Rihanna's Vision Is "More Focused Than Ever," According to PUMA's Global Creative Director

Hypebeast spoke with the sportswear brand’s visionary, Heiko Desens, about RiRi’s evolving design approach, as she cuts the ribbon on global FENTY x PUMA installations.

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Back in the creative director’s chair for the highly-desired revival of FENTY x PUMA, Rihanna’s visionary is crisp. “She is more focused than ever,” PUMA’s global creative director, Heiko Desens, told Hypebeast. An artistic tour de force, RiRi revealed the sought-after collaboration’s return earlier this year; and just last week, the storied duo dropped their first comeback product: the Avanti, a football-inspired sneaker that medleys PUMA’s flagship King boot and the Easy Rider runner with the polymathic singer’s feminine flair.

The origin of the FENTY x PUMA Avanti can be traced back to the German label’s 20th-century sportswear output. In 1998, PUMA launched its disruptive Jil Sander King, the crossover athletic sneaker that later served as the inspiration for the original Avanti, in 2001. 22 years later, Rihanna’s infectious design codes, galvanized by soccer’s legends, have taken over the monumental silhouette. “I wanted to bring something iconic from the archives to the street, and the late great Pelé made the Avanti shoe so iconic,” Rihanna previously said.

This sentiment translates to the next installment in the rollout for FENTY x PUMA’s comeback: a colossal, co-branded sculpture that resembles two stacked soccer balls in New York City. Unveiled on Tuesday, the massive artwork is situated snugly under The High Line, where its football facade offers a fitting nod to the collaboration’s on-the-field sources. “With this outstanding, futuristic finish of the installation, you can’t decipher whether the artwork is real or an animation,” said Desens. Where physical meets digital, PUMA x FENTY will soon send its enormous soccer balls on a global excursion (to cities including Paris, Barbados, Shanghai and London) in an internet-fueled campaign.

Ahead of this, Hypebeast sat down with Desens to discuss Rihanna’s industry-shifting design approach, the Avanti’s impact and the global debut of FENTY x PUMA’s larger-than-life installations. See what PUMA’s global creative director had to share below.

What inspired the FENTY x PUMA revival?

We stayed in touch with Rihanna all along, so there was never really silence. We noticed that we, as a company, and also Rihanna have evolved in such an interesting way. Her influence in fashion and music continues to grow bigger. It just made a whole lot of sense.

Now that Rihanna’s back as creative director, how would you describe her vision? Have you witnessed an evolution in her design codes?

Definitely. The first time around, Rihanna was more driven by the idea of a big collection. Now, she is more focused than ever. For her, it’s so important that the product matches what she stands for. It’s really about the narrative. In our meetings, it was really clear that she wanted to be believable. She wants the product that she’s launching to be absolutely authentic to her. It seems like focusing on fewer items or on specific franchises does exactly the job.

“[Rihanna] has great respect for Pelé and the icons involved in football culture.”

How does this latest collaboration build on the previous FENTY x PUMA releases?

Looking back at the different collections, it’s clear that the story around the products has always been very important. Quite often, that narrative centers around sports culture. Rihanna is a fan of sports, and with our last motocross-themed collection, you could tell that the sports culture was very exciting for her. We have noticed that she has great respect for Pelé and the icons involved in football culture. I was not surprised that this was a story she wanted to pick up.

In terms of the Avanti itself, how did you go about fusing PUMA’s codes with Rihanna’s for the shoe’s design?

The origin of the Avanti is so important. In the past, we explored this clash of different cultures, and the tension between opposites created something very beautiful. Now, with Rihanna, who has a good understanding of luxury and possesses a certain sexiness, we thought about how we could add elements of who she is to the shoe.

This shoe comes from terrace culture, which was originally a male-dominated domain. Rihanna has given it this super beautiful, feminine twist without taking away from its street relevance. The materials we selected would not typically form this type of shoe, but they made a big difference and completely elevated the design. I really appreciated how respectfully Rihanna maintained the codes from the past. The focus was placed on a more sophisticated evolution of materials and colors and an elevated logo execution. Those things make a huge difference. That’s just a bit of Rihanna’s magic.

FENTY x PUMA has a history of launching “disruptive fashion takes on sport style.” How do you think this shoe disrupts the genre?

Rihanna surprised us when she won the Sneaker of the Year for the Creeper a couple of years ago. That had never been done by a female artist before. It was previously a man’s domain, and that was, for me, the most disruptive thing we accomplished back in the day. I truly believe we can do the same trick again with a different product that’s rooted in football culture. You can find similarities between this collaboration and the one we did with Jil Sander back in the day. She took a sports shoe and turned it into high fashion. Now, Rihanna is adding a female perspective to a sneaker derived from the male domain. I think that is very disruptive.

What story are you looking to tell through the collaborative installations?

There are several stories around the installation. The first one is the football inspiration, with the construction of the football and the material use of the football. With this outstanding, futuristic finish of the installation, you can’t decipher whether the artwork is real or an animation. The idea here is to walk the fine line between reality and artificial generation. There’s a link to the photo shoot, which is so immaculate. The design almost looks like a spaceship, and it makes you wonder if the installation is a product of AI. We have the physical launch in New York, but we will be placing the artwork in global destinations, keeping the question of its true location at the top of people’s minds.

How do you hope this collaboration — both its products and installations — makes an impact on fashion and culture?

With the direction that Rihanna has taken, which tells a very clear narrative, it helps both parties remain authentic in what we do. We don’t want to be a fashion company. We are a sports company, and we love the space between fashion, streetwear and sports. But we always need to come back to our heritage. We were very grateful that Rihanna chose the Avanti because the shoe represents a true version of us. Rihanna has quite a wide scope. She can be high fashion. She can be super street. But all in all, with her love for football and Pelé, the shoe is also truly authentic to her. That was Rihanna’s priority. We hope to instill our own sense of authenticity in the industry with this collaboration.

What can we expect to see from FENTY x PUMA down the line?

We have a whole offering coming for kids. We felt it was the right time to do so. The products are stunning, and people get completely excited about kids’ shoes. Outside of that, I have seen that a lot of people want the Creeper to return. So, we shall see about that.

 

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See FENTY x PUMA’s installation at the south High Line entrance, located between Washington Street and 10th Avenue in New York City.

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