Rhuigi Villaseñor on Creating New Vintage with PUMA

Visiting the Rhude founder and creative director ahead of his latest collection drop for PUMA, END. sits down with LA-wunderkind, Rhuigi Villaseñor, to talk the art of collaboration and why creating pieces with future vintage appeal is at the core of his aesthetic.

Rhuigi Villasenor in his downtown LA studio
It's four days out from Paris Fashion Week when I visit Rhuigi Villaseñor at the Rhude studio in downtown Los Angeles. Hand-picked to open a brand new decade of collections in the French capital, the label is on the precipice of a new era as Villaseñor readies himself to take the final step in his transition from streetwear wunderkind to bona fide luxury designer.

A key voice in the luxury resurgence which has swept across LA over the past decade (bringing labels including Amiri, Fear of God, Reese Cooper, and 424 to the forefront of the global design conversation), Villaseñor's creative vision is boundless and all-encompassing; transcending any single discipline to lay the foundation for every decision he makes in his life and work. A multi-hyphenate creative to his core, the rising star is priming himself for a coveted creative directorship at a storied European house and isn't afraid to say so out loud. "I will be a household name," he says as we take a tour of his workspace. "I believe in the power of manifesting your ideas and it's got us this far. What's the point in putting a limit on yourself?"

Partnering with PUMA for his second season, Villaseñor's approach to collaboration ensures that every piece speaks in the same distinctive aesthetic language he's developed at Rhude. Working with colours, cuts, and silhouettes that define a new era of sophistication for a generation raised on streetwear, the PUMA x Rhude collection exists at the intersection of a sportswear legacy forged over the decades and a new legacy being built in real-time. "For my second instalment with PUMA, I thought about merging two worlds and re-ushering Formula 1 and racing culture into a community that isn’t as acquainted with the sport," Rhuigi explains as he talks me through the trio of sneaker silhouettes and range of athletic apparel he's worked on this season. "The Motorsport theme lies within the cuts and seam lines emulating those you see in the uniform, but modernizing it with colour palettes and shape."

Stop sign in downtown LA near Rhude studio
Rhuigi Villasenor looking through PUMA x Rhude SS20 samples
Collaboration is an everyday reality of the industry today - what do you look for in a partner and why did it make sense to work with PUMA?

What’s really important to me is that for every collection there’s a meeting ground for both parties and we can both benefit and learn from one another. It made sense for me in this period of getting started and growing to partner with a company that has a long tradition and legacy: that’s not something you can gain overnight, you have to work for it. It's also important that there are existing relationships and a mutual appreciation there to build on. Ultimately, I want to make deals based on the strength of passion and existing relationships that are there rather than purely business interests.

What are some of your earliest memories of PUMA?

Probably when I was in 7th grade and bought every colour of the Suedes. I used to wear them with Dickies pants to school. That was like, my uniform. There’s such a sense of nostalgia to PUMA with me. My message here is that you can start as a consumer and if you work hard enough you can get the opportunity to collaborate with a brand or person you used to look up to.

Interior of the Rhude studio in Los Angeles
Do you think there's such a thing as bad collaboration?

I don’t know if I’d say that there are bad collaborations. I think you can see a lot of situations where two brands meet but they’re already both saying the same thing. Is that good collaboration? Maybe not, but you’re still ultimately getting a good mixture. There are definitely better collaborations where you really see two opposing things comes together. When I look at my peers, I see that there are some partnerships that are more successful than others, but I don’t think anything is necessarily bad. Collaboration is a great way to bring your product to different market or different consumer and I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing. 

What was the theme for this season’s collection?

It’s about mixing two different worlds. My access point to fashion was collecting and selling vintage so it made sense for me and ties into the Rhude brand ethos to work on worn-in motorsport graphics which tell a new story of vintage. We wanted to reintroduce things PUMA has done in the past and work them back into a contemporary context with Rhude's rugged, vintage finish. When I design with PUMA I want to make sure that what we put out feels like it could exist as part of the Rhude mainline collection so we've introduced some of the finer details in the zippers and hardware. I think the collection speaks the language of what the future will be: vintage clothes, repurposing, upcycling. The alteration I love the design of; it’s very forward but still has a classic runner tone. It’s playing on that chunky sneaker idea but in a softer way and we reinvented the lacing system. I love a mauve colourway because it feels very organic to me. The rubber tab takes it to an old-school mountaineering sneaker. The Ralph Sampson is just a classic - what more can I say? We just wanted this one to feel vintage and to celebrate the heritage that you can’t just acquire as a new brand. You have to earn it and PUMA has. It’s perfect with the tonal lacing; it doesn’t get old. Then with the Performer, I was playing with neon colours and to explore a new way to do 3M. I’d run in these shoes, I think they’re beautiful. I love the faded suede. The design session was so easy, we aligned on exactly what I wanted. Ultimately, I wanted it to have that feeling like you thrifted it. A new age vintage.

Look boards in the Rhude studio
Rhuigi Villasenor looking through PUMA x Rhude SS20 samples
How would you say LA impacts your design?

The biggest influences LA has had on me have been the people I’ve met, the weather, and the terrain. From this one place I can visit different neighbourhoods and experience different subcultures or I can head to the beach or head to the mountains without ever having to leave LA. There’s also a powerful design scene here with Guillermo at 424, Jerry at Fear of God, Amiri and so on. There’s a bit of a new wave luxury resurgence in LA and because LA is a bit off the beaten track for fashion - we’re not where CSM or Parsons is - there’s a sense of freedom of coming from LA. Whenever we produce in Europe I feel like it’s missing an edge or an attitude, this ruggedness that you only find in LA. The world is so focused on perfection versus realness. The worn and washed out prints at Rhude and in the collection with PUMA is about breaking down this feeling that everything needs to be perfect. It’s about a consistent approach to having things feel real and artisan.

Your creativity extends far beyond the bounds of garment design - where do you find the time to explore different mediums of expression?

I just do it. It’s therapeutic for me. My background is realism, but I’ve been experimenting lately. It’s an opportunity to explore feelings. Fashion is archetypal in a way because you know you have to construct things that people can wear. Painting there are no guidelines. I feel like with fashion because you have those rules in place, you can keep going with it once you figure it out. With painting, the possibilities are endless and that makes it more of an exploration. Whether it’s furniture design, painting, I like to push myself to explore different mediums as much as possible.

CAD drawings of the SS20 PUMA x Rhude collection
Rhude got started when Kendrick Lamar wore one of your early t-shirt designs, what would your advice be to emerging designers looking to break through?

There’s no official way to start the race. I wasn’t even a company when Kendrick wore my bandana tee. There’s no one right way to make it happen, there are no constraints. If you want to start a brand and all you have is the name then do it. If you just have a single product then go with that. I just let it live on its own and find its way. I get a lot of kids asking me how to get started and my advice is always the same: stop thinking and asking and just do. Let it ride. Fear is the strongest emotion, but I think we never know what we’re capable of unless we push our boundaries. I made a t-shirt and this year I open Paris Fashion Week for a new decade and we've done iterations of that bandana tee in the new collection, but now it's knitted in cashmere. That's crazy, you know? We’re just scratching the surface of what Rhude can be. 

You're hitting the ground running going into this next decade, what's next for you?

I’m betting big on utilitarian suiting to give kids the opportunity to experience that feeling of wearing a suit without it having to be so formal. There’s too much of the same stuff out right now. I think everyone got comfortable with one subculture and kept pushing streetwear and now it’s time to push it forward. It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen next. I have an idea of what the future of shopping and clothes will be and I want to be part of that. As far as my relationship with PUMA I’m looking forward to whatever comes next and continuing to build on the seasons we've done together.

Rhuigi Villasenor sitting in his office
Polaroid images in the Rhude studio