“I’m in the ’88 Candidates, paisley’d out, in them Coca-Cola rugbys, two bitches, with a front in my mouth” Ghostface Killah, ‘Wicked With Lead’
Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Heavy D’s untimely passing, so, given his early association with Coca-Cola clothing, it felt right to look at the origins of that brief craze for sugary liquids repped on rugby shirts as a tribute to the big man. Salutes to Simone for reminding me of the Coca-Cola vest sighting in ‘Paris is Burning’ too. With the Brazilian Coca-Cola Clothing company pushing some high-end catwalk looks that are a long way from the brand’s 1980s clothing output, they’re still pushing their brand from beverage to wardrobe item, striving to be more than a promo item sent in exchange for a fistful of pull tabs, but there’s only one moment in time when Coca-Cola apparel felt right, and given that the original recipe contained coca leaf, they’re not the only clothing brand to have been founded on yayo money either.
Coca-Cola gear, alongside Benetton (seriously, why hasn’t that brand capitalised on its rugby shirts and glasses and their role in street style?), is a curious moment in style that’s not explored enough. There’d been plenty of Coca-Cola merchandise; promo tees, hats and plenty motor, but nothing that you wouldn’t pass onto an elderly relative or only wear wash the car in. In the early 1970s, they made some even more curious sartorial decisions like afro wigs (with a styrofoam head form and vinyl case) for $8 with proof of purchase and $2.98 beach pants (which are actually kind of excellent). None of it was a particularly serious proposition.
In 1985, Mohan Murijani’s Murijani Corporation (responsible for the Gloria Vanderbilt denim line) unleashed the fruits of their licensing deal with Coca-Cola — a full collection of clothing that made no secret of the brand affiliation, screaming it across apparel and bearing the familiar colours. The head designer was one Tommy Hilfiger — the Murijani corporation was a backer of the new Tommy Hilfiger signature line after Tommy’s tenure at Jordache, and it launched around the same time as Coca-Cola apparel did. In the early 1990s, bold rugby shirts bearing Tommy’s name rather than a soft drink would become a hip-hop staple.
There was no soft (drink) launch here — Coca-Cola arrived as a fashion line with shirts, jeans and plenty more, but the hats, rugbys and sweatshirts seemed to sell the most units. “Coming soon to a body near you” “It’s popping yellow” and “It’s bubbling blue” were the teaser taglines on Peter Max illustrated ads (Max was a frequent Coca-Cola collaborator, but he also worked on a famous 7 Up campaign — a drink owned by arch rivals PepsiCo outside the U.S.) and to buy the clothes at the Fizzazz Columbus and 73rd Coca-Cola Clothes shop buyers chose their clothes on a monitor from “videodiscs” then had their clothes delivered by conveyor belt.
If the description of the flagship Fizazz store setup isn’t the most ’80s thing you’ve ever heard, you obviously never caught the launch promo for Coca-Cola Clothes — a music video for a singer called Barbara Hyde, who disappeared as quickly as she arrived, called ‘Creatures of Habit,’ which acted as an ad for the brand. It was recently taken down from YouTube, but it’s directed by the man behind Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram’s ‘Somewhere Out There’ (shouts to Fievel the mouse) and is the most 1985 thing you can possibly imagine.
Despite plans for over 50 Fizzazz stores globally, that rollout never happened, but a Tokyo store opened in late 1987, with smaller sized gear for the Japanese market. A Fizzazz opened on London’s Oxford Street too. Strong sales were reported and in 1986, Apple attempted a similar line (complete with Patagonia and North Face collaborations) that bellyflopped. By the end of the 1980s, after craze status for several years, Coca-Cola Clothes went flat.
The Coca-Cola Clothing venture should have been a laughing-stock — a relic of an excessive time, but that visual excess and pop cultural blend (are we allowed to use Warholian, or has that term been revoked due to lazy use in every A$AP Rocky broadsheet feature ever?) was undisputedly hip-hop, worn in the ‘Mr Big Shot’ video by perennial early adopter Heavy D and his crew and operating in tandem with the explosion of Polo at street level — the Puba-esque uniform of a block coloured rugby and blue denim spent several years as a rap video staple. Coke on the streets and Coke on cotton too. The brand also gave Tommy his break too. It’s a story of enterprising branding and a new approach to retail (shades of Apple Store to the experiential aspect) — that late 1990’s relaunch as Coca-Cola Ware doesn’t count.
Here’s to athletic-themed apparel based on a soft drink with vegetable extracts.
NB: As a sidenote, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the brand rivalry, but Pepsi attempted to launch a Pepsi clothing line in 1987 that wasn’t nearly as good as Coca-Cola’s apparel output.