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Footwear August, 12 2014

An Interview with the Minds Behind the PUMA x McQ Sneaker Collection

Collaborations between high-end fashion labels and sport brands are a dime a dozen these days, and often it’s little more than a see-through marketing ploy designed to increase blog coverage. We’ve learned to spot them; sometimes we can see them a mile away. But we need these poor collabs as they make us appreciate the good ones even more. The honest ambition to further your brand and to bring in a partner with a skill set different to yours is a noble form of product development: one of the few left to explore. One of the original sports versus fashion collaborations was Alexander McQueen and PUMA.

Though, in many ways McQueen’s dramatic and regal fashion is quite difficult to translate into an athletic and techy sartorial language, the partnership helped push the boundaries of what we expect from a track and field x catwalk fusion. Now, the two brands have evolved the collaboration and moved the creative input over to the younger McQ line, which makes sense. The focus is on PUMA’s sport expertise, merged with McQ’s youthful street culture inspirations, and Lee McQueen’s design heritage. Ahead of the launch we spoke to Yassine Saidi, PUMA’s Global Sr Head of Lifestyle Footwear, and the McQ Brand Director, Andrew Rogers, about the past, present and future of the collaboration.

So this is the first collection for PUMA x McQ  – it used to be with Alexander McQueen, the main line…

Andrew Rogers: Yeah it’s kind of transitioned. It’s the same house but different lines so our reference points for McQ as a brand are those very early days of Alexander McQueen. You know, when it had just joined Gucci group but when it was more of a focus on free-spirited, youthful and experimental street sub-cultures. The reference points back then were skinheads, mods and rockers and that’s more in line with McQ these days. We wanted to increase the sports element and this is the perfect platform to explore technology and sporty fashion, and I think that’s what we managed to do with this collaboration. 

For you, as PUMA, what’s the biggest difference in working with two different lines?

Yassine Saidi: We’ve been working with them simultaneously but I think when the Alexander McQueen team came up with the idea for us to work with McQ and explained the DNA of the brand, which has all come from Alexander McQueen, it just felt right and organic. We were doing high-end sneakers using Italian leathers, produced in Italy, but the team wanted to get more into athletics, more into technical sports. We wanted to re-invent the way we do toolings and McQ was the perfect vehicle for that.

So you would you say this collab is more youthful and sportier?

Yassine Saidi: Yes, I’d say youthful is the right word and with that there’s experimentation and innovation. That sports side of things is probably the difference between those collaborations early on up to now. The early ones were trainers designed to fit the brand’s seasonal collection. Then we thought, “hang on, there’s a great palette of materials, great technology, the innovative side of PUMA,” and that’s exciting for us!

Over the years PUMA has worked with many high-end fashion brands – what’s the specific connection to McQ?

Yassine Saidi: I think, firstly, it’s historical. As we said, it was one of the first collaborators we had and we could have said “let’s stop it here,” but naturally we said “let’s go.” We started together and created something new in the market place. In 2006, it was new and we also challenged ourselves on what could be the next episode in the collaboration. Yes, we work with other brands but the level of creativity that we get with McQ is unparalleled – we don’t create any new shoes or toolings with any other brands. We create everything new because it also helps us push our boundaries into the aesthetic of what sport fashion will look like tomorrow.

So, looking at a specific style, which one do you want to highlight?

Andrew Rogers: I’d say the Tech Runner. Even the name is inspired by sports. So this has got sinews and mesh and there’s even a part where the material is disconnected from the internal layers. Inspired by ribcages, it’s an old Alexander McQueen method. In terms of the colour palette there’s skin colours, like pale pinks and peaches, again referencing McQueen’s No. 13 show.

What’s the biggest challenge technically for PUMA? Was there a style that pushed the boundaries of PUMA technology?

Yassine Saidi: I think that style, the Tech Runner, embodies a lot of the collaboration because, in terms of the construction, there are five pieces in the tooling and that’s something we don’t necessarily do, specifically in fashion. All this welding and mesh is a specific technique that you need to master, so that pushed the boundaries on how we make sneakers.

So it’s footwear design on quite a high level?

Andrew Rogers: Yes definitely. The high top is inspired by Blaze of Glory. There’s always this connection to the PUMA archive and we work hard on figuring out how we will re-invent this archive into more futuristic thinking for our designs.

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