Rhuigi Villaseñor has been talking to himself a lot lately at random points in the day. Pumping himself up. Speaking to God. Making himself believe that he can do this.
“This” is putting on a show at Paris Men’s Fashion Week. If you’ve never done it before, it looks easy and high-key glamorous. All we see is a beautiful venue, well-known people sitting front row, and a seven-to-10-minute show with music and fashion and perfectly calibrated lighting. But that 10 minutes is the culmination of months of preparation and hard work. And for Rhuigi, who started Rhude in 2014, years of shaping a brand, refining his vision for it, and turning it into a legitimate collection that’s worthy of Paris Fashion Week.
“I've come along way. I came from making T-shirts and hoodies to now presenting in Paris,” says Rhuigi a couple of days before his show. “I thought it would feel a lot different back from when I was younger. But being here now, it's really just work. It's hard work. There’s nothing more rewarding than a hardworking team.”
When we first meet up with Rhuigi in a small room in Paris that overlooks a courtyard, like most rooms in Paris do, it’s the Thursday before his Saturday show. The room is filled with the team he was just talking about, which consists of the following: a casting agent, Marqee Miller; a stylist, Matthew Henson, who Rhuigi’s known since he was 16; another person to help put looks together; a seamstress patiently waiting by a sewing machine to make last-minute alterations; a publicist from Karla Otto, the same PR agency that reps Virgil Abloh's Off-White; a photographer to document the process; a couple of other people helping organize things; George Robertson, Rhuigi’s business partner, who is right outside the room in a staircase, quietly FaceTiming with his wife, who is in labor with their third child; and Rhuigi’s younger brother, who is on the floor, lacing up shoes.
“He’s representing for the family,” says Rhuigi, whose sister Rhoxy—she helps him run the business—is back in L.A. “She’s like, ‘Send me photos,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t think you understand how busy I am.’”
Family means a lot to Rhuigi—whose brand name honors his family’s tradition of names that start with “Rh.” He was born in Manila and moved to Los Angeles when he was 11. His family didn’t have a lot, and in an effort to assimilate to his surroundings, he started making clothes for himself and developed an interest in fashion. He graduated from high school and began working for producer Taz Arnold on his clothing line TI$A, and eventually interned for designer Shaun Samson on his label—Samson is currently a menswear designer at Moschino. In 2012, he designed a black and white paisley bandana T-shirt as a nod to West Coast culture. It was originally only meant for himself, but Kendrick Lamar ended up wearing it at the BET Awards the same year. Rhuigi parlayed that co-sign into a fully realized brand that’s sold in retailers including Mr Porter and Barneys New York, and worn by influential folks like LeBron James and Michael B. Jordan.
Culling from his own experiences, he’s created signatures like the traxedo pant and bold graphics that recontextualize popular logos. Back in the room in Paris where fittings are taking place, traces of those signatures are hanging on the racks, showing where Rhude has been but also where it’s going. Rhuigi has grown the line to include his own distressed high-top sneakers, which are neatly organized on the floor, and accessories—a table is packed with Fumer Malle bags, which translates to "smokers trunk," and leather oversized fanny packs that lie nicely across the torso.
He decided he wanted to present in Paris at the start of the year, but didn’t get approval to show until three months before the actual event. He initiated designing the collection a month and a half ago—it usually takes six months to design and produce a runway assortment. The show was titled “Seven Falls,” which is an actual place in Colorado with seven waterfalls. Rhuigi turned it into a fictional town in the American West to better tell the story of his and his family’s journey from the Philippines to the States.
Rhuigi flew to Paris on Monday with the collection to prevent issues at customs that could have arisen if product was shipped over. He landed in the afternoon, conferenced with his team in L.A. to check on projects that had nothing to do with the show, and then went straight to the venue to meet with the production team.
The designer chose the atrium of Lycée Carnot, a prestigious high school in Paris, because of its glass roof and its history. Riccardo Tisci held many of his Givenchy shows there. Rhuigi, who took up half of the atrium for the show, also wanted a venue he could use each season and grow into. After the venue walk-through, he worked with the casting director and saw 300 to 400 models that he then shaved down to 30. He was looking for fresh, new faces that represent where Rhude is.
Rhuigi has shown his line in Paris before, starting out in rented apartments and then eventually working with showrooms, but putting on an actual fashion show and presentation is an entirely new venture. On average, fashion shows cost $100,000 to produce and presentations are around $50,000. He’s been able to do it with help from a Puma sponsorship.
Showing his brand in the same space Givenchy used to present its collections is emblematic of the shifts happening in fashion, which are made even more apparent by the Paris Fashion Week schedule. Newer designers like Rhuigi, whose lines have streetwear leanings, are no longer shut out of the conversation.
“I think the reason why we're here now is because of the digital era. I think it’s given visibility to people that normally didn’t have visibility. But, also, this subculture is being dissected by bigger houses, so I think there needs to be representation from our end to fill that,” says Rhuigi.
It’s Saturday, the day of the show and presentation, which is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Rhuigi arrives in the morning to “feel the energy and make proper adjustments if necessary” and shoot some interviews before the presentation. Shortly before everything begins, guests mingle in a garden area filled with a mix of people from the world of traditional luxury—Eric Pfunder, Chanel’s longtime image director, who was recently named co-artistic director of the company after Karl Lagerfeld passed, for example—along with Rhuigi’s peers, including Don C, Guillermo Andrade of 424, Ronnie Fieg of Kith, and Chris Printup, better known as Spanto, of Born x Raised.
They all eventually file into the atrium and cluster around a track to get a good view of the set, which is comprised of about five rows of wooden columns posted in dirt. A piece of white fabric hangs from the cavernous venue’s ceiling. Backstage, Rhuigi is calm and attentive. Once the show starts, the models circle the track, wearing Rhuigi’s take on Western Americana and street: racing jackets splayed with Rhude, along with Western shirts and tracksuits. For the finale, they weave through the wooden columns as if they’re navigating a new frontier, similar to Rhuigi, and showgoers cheer as “Molly” by Playboi Carti plays in the background. Rhuigi greets the crowd and bows reverently before doing a playful shoulder shimmy and running backstage.
The day after the show, they take product shots and begin day one of market appointments, where buyers make orders on the pieces they want to sell in their stores next year when spring/summer 2020 merchandise hits the floor. Rhuigi says they had about 70 to 80 meetings extensively explaining the collection during the first day. After that, Rhuigi will fly off to the Amalfi Coast, where he will start designing for next season.