Puma had one big goal for its New York Fashion Week show — positivity.
“The war, inflation, energy crisis, the China situation, inventory is an issue, people are afraid of markdowns — there’s a lot of tension, there’s a lot of negativity. Many people have said to me, ‘You’re crazy, why are you doing this now? Everything is negative,” Puma CEO Björn Gulden told FN. “I’m very happy to be in this industry because I really think the industry has a great future, and I think Puma could have as great of a future as anybody.”
The sportswear powerhouse presented “Futrograde” on Tuesday, marking the brand’s return to NYFW after a five-year hiatus. It’s last presence at NYFW was Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma show at the Park Avenue Armory in 2017, a swimwear and athleisure-themed show replete with striking bold hues and highlighted by extreme sports athletes riding dirt bikes.
With its return to NYFW, Puma opted to distance itself from traditional fashion show look and feel, global creative director Heiko Desens explained to FN. Instead, Desens said “Futrograde” was about investing in a sports culture moment, which he said is incredibly relevant today, while adding nods to the brand’s heritage and legacy in sportstyle.
Tying the worlds of sports and fashion, Puma tapped several athlete ambassadors to walk the runway, such as Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, WNBA star Katie Lou Samuelson and NBA baller Kyle Kuzma, as well as famed model Winnie Harlow. To take in the show, the likes of rapper — and FN cover star — G-Eazy were seated front row, as well as Puma-backed NBA star Deandre Ayton, singer Robin Thicke, basketball icon Walt “Clyde” Frazier, recording artist Cordae and countless others.
“We’ve been focused heavily on reestablishing ourselves in sports categories, particularly sports culture. We relaunched basketball, we’ve been focused on performance running, investing in track-and-field, focusing on training, new traction in football with signings like Neymar. But we knew that we had to come back and reinvest in lifestyle, sportstyle, streetwear and in the fashion space,” Puma chief brand officer Adam Petrick told FN. “We’ve picked this time, on the eve of our 75th anniversary, to balance things out again and make the brand whole by thinking a little bit more about what we mean in the fashion space and what we intend to do here.”
Although the show took place Tuesday, Puma jumpstarted its efforts to gain ground in fashion last week when it revealed Black Station, the brand’s debut metaverse website experience. The company described Black Station as an immersive and interactive place — which can be visited via Blackstation.puma.com — where people can experience “the future of the brand.” Black Station is “a blank and ever-evolving 3D canvas,” according to Puma, and will become a destination that connects consumers with web3 activations “over the course of the next year and beyond.”
“Black Station is the new space, the new platform for us to convey these digital designs and to get them across to people continually, as well as to access NFT’s and certain design-focused experiences,” Petrick said. “It’s very specifically focused on making the un-makable real, bringing fantasies to life from the footwear design team — and other design elements in the future. We see a future for Black Station to continue to bring forward-thinking design to life first as a digital product.”
The experience launched with a digital lobby space and different portals to enter. The first two Black Station portals, which launched Sept. 7, revealed two new sneakers — Nitro Nfrno and Nitro Fastroid — that are linked to the brand’s NFT Nitropass mint.
Puma said people who minted a Nitropass can receive two NFTs. One is tied to physical products, the brand explained, and the other unlocks a customized experience linked to their chosen shoe. Following “Futrograde,” Puma explained minters could claim their physical sneakers by burning their product-claimed NFT.
Now, visitors to Black Station can experience the digital NYFW metaverse fashion show. This allows for the interaction between visitors and the collection’s pieces.
As for the Nitro Nfrno and Nitro Fastroid sneakers, Puma said it challenged its designers to push their creative boundaries “to envision what a 3D digital sneaker could look like.” Desens explained in a statement leading up to “Futrograde” that the design team was told “the sky is the limit,” which allowed the company to “harness their creativity without the typical confines and limitations” of the shoe production process.
“We started those shoes design-wise for the digital world, so the proportions were insane. Digitally, everything is possible. The experiment was we of started with digital and then we approached that physical development,” Desens told FN.
Nitro Fastroid, according to Puma, is a tech-loaded performance silhouette with exaggerated Nitro foam, executed using a gradient of bold colors. And Nitro Nfrno, the brand said, is a “hybrid collision of the past and future,” which was inspired by obscure archive styles that would become a multipart molded construction.
Translating these digital designs into physical sneakers unlocked something surprising, and encouraging, for the company.
“The interesting part is that we started and we were sure it’s not physically doable. We were completely wrong,” Desens said. “That was the amazing learning of it. Even like the most crazy design, the Nfrno, is actually not so complicated to do. That in general challenged a lot of things how we plan, you know, If we can do that, we can do so much more.”
Looking ahead, Desens confirmed with FN that Puma is working “on a handful of projects” using this new approach to design, and that a different version of the Nitro Fastroid will see a broader release in 2023.