In our latest #TBT, we take a look back at the history of Coogi following the Australian brand’s recent relaunch.
The “#TBT” hashtag has been tagged a staggering 250 million times on Instagram to date. Our latest recurring segment aims to expand the hashtag into a more comprehensive exploration of vintage culture and lifestyle articles. Ranging from automotive and design to fashion and music, while touching on a broad range of additional topics, this week we take a look at infamous Australian knitwear brand COOGI.
Founded in 1969 by Jacky Taranto in Melbourne, Australia under the name “Cuggi”, this brand’s DNA was always strongly associated with colorful knitwear. Initially its products were marketed heavily at American and European tourists visiting Australia, in the hope of incentivising them to pick up a garish memento of their time down under. Some 18 years after the company first surfaced, however, its name was tweaked to COOGI to closer resemble indigenous, aboriginal Australian names.
In the years to come, COOGI would gain infamy thanks to various musicians and actors, with Notorious B.I.G in particular becoming synonymous with the iconic rainbow sweater. In 1995, on his platinum single “One More Chance / Stay with Me Remix,” Biggie proclaimed “However, I stay COOGI down to the socks/Rings and socks filled with rocks,” bringing the Australian brand to the attention of hundreds of thousands across the globe. Biggie also named-dropped the brand in “Hypnotized” and “Big Poppa,” making COOGI one of the most lucrative names in urban style for around a decade.
Prior to this some say Bill Cosby first popularized the trend, leading to the eponymous nickname “Cosby sweaters,” thanks to the fondness he showed the technicolor knit on The Cosby Show in the ’80s and ’90s. In fact, it turns out that the limited ability of TV cameras to pick out different colors at the time meant that patterns as intense as COOGI’s had to be avoided. According to the show’s costume designer Sarah Lemire, Cosby’s sweaters actually came from Perry Ellis, Missoni and KOOS. Speaking on the matter, she admitted, “My sweaters were busy to a certain point, but it wasn’t to that extreme,”… “I still can’t stand those!”
During COOGI’s prime, offshoot brands included COOGI Men, COOGI Women, COOGI C 69, COOGI Authentic and COOGI Kids. However, 2001 saw a serious decline in interest in the brand and brought with it serious financial problems for Taranto, who sold the ownership rights to American investors for around $25 million. Arguably, alongside cultural touchstones like FUBU and Pelle Pelle, COOGI helped carve out the niche of urban apparel that still exists today, albeit in a vastly different form.
Despite hitting saturation point in the early ’00s, now that COOGI has had a decade or so out of the spotlight, perhaps a more limited business model and the right retail partners (such as Kith), could prove to be what’s needed to resurrect the brand. Could the second coming of Coogi be upon us? The COOGI website recently relaunched, offering a “reimagined” take on the brand’s core collection that includes some on-trend updates, as well as the classics we all remember. With prior support coming from artists like A$AP Rocky, Riff Raff and Drake among others, the next few months should provide a few answers to that question. Leave your own thoughts in the comments box.