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  • Photography by Mr Bill Gentle

It began out of necessity. Back in 2006, Mr Sean Sullivan was working for Paul Smith in New York and part of his job was to curate the inspiration board at the back of the shop. A photography obsessive and inveterate magazine collector, Mr Sullivan amassed so much reference material that he decided he needed somewhere to put it. The photography-sharing platform Tumblr started around that time and so, in 2008, The Impossible Cool was born. A site dedicated to style icons, it has now become the inspiration board for hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

"There's a quote from Gore Vidal that has been on The Impossible Cool since the start that sums up the whole ethos of the site and all the style icons I put up there," says Mr Sullivan. "It goes: 'Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.' And whether it's a classic icon such as Robert Redford or someone more contemporary such as Robert Rabensteiner, the fashion editor of L'Uomo Vogue, I think that line applies."

Since Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest have given the power of curation to every gentleman blogger, Mr Sullivan has to work a little harder to uncover photographs that people haven't seen before. Together with his business partner Mr Russell Blackmore, who runs the Sonic Editions website in London, Mr Sullivan visits underground vaults and forgotten archives around the world for unseen material.

We've been to Corbis, which has an amazing Bill Gates-funded, climate-controlled and catalogued collection buried in a mountain in Pennsylvania

"We recently came back from a trip to Venice to go through Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche's collection which has more than 300,000 photographs, only one per cent of which have been scanned," says Mr Sullivan. "We've been to [photography agency] Corbis, which has an amazing Bill Gates-funded, climate-controlled and catalogued collection buried in a mountain in Pennsylvania so that nothing can ever happen to it. And we have ready access to the Getty archive in LA."

Messrs Sullivan and Blackmore select collections of iconic images and negotiate the usage with the agencies and estates so that they can sell limited-edition prints.

What began as a hobby now pays, but Mr Sullivan spends most of his working week taking his own photographs and making short films for brands such as New Balance and J. Crew as well as shooting editorial for Vice magazine and, recently, MR PORTER (self-promotion intended). "The Impossible Cool has definitely opened up doors for me - and a lot of the photography and film work I do comes via that," he says.

Earlier this year Mr Sullivan left New York after 10 years for a change of scene and light. "There's a quote from the designer Charles Eames that really speaks to me: 'Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability, and that way you might change the world."

Los Angeles is Mr Sullivan's corner now. Click on the images, above, as he shows us around.

soniceditions.com/collection/the-impossible-cool-collection

Words by Mr Dan Rookwood, US Editor, MR PORTER