Now 50 years deep, the PUMA Suede remains an important fixture in sneaker culture.
An ever-present in the world’s coolest cities since its debut in 1968, the Suede has a rich history right across the world – 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 helping to take B-Boy Culture from the Bronx to the world.
It's rare for a sneaker to have such staying power, and to transcend decades of changes in style, but the silo has remained fresh over the last 50 years, and that's no doubt testament to its initial iconic design, but also down to the countless evolutions, and colourways developed by PUMA designers that have kept the sneaker a street staple.
Having used ComplexCon '17 as a springboard for its upcoming 50th anniversary of the Suede, we sit down with Heiko Desens, the Creative Director for PUMA Sportstyle, about the Suede's legacy after 50 years and what 2018 has in-store for the iconic silhouette.
"so much has changed over the last 50 years, but the PUMA Suede has remained a constant success."
COMPLEX: The PUMA Suede is 50 years old. Why is this sneaker so important to the PUMA family?
Heiko: The PUMA Suede is such an icon in sneaker history and a huge part of our own vast PUMA archive. It started as a sport performance sneaker in 1968, but exploded on the 80s b-boy scene and is still a sneaker favourite today – I think that is why it is so important for us, so much has changed over the last 50 years, but the PUMA Suede has remained a constant success transcending decades.
It's rare for something in fashion to have such staying power. What do you think the secret has been to the Suede's success?
The Suede takes its design cues from the sprint spike that Tommie Smith wore in the 1968 Olympics, and from there moved onto the court as a basketball shoe, finally exploding onto the scene across various sub-cultures. Therefore I think it is a sneaker cemented in history and a unifying force across cultures and movements. Its understated style is constant and has remained a people’s favourite throughout changing trends and the hyper speed of change in culture we see today. The sneaker in its OG form is still a top seller for PUMA, but we also have kept the silhouette fresh with new evolutions of the Suede hitting the market - from last year’s hugely successful Basket Heart to the all-new Breaker that has just launched.
"For the Suede’s 50th Anniversary we are paying homage to our roots."
Do you think it's possible for new silos to have the same impact on culture again? How are you trying to make that happen?
It is possible even though the market has changed and consumers are exposed to much more products these days. The best example would be the PUMA Fenty Creeper. PUMA has such a great heritage and it is important to stay authentic in design and be unique on how to bring products to market. That makes us believable and allows us to be part of diverse cultures emerging.
What is it about B-Boy culture that made you want to revisit that story, for the B-Boy pack?
B-Boy culture was a huge time for the Suede after the sneaker was on the courts and then taken to the streets as hip-hop exploded on the local scene. For the Suede’s 50th Anniversary we are paying homage to our roots and celebrating the history of the sneaker, so it was only right we created the Suede B-Boy.
"PUMA is releasing SUEDE COLLABS with legends of the music world, the streets, the fashion industry, and pop culture."
How has the form and function of the Suede changed since 1968 to 2018? What technological changes are we seeing?
It was important to keep certain design details as authentic as possible because they make the Suede an PUMA icon. Probably the consumer won’t be able to see much of a difference as it is mainly in the construction of the shoe. Manufacturing processes are continuously evolving and it gives us the possibility to have more accurate workmanship or finishes of the shoe.
How do you approach designing the Suede now? Is there a reluctance to make major changes because of the shoe's legacy?
For the Suede’s 50th Anniversary, PUMA is releasing exclusive Suedes over the course of the year which will include collabs with legends of the music world, the streets, the fashion industry, and pop culture. For this project, while we need to keep the Suede authentic due to its icon status, we also wanted to give our partners as much design freedom as possible to capture their unique point of view and personality.
"the Suede silhouette is perfect for a very diverse styling, and speaks to an understated streetwear consumer."
As an iconic shoe with such a long history, how are you trying to appeal to both long-time fans of the shoe and also younger sneakerheads who don't have the same deep-rooted love of the Suede?
The Suede design is classic and timeless and this puts it in the ranks of other classics, for example in furniture design or architecture. These products are less dependent on fast-moving trends and will always appeal to a wide audience. On the other hand, the Suede silhouette is perfect for a very diverse styling and speaks to an understated streetwear consumer as well as to the hip-hop community.
What do you think will be the things that influence the next 50 years of the Suede?
Youth culture and PUMA itself as one of the most authentic sports brands.
Get the B-Boy Suede and Apparel at FootAsylum now.