who shared their thoughts and helped curate playlists, include A$AP Ferg, Kelis, Ice-T, Marky Ramone, Peter Saville, Nile Rodgers, Glenn O'Brien, Andrew W.K., Susanne Bartsch, and more.
In the case of fashion and music critic Glenn O'Brien, whose contribution to Cool may have been one of his last before his passing last month, the co-authors were presented with a concern of O'Brien's: categorizing people might not be a good idea. "But that's exactly the point," they replied. "Wouldn't you want to write that?" they asked. In the book, O'Brien describes New Wave subculture, which, by definition, was about not being categorized. This idea of irreverence reminds Foley of the style group he relates to most, Goth, which could also be said to define the feeling of separating oneself and being different. But, when style is in question, it's important to always remain a little bit of everything — never full-tilt.
Although Luecke and Foley admit to the possibility that they missed a group or two, Cool: Style, Sound, & Subversion shapes up to be the fashion encyclopedia we didn't know we needed. Through the lens of art, politics, and music, we see fashion’s subcultures that were born out of rebellion, and somehow, found themselves co-opted within the pages of magazines and advertorials — and now, Cool. If there’s one thing to learn from Foley and Luecke’s joint endeavor, it’s that style may be forever, but nothing is original these days. And, in the words of Ice-T, a contributor to the book, “If it sells, it sells.”