Ah, the eternal question: What is cool?

Always followed by: And why have some people/places/things got it while others haven’t?

Are cool and style the same thing?

Are all stylish things cool?

Does something have to be fashionable to be cool? Or is cool about doing your own thing?

Is cool the same as the other indefinable quality we call x-factor? Or can you have that special star something and still be naff?

Is cool passion, authenticity, confidence, lack of effort or all of the above?

How do you know when you’ve got it? How do you know when it’s gone?

Is it something you’re born with? 

Can you acquire it?

Can you buy it?

Can you sell it?

Is it something you can learn to be or does trying result in instant disqualification?

What’s your definition of cool?

Would it be the same as mine?

If it really is indefinable, then how come we all seem to know that those pictured above – Barack Obama, Steve McQueen, Apple’s iPhone, New York, Philippe Stark’s Juicer, Keith Richards, Miles Davis, James Dean, Adidas Shell Toes – all have it. Or maybe you don’t agree that they do.

How important is it anyway?


All my life I’ve been fascinated by the concept of ‘cool’, something you can’t see or touch yet we all instantly recognise, and react favourably to. Cool people/places/things are always popular, always respected, usually successful, invariably admired. Why? What have they got? What do they know? Can they themselves define it?

That’s what I’m intending to find out with The Definition Of Cool, my own personal journey in search of that magic formula. But first I need your help. I need to know your definition of cool. Who are the people, places and things that you think have it? And how would you put it into words? Don’t be too clever. I’m trying to get together a solid cast of characters I can go and interview – or in the case of products, places and dead people, those who know/knew them well. So don’t be afraid to be too obvious – obscure may be cool, but for our purposes it won’t get us very far. Pick people, places and things which are widely known and recognised, and tell me why you think they’re cool, along with your own definition, in the comments. Once I’ve got a sufficiently cool long list, I’ll be running a series of polls here on the blog to narrow it down to a short list of interviews for the book so don’t forget to sign-up to the mailing list here or subscribe to the RSS feed here, so you won’t miss your chance to vote.


7 Responses to “WhatIsTheDefinitionOfCool?”

  1. 1 stelladelray January 8, 2009 at 5:55 am

    you forgot to include Dean Martin in your photo gallery… he is cool every which way you look at the defintion of cool…

  2. 2 dangennoe January 8, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Will add Dino to the list. He was indeed very cool, not least because of all the Rat Pack, he was the one who in real life was the least interested in the broads and booze and liked nothing better than watching a good movie when he came off stage. So Dino goes on. Thanks. Keep them coming.


  3. 3 Pas January 8, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Can’t believe you didn’t add my picture – i am sooooooooo cool!

    Or at least the famous picture of Miles Davis!

    Really like your new site , especially my husband on one of your screens!! Aaahw 🙂

    X Pas

  4. 4 simiant January 8, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    What is cool in the eye of the beholder though? All the people you have picked, yes, can be used as examples of the ‘traditional definition’ of cool. But are they cool if your’re a 14 year old boy living in Dalston?

    • 5 dangennoe January 8, 2009 at 5:05 pm

      Good point well made.

      SO, the key therefore would be to find something that a 14 year old in Dalston, a 33 year old in Streatham and a 60 year old in Hampstead all agree on. In which case the mission is to find whatever it is that Keith Richards and Johnny Depp have in common – Depp is just cool and Richards inspired Captain Jack in Pirates Of The Caribbean who is cool no matter what age you are… even if you don’t like the films themselves, which I don’t. Depp and Richards both have cool.

      So, while cool is definitely going to be in the eye of the beholder, chances are that while my cool list and those of a 14 year old and a 60 year old are likely to be very different, they’ll share certain properties, the things which make them inherently cool. It also begs the question, does your definition of cool change with age? I thought Top Cat, ‘Hey TC’, was cool when I was 10 and I still think he’s cool now for the same reasons. Mmmm. What we need is a 14 year old from Dalston to ask. I’ll go and find one.


  5. 6 johnocide January 12, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    May I suggest, Tom Waits be added to the list. The reasons that make people cool are inexplicable, but traits often found include being calm, but not unresponsive. Confident, but not arrogant. A consistent balance between the extremes of human expression.

    But I could be wrong.

    • 7 dangennoe January 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm

      You may suggest Mr Waits and I will gladly add him to the list. I also like this idea of extremes of human expression. While not the whole picture, I think it’s fair to say they’re a key component.



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Welcome to dangennoe.net the centre of my online digital whatever. Everything from news on current writing projects - one novel and two non-fiction books - to blogs, tweets, photos, Flickr pics, moblogs, videoblogs, writing archives, ghosting, journalism and various other random thoughts, every last bit of it is here.

Dan Gennoe

Dan Gennoe is a London based freelance journalist & author. He's written features, interviews and reviews for the likes of Esquire, GQ, Arena, FHM, Q Magazine, Mojo, Red, Time Out, The Independent and The Mail On Sunday. Dan also writes books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has ghost written the odd celebrity biography.

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