'Sport, Style and Music; The search for relevance within'

On the search for cool and then finding the relevance

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Words by by Yassine Saidi, Head of PUMA Select

In the words of Steve Stoute, 'Trends come and go, but cool is forever.’  I am always on the search for cool and then finding the relevance within it. This is what get’s me up in the morning and has been a driving force throughout my career - from my early days in the surf and skate industry, to my time at Adidas and now as Head of Select, PUMA’s collaborative platform.

When you work with a sports company like PUMA, sports is always relevant and athletes remain at the heart of the company, but it’s important for us to dig deeper into the lifestyle and culture associated with these sports and athletes. Sport is the lifestyle, but the lifestyle is sports…however the most powerful cultural driver, that comes hand in hand with this lifestyle is music. This triptych is the sweet spot - sport, style, music.

Every sport is associated to music and a specific style. Basketball is a prime example and has been a huge influence in my life. When I was younger and played ball, I listened to hip hop and lived in my Jordan jersey. Brands like Fubu, Echo, Karl Kani, Sean John all lead the hip hop style culture at that time. Although my style was influenced by these brands and my favourite ball players, I was more influenced by the artists I was listening to at the time, adopting the same clothes and brands they wore into my own wardrobe. The same still happens today…and I’m not the only one. It’s not contrived or forced, it’s natural cultural behaviour.

When it comes to brands and sport’s companies, you can't buy that culture, you are either part of it or you are not. More often than not, we see brands try to engage with this through signing artists, but thats simply not enough. An artist can’t sign a dotted line and then suddenly give that associated brand a pass into their desired or target consumer culture. People will see through it in a heartbeat and in an industry, which is already so competitive, it will often work against the brand in the long run.

With PUMA we are fortunate that hiphop adopted the brand 50 years ago when the B Boys started wearing the classic suede and the T7 track-top as a uniform. As breakdancing and hip-hop entered the mainstream, we saw PUMA suedes go along for the ride. As we prepare to celebrate the birthday of this classic silhouette next year, this shoe is still as relevant today as it was then. We still see it everywhere from the kids on the street to Jay Z.

We now live in a world where artists partner with sportswear brands all the time, but there was a time not so long ago actually, when this was not the case. Yes, musicians would wear the brands and relationships might have formed through that, however there was no official partnership or creative input like we see across almost all sportswear brands today.

There are different strategies for brands to work with music artists. One strategy is to sign an artist to endorse your products, like Nike recently did with Travis Scott and their VapourMax campaign. The artist is the face but not the creator. The other strategy goes beyond the face, but exists when the artist actively contributes to creating a new product, or series of products for the brand….and with that, a whole new brand aesthetic is born.

While the latter sounds way more appealing for brands and artists alike, it is not as simple as just signing someone ‘cool,’ even if they are relevant.

While many artists would jump at the chance to design their own sneaker, very few have the ability to conceptualise and create product. Every artist has ideas and a style of their own, but not every artist has a true vision to create something authentic that still fit’s with the DNA of the brand in question. Matching the artists vision with the brands DNA and finding that synergy is what my team and I work on every day. We find the relevant artists who have a truly authentic and exciting vision, which is completely parallel and complimentary of PUMA’s DNA. Finding that synergy is not something that comes easy. This is a challenge. Our entertainment office based in LA is the front line in that search.

To fully understand the relationship between sportswear brands and music artists we have to appreciate the roots of where it all began. As the first artists to partner with a sportswear brand in the late 1980’s, Run DMC are a major part of this progression. At the centre of the Adidas Superstar relaunch, they changed the way sportswear brands interacted with consumers. After this, into the late 90s and early 00’s, things went quiet in this area again, as brands shifted their focus towards collaborations with fashion designers. PUMA were actually the first sportswear brand to sign with a fashion house in 1998, when they partnered with well known designer Jil Sander, and created lifestyle versions of the ‘King’ and ‘Easy Rider,’ which then became some of the most desirable fashion sneakers.

In heading up Select, the collaborative platform for PUMA I am fortunate to have variety. We still work with fashion designers, however I am honoured to work with a number of up and coming brands, influencers and of course music artists from all over the world. The variety goes beyond the type of of products we are creating, but also the approach we take when designing and building those products.

When artists create music, they are used to having the freedom to stay in the studio for as long or as short as they want in order to create the perfect record, often returning late in the game to make further changes and tweaks. When it comes to creating a product or collection, they do not have the same freedom when it comes to timing. Collection drops are written by the fashion seasons and we have strict deadlines. Typically the time it takes from creative direction to finding  the product in stores is between 9 to 18 months. For many artists, time, or rather deadlines, are the biggest challenge they face in the process. Artists are perfectionists and every detail counts. The reason they are so good at what they do is because they are emotionally connected to the final product, whether that be a song or a sneaker. Our job is to help them translate their vision into a product in the time we have while ensuring it is as close to their vision as possible. An artist will tell you what beat and note they want in their music, but in footwear and apparel, thats our business. We are here to support and translate their creativity into real, relevant product.

When it comes to Select, two of our most successful partnerships are FENTY PUMA by Rihanna and PUMA x XO by The Weeknd. In both cases, the artists in question are undeniably ‘cool’ but they are also hugely relevant on a global scale. Rihanna is the biggest pop star in the world and The Weeknd is one of the most successful artists we’ve seen over the last few years. Both are truly talented artists with brand visions that resonate beyond their music, extending their creativity into different fields. The result is longevity and relevance for years to come. Working with PUMA, these artists push the boundaries of our brand and our aesthetic. Artists today are the Michael Jordan of yesterday.

The new PUMA x XO partnership is another we are exceptionally proud of. XO is a brand in it’s own right, created by The Weeknd, Lamar Taylor and Drop. Their goal is to make XO accessible to everyone, which is why they have reached beyond PUMA for collaborating partners.

When working with the XO team, we were aligned from the very beginning. Their vision and approach complimented ours exactly and our teams became more than partners, we became friends.Our goal has always been to create more than a product, but a coinciding emotional experience, similar to what music evokes, but coming from a sneaker rather than a beat. The parallels are the same, hence the name of the sneaker, the PUMA x XO Parallel.

So, whats the future for musicians and sportswear brands? I ask myself this every day as I continue that same search for what is cool, yet also relevant, taking into consideration the past, present and the journey ahead. There is no avoiding the power of music, so it is certain that sportswear brands will continue to maximise the potential here for years to come. Imagine a PUMA record label, a PUMA mixtape or even a PUMA radio station. The opportunities and ideas are endless.

Meanwhile for artists, there is no doubt that they will take the lead on their own brands, ultimately creating their own empire. We are already starting to see this with both Fenty and XO. These powerhouses of music, style and fashion are not going anywhere anytime soon.

The magic formula for success however is a mix of connection, cool and of course, relevance. People will always need ‘stuff’ but what they really crave is a relevant connection.


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