When I spoke with Puma’s creative director June Ambrose on Zoom days before the brand’s Futrograde fashion show held during NYFW, she didn’t want to spoil anything. Instead she told me I’d know her favorite runway moment when I saw it.
And while I wasn’t able to confirm with her, I’m pretty sure I spotted it when the fastest man in the world, clad in a black-tie logo tracksuit, took the slowest stride he’s likely ever taken in front of an audience. I know little to nothing about sports—I identified all other athletes (of which there were many) at the show, held last Tuesday night at Cipriani on Broadway, by their height—but even I let out an audible gasp when I saw Usain Bolt on the runway. The fact that he’s 6’ 5” had nothing to do with it.
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I shouldn’t have been shocked, in hindsight. Ambrose’s 30-year career started with styling music videos; she not only put hip-hop stars in head-to-toe looks but also created some of the most iconic fashion moments in music history from scratch. She famously made Missy Elliot’s patent leather blow-up bodysuit for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and P. Diddy’s suit for “Mo Money Mo Problems.” Her work with Puma also goes back to the ‘90s. “I designed this look for Missy [in the ’90s] that was a leather tracksuit and I thought ‘Oh, I need a pair of old school Puma California [sneakers],” she told me. “I was the first to bring something back that was so nostalgic at the time.” In 2020, Ambrose was named creative director of the brand, and she launched its first women’s basketball collection a year later. If there was anyone who could get Usain Bolt on the runway, it would be her.
But aside from getting fashion editors in the audience to rub elbows with long-limbed athletes, what else did Puma’s show—its first time on the official calendar without Rihanna’s Fenty—bring to Fashion Week? When I pointed out that most people don’t associate Puma with a runway, Ambrose was quick to note how embedded the brand is in the same street culture that’s now on every major high-end fashion brand’s mood board.
“You know that beautiful strong line down the side of the pants or on the side of the track jacket? You’ve seen it appear at other high fashion brands as a staple, but this is a staple that Puma had in the brand since inception.” Futrograde was all about celebrating Puma’s 75-year history and the ways the hallmarks of the brand, like that beautiful solid line, have impacted culture at large.
At a young age, Ambrose saw the iconic T7 stripe and signature logo as a way to identify the people she grew up with. “I’m from the Caribbean and West Indians love Puma, so whenever my family would travel, we would see this leaping cat throughout the airport in different cities.” Puma’s influence, she explained, has always been powerful, but more so these days, when “urban culture is now mainstream culture.” What Ambrose knew as a child feels like something that’s become conventional wisdom in 2022: Puma is more than a brand you wear while playing sports.
Futrograde was meant to demonstrate the brand’s versatility. Unlike any other show that took place during New York Fashion Week, it involved three different chapters, each starting with a choreographed dance performance. The first chapter was a modern-day spin on Puma’s past and began with a model wearing a look that felt inspired by The Royal Tenenbaums’s Richie: a logo turtleneck with a matching sweatband worn with a textured beige tracksuit suit (that is, a suit with track stripes) and a furry overcoat. There were other riffs on classic Puma pieces, like a red tracksuit made out of leather and sneakers transformed into knee-high boots.
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The second segment focused on Puma’s present and the international reach of the brand through its recent collaborations, which reminded me of Ambrose’s recollection of travelers in tracksuits at the airport. How great would it be if we all traveled in the retro burgundy loafers and the big-cat-shaped puffer hat (made with Spanish brand Palomo)? Pieces from Puma’s partnership with the A.C. Milan soccer team and French brand Koché also appeared on the runway.
As expected, the show’s final section was about the future, with freaky pieces that perfectly capture the uneasiness so many of us feel about whatever’s going to follow our current unprecedented times. The black puffer jacket skirt with sleeve appendages worn on the runway by the Lakers’s Kyle Kuzma certainly looked right for apocalypse-wear.
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Ambrose also mentioned a Web3 experience unveiled alongside the show and an NFT that unlocked access to exclusive sneakers. But more interesting than the technology was an A.I. of her own making. “I wanted to create something fresh and magical for a runway experience that really tapped into our A.I., our authentic intelligence.” And she’s right, there was nothing artificial about her NYFW debut, filled with elaborate dance choreography and celebrity cameos you just wished you could rewind. “By the end of the show, you hopefully felt like, Okay, that was some music video shit.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.