back to the Black Table


he coolness permiated Volume, a just-opened 12,000 square foot space created by Serge Becker, proprietor of Joe's Pub and B Bar, in Williamsburg.

A lounge area covered with neon colored throw pillows, a shag carpet, and an iMac playing a loop of street snapshots -- a bleached blonde in a homemade knit ski cap, heavy metal fans sporting patches and spikes, pursed lipped kids in angular hair cuts and tight blazers was the epicenter of cool.


But a low-grade coolness buzz was also humming from the nearby 'inspiration center,' a table laid out with paper and crayons, where the handful of young children present happily drew hearts, flowers, and curse words. Larger than life photographs of young, hip looking people hung from the ceiling, one is shown turning down her lower lip to reveal a heart tattoo, others mug for the camera showing off favorite products -- iPods, Nikes, Diesel logos, a t-shirt reading "I fucked Anna Wintour."

Very cool.

All manfactured to celebrate the launch of Look-Look magazine, a new publication produced by Look-Look, the consulting firm


specializing in all things cool. And indeed, the coolness was literally written on the wall in the form of curving arabesques and nonsensical phrases that guests sprayed over a wall papered with posters for Gus Van Sant's recent film Elephant. This was the "impromptu graffiti" the press release promised.

A fashionable and boisterous crowd of twenty-, thirty- and (gasp!) forty-somethings turned out to celebrate the magazine that bills itself as a forum for the creative expression of non-


professional artists, a home for "submissions from the inside of the outsiders mind" which believes in supporting the "uncensored talent of today's youth."

As innocuous as all this sounds, it's worth remembering that Look-Look, the magazine, is driven by Look-Look, the business, a cool hunting firm that relies on Team Look-Look, 20,000 Internet-connected respondents aged 13 to 30 who keep the firm appraised of the latest circulating in their community for a small monetary stipend. The site disingenuously explains this marketing network as their own version of CNN, calling their field correspondents "the Christiane Amanpour of youth culture." The correspondents network is what allows Look-Look to offer their clients young people's "uncensored raw voice that demands to be heard." This cheery tone of youth empowerment lashed to a promise of authenticity and access is then sold to Look-Look's corporate clients who pay princely sums to use their data to rejigger their products and marketing strategy.

Corporations often pay upwards of $15,000 for subscriptions to newsletters produced by cool hunting firms, exhaustive compendiums of tips, forecasts and scene reports, a sort of Zagats of profitable youth trends. Sharon Lee, one of Look-Look's co-owners, offered me one of these golden chestnuts for free, predicting that car accessories will get hot, "they aren't going to just be for P Diddy anymore."

And, of course, cool hunting is big and important business these days. There are millions to be made for those who can predict Cool, America's great renewable resource and possibly, our largest industry.

Teen spending reached $172 billion in 2001 and is only climbing. The average teen shops 54 times per year, and buys an average of 8-12 pairs of jeans, according to Teen Research Unlimited. This is a market that cannot be ignored. Paying kids for their opinions and individuality and then selling it off to marketers and brand managers who cash in by selling it right back to the kids just makes business sense.

However, at the launch party, 'the kids,' were in scarce supply -- the only ones to be seen were the members of Paul Green School of Rock, a Frank Zappa tribute band staffed by nervous 9-17 year olds with real chops and stunningly deep and throaty voices.

As they busted through a complicated guitar instrumental, I started to page through the magazine, which was put together by indie art book publisher Greybull, best known for publishing Dennis Hopper and R. Crumb. It retains a decidedly cute amateurish look. Some pages have the Xeroxed, distressed look of punk show flyers, others feature crayon line drawings and the loopy script well known to all middle-school girls. Collages of photos and candy wrappers, and poetry abound. But many of the photos were recycled outtakes from submissions sent in by Look-Look's cool-hunting "photo journalists" when they were on assignment for their corporate clients.

While some of the work showed clear promise, like a guide to building your own low rider bike and a photo essay about the aftermath of a tornado, other material read and looked like scribbles you might find on the back of a high school year book. Offerings included a poem entitled "Your Love Kicks My Ass," a letter that read, in part, "I'm tired of all his hippy BS. How 'bout you guys come over to my house and take a picture of me beating up protesters?" and a young woman who wrote, "I think all girls have it, but I'm actually admitting it. I'm obsessed with my hair."

The intellectual highlight was the "Anti-Centerfold," a good-looking 23-year old sporting a faux mullet and tight vintage t-shirt, who lists as his turn on, "awesome girls who are naked and want to have sex, I guess."

Despite the fact that all profits are planned to go to provide mini-grants for young artists, the magazine still felt like a cynical marketing ploy. DeeDee Gordon, Look-Look's founder, famous for advising Converse at the tender age of 21 to create One Star slide, that sneaker-sandal hybrid that eventually went global, refused to even entertain the notion. She tartly explained that there was no connection between the magazine and the company and that the magazine was about creating an "outlet for the voices of youth."

But one of the creative outlets the magazine provided was the opportunity to redesign ads for all the "cool companies" who sponsored their first issue including Virgin Mobile, Sony, Pepsi, and Apple. As the fawning signs in the 'Ad Gallery' area of the launch party explain, "the ads in this section are a testament to the courage of our sponsors." Yeah, thanks Pepsi for having the courage to use a young person's creative energy to rebrand your image for free!

When pillaging the styles, looks, dreams, and thoughts of the young is your business, it is hard for a venture like this to come off as anything more than a cleverly conceived corporate report. If Look-Look (the business) really didn't want people to associate themselves with Look-Look (the magazine), why give it the same name? I can't help but imagine a corporate marketing manager reading the magazine, noticing how sensitive, plugged-in and down with the scene the company is and then picking up the phone and handing them a big fat lucrative account.

As the party drew to a close, people began to grind out their cigarette butts, pull on their Marc Jacobs coats, grab a few final free beers and head for the gaping hole in the wall of the still raw space that served as a door. A youngish designer on my left wearing serious black-framed glasses tugged a hoodie over his head while telling a willowy brunette in stilettos, "I just feel like I am on the verge. I am just totally ready to blow up. You know?" She nodded sympathetically. To my right, a child sat at the 'inspiration center' furtively eating a crayon. It was time to go home.