Sagaboi Brings Caribbean Flair to Milan With Calypso Music-filled Debut Show

MILAN — The path from media personality to designer isn’t a new one in the fashion world, yet for Geoff Cooper transitioning from men’s editor to launching the Sagaboi brand was very personal as he was aiming to give a voice to the Caribbean culture he feels is underrepresented in the industry.

Drawing its name from the West Indian term for “playboy,” in vogue in the 1930s in the Caribbeans, where Cooper hails from, Sagaboi was established in 2013 as a blog and gained enough recognition and exposure that he had planned to introduce a printed zine.

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The latter never made it to the newsstands as Cooper was allegedly scammed by his London-based printer and found himself frustrated but still with a story to tell. While taking on a newsroom job at the Evening Standard in London, he began consulting for up-and-coming designers, including Tokyo James and Kenneth Ize, among others, and kept nurturing Sagaboi as a side project, unsure on the direction to take.

The pandemic brought about a resolution. “I realized very quickly that there was a point of view that I had, that was decidedly Caribbean that could not be sort of told by folks outside of the Caribbean, we didn’t have that written history….I decided to sort of stop the media side of things, stop the consulting work that I was doing with other brands and really double down and bring forward a brand that is decidedly from the Caribbean-slash-West Indies,” Cooper told WWD.

“The Caribbean is the most diverse and multicultural melting pot of the world. Literally every culture exists there, in a mix,” he said. “I think when [people] think about the Caribbean, when you think about tourism, you think about traveling and going to the beach and the amazing flora and fauna. You don’t think about fashion as an expression. But certainly, artistically speaking, there is so much of a [fashion] aesthetic.”

The moodboard for the Sagaboi fall 2024 collection.
The mood board for the Sagaboi fall 2024 collection.

The brand was officially established in 2022, building on Cooper’s longstanding tendency to design his own clothing — and getting street style approval along the way. After two seasons showing menswear during London Fashion Week, Sagaboi is now decamping to Milan for fall 2024 and introducing its first womenswear range.

Cooper’s debut coed show in Milan is scheduled for Thursday and he admitted it is somewhat “nerve-racking” to be on the official schedule in a country he appreciates for the great respect it holds toward fashion.

“I think there is a lot of storytelling to come out of us and the brand. And I think Milan really allows us to have that sort of space…and have a conversation about aesthetic, that would be seriously looked upon,” Cooper said. “I would like to leverage the opportunity to showcase in Milan to also inform about Caribbean culture, be it from the 18th century or up until now.

“I think it’s really important for us to say that there is an aesthetic that is decidedly Caribbean,” he said touting other designers championing a similar approach, from Diotima and Tehophilio to Tokyo James, Orange Culture and Ize.

Case in point: The fall collection is inspired by Calypso, a music genre and art form from the 19th century that’s been billed as the sound of the Caribbean for the past century. It originated in carols and candlelit songs from West African countries such as Nigeria and Congo, turned into a manifestation of resistance and was brought to the global stage by the likes of Harry Belafonte and Maya Angelou.

“When looking at all of them, there was this energy that they really commanded the stage [with], because they felt that they had something to say…so [the collection started from] looking at the art form, but also looking at the way in which they presented themselves,” he said.

Sagaboi founder Geoff Cooper
Sagaboi founder Geoff Cooper

It’s an opportunity for Cooper to shed light on a little-known, or at least neglected, aspect of Caribbean culture that had its own international momentum in the ’40s when U.S. magazines spotlighted it as the next cultural and fashion wave and retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue dedicated entire window displays to it.

“It’s this thing from the Caribbean that really made such an impact on the world of fashion, obviously, but [also] on the world by giving people this amazing leisurely, sort of like free, amazing sound to escape from their daily lives. And in many ways that is what I got to do with this collection,” Cooper explained.

Referencing steel pan musicians (the instrument, invented in Trinidad and Tobago, is integral to calypso music) wearing colorful gear, Sagaboi’s fall collection hinges on richly hued wide and roomy bottoms, reinvented sway skirts that nod to those worn by calypso performers, as well as sequins in reference to carnival costumes and calypso stage attire.

“It’s very sort of performance based,” Cooper said, adding he’s worked a wide range of silhouettes to flatter different body sizes and shapes and took cues from silhouettes from the ’70s and ’90s.

Crocheted pieces are mostly made in the Caribbean, but the lineup is predominantly manufactured between Italy and the U.K. using deadstock fabrics, not just as a sustainable move but also to intentionally spotlight the second-choice fabrics that would typically make their way to the Caribbean textile market. The show will include the second chapter of Sagaboi’s ongoing collaboration with Ukrainian brand Etape on handbags.

The show setting is going to be spare, leaving aside the fanfare required to create picture-perfect viral moments these days. Cooper wants to focus on clothing instead, allowing only one nonfashion reference to the collection’s inspiration: a soundtrack by Caribbean band Blakgold known for its “futuristic approach to calypso,” Cooper said.

Sagaboi’s spring collection was picked up by retailers in London and Cooper hopes to attract more stockists following the Milan show and showroom sales appointments in Paris, planned for the following week. Sagaboi has simultaneously built made-to-measure and direct-to-consumer businesses to flank its budding wholesale network, citing a strong demand coming from all touchpoints, including social media.

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