Since creating Phat Farm with Russell Simmons and co-founding iconic skate brand Zoo York, Eli Morgan Gesner has been a constant presence in the streetwear scene. His journey started back in the early 1990s, when skateboarding was a shunned counterculture and not a billion-dollar industry. In those days, Gesner’s circle was filled with fellow renegades — rappers, skaters, and graffiti artists — who collectively found themselves ahead of the curve in an industry that was about to explode.
When Gesner got a chance to create designs for Phat Farm, he took the opportunity and ran with it — growing as a creator while making significant contributions to the fashion landscape. His legacy is a living one, still consulting for major labels, including a return to Zoo York, serving as a voice for the industry, and as the founding style editor of Uproxx.
With an eye towards bringing your style game up a notch, we asked this legend of the old and new to share his “essential style rules” with us. Trust us, you’re going to want to soak up this wisdom.
Understand What Cool Is
I feel like most people these days don’t really understand what “cool” is. Not just what it means as a term but also its origin. The roots of the word cool is a 1920s term, used in the underbelly of society. They labeled the guys who would be able to handle the dirty jobs and not squeal to the police as “cool” and having a “cool head.” So there was this direct correlation between the word cool and doing something that was outside of society’s rules.
These days being “cool” means too often you’re wearing whatever is necessary to not be made fun of. I’ve found that there are a lot of buyers out there who are just purchasing a shirt or shoes because they want to have the ability to point to a photo of a hip-hop artist wearing the same thing on the cover of a magazine. They want to be able to say, “Look, this famous person wears them, too.”
That is not cool. The true way to be cool is to take risks and chances. One of my skateboard friends, Josh Green, was one of the early guys wearing a bumbag on his front, from Off White, while he was skateboarding. I would see him skating around with this chest pack and my initial reaction was, “What is he doing?” But the fact was the colors were correct, it was flowing with his skating, and it just worked. Big ideas may not always work out, you aren’t always going to have a perfect record, but you are blazing your own trail.
That’s what cool is. If you want to have style, you’d better own that idea.