The PUMA Suede is turning 50 years old and the brand are celebrating the legacy of one of the most influential sneakers of all time. To mark the anniversary, PUMA are unveiling special collections representing the Suede’s understated contribution to a varied range of subcultures. Next up is the B-Boy Pack, telling the story of how the PUMA Suede became the sneaker at the epicentre of hip-hop’s emergence.
To launch the B-Boy pack, PUMA took over Amsterdam as the Red Bull BC One World Final rolled into town, pitting the world's best B-Boys against each other in battles reminiscent of the Bronx. It was the perfect place to start the latest chapter in the PUMA Suede's story.
The PUMA Suede has a rich history and it’s been an ever-present in the world’s coolest cities since its debut in 1968 – but it’s always held a special place in Black-American culture, largely in thanks to its cameo role in one of the most significant moments in American sport (and politics).
"The puma suedes were strong, dark and unassuming."
On October 16, 1968 at the Summer Games in Mexico City, American athlete Tommie Smith broke the 200m world record in PUMA spikes. When he walked to the victory stand, he wore black socks and carried a single PUMA Suede on his left hand. Mr. Smith famously raised his left Suede, placed it on the stand, then raised his right fist in a silent gesture that spoke volumes to the universal fight for equality and human rights. Smith later called the sneakers “strong, unassuming and dark” and the PUMA Suede became a small piece in the complex story of the civil rights movement. Its place – and importance – in American culture was secure.
The Suede’s notoriety didn’t stop there. In 1973, the Suede was endorsed by NBA icon Walt Frazier. The seven-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion was a star off the court as well as on it, becoming one of the first athletes to become as famous for his command of style, not just his sport. Frazier was nicknamed ‘Clyde’ because of his similarity in style to the title character in film Bonnie and Clyde and the player was given his own sneaker, the Clyde. Yet again, the PUMA Suede had become an emerging symbol of pride and power.
"its thick rubber soles and flexible upper meant it became a great sneaker for breakdancing."
When Kool Herc dropped an extended instrumental break on two turntables for the first time in the Bronx in 1973, a new culture arrived. By lengthening the instrumentals, allowing people to dance longer, break dancing emerged and by the time B-Boy culture was in full swing, breakers needed a sneaker that had style, durability and authenticity on the streets. The PUMA Suede became an obvious choice.
Its origins in Black culture meant the PUMA Suede was already a popular shoe on the streets of New York but its thick rubber soles and flexible upper meant it inadvertently became a great sneaker for breakdancing, too. A seemingly endless combination of colourways made it scream on the streets, as did the suede material itself, which was a sharp departure from the common canvas or leather based shoes.
With the Suede’s thick outsoles being the perfect platform for power moves, the sneaker quickly found its place on the feet of genre-defining B-Boy collectives like the New York City Breakers and the Rock Steady Crew, dancers who founded the first ‘Break Battles’ and began to permeate wider culture with appearances on Soul Train, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Good Morning America.
"The PUMA suede can be credited with taking b-boy culture worldwide."
Both groups, and in turn the PUMA Suede, were also featured heavily in 1984 film Beat Street, which brought a flavour of hip-hop culture in the Bronx to the Box Office for the first time. With cameos from the likes of Kool Herc and Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five, the dance-based film told an authentic – if romanticised – story of B-Boy culture and international distribution saw the art form reach Europe for the first time.
In Germany, the film was credited with sparking the country’s B-Boy culture and the effects of it are still felt today. Only this month, across the German border in the Netherlands, the Red Bull BC One world championships pitted the best breakers in world culture against one another. A big presence on the feet of the competitors was – still – the PUMA Suede.
Now 50 years deep, the PUMA Suede remains an important fixture in hip-hop culture and can be credited for taking B-Boy Culture from the Bronx to the world.