Rhuigi Villaseñor wears many hats. He’s the founder of Rhude. He’s the creative director of Bally and presented his first collection for the Swiss luxury label last month. He has partnered with Zara to deliver the more affordable Redesigning Human Uniform line. And we haven’t even touched on the projects with brands like Puma or Starter yet. The 30-year-old is clearly a busy man. But that won’t stop him from adding yet another job to his extensive résumé. Villaseñor’s newest title: creative strategist of the Meruelo Group, an organization with a portfolio that includes the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes and Sahara Las Vegas casino.
“Everything that I’ve done lately has really been about the unorthodox and something that’s unexpected. To me, it’s beyond me trying to do a hockey jersey,” Villaseñor tells Complex. “It’s about raising the level of interest in the sport and in the Arizona Coyotes, and creating something that isn’t limiting to the sport. It’s about creating clothes that I want to wear with a pair of jeans.”
In his new role, Villaseñor will be creating apparel for Coyotes fans and Rhude customers alike. The Americana-inspired gear includes T-shirts, hoodies, caps, and other accessories. Each item clearly takes cues from Rhude–like vintage-washed black T-shirts sporting faded images of canyons and cacti, caps that replace the usual Rhude “R” logo with “AZ” in Coyotes team colors, or arch logo hoodies fused with new elements like “Coyotes Hockey” and criss-crossed hockey sticks. Along with the merch offerings, Villaseñor has also designed an alternate jersey set to be revealed in the coming months that will be worn on the ice by the team throughout the upcoming season.
“He’s truly a visionary. I didn’t know how to get to him, but I knew I had to get to him. He’s a one of a kind talent, and so we’re really excited to bring him on board,” says Alex Meruelo Jr., chief brand officer of the Arizona Coyotes. “We’ve set out on a mission to reimagine how sports interact with their fans, and we really wanted to push the boundaries of sports and fashion.”
The move isn’t entirely surprising when you consider the culture that has been established within this particular franchise. The Coyotes were the first NHL franchise to implement a relaxed dress code in the league and allow its players to wear custom slates on the ice. Sound familiar? Rules like this have been beneficial to the NBA in its ongoing journey to become the most fashionable professional sports league by a wide margin. By partnering with Villaseñor, the Coyotes seem to be taking some pointers from the NBA in an effort to bring more excitement to the sport. The NBA has tapped prominent designers like Don C and Daniel Arsham to take on similar roles for the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively. Villaseñor is hopeful that working with an NHL team will open the door for other creatives to do the same.
“It’s really all about being the first person who hops in the pool to see if it’s cold. If it’s not, we all jump in. To me, right now, we’re jumping in a pool that’s already warm. If someone doesn’t see that it’s warm, that’s crazy,” says Villaseñor. “You’ll start to see other projects within the hockey field that are unprecedented. All it takes is one good project to pop. I think it’ll become the new igniter.”
Ahead of the announcement, we sat down with Villaseñor to discuss his latest gig, future plans for Rhude, his thoughts on his first Bally presentation in Milan, and more.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What made the Coyotes a good partner for you?
Everything that I’ve done lately has really been about the unorthodox and something that’s unexpected. To me, it’s beyond me trying to do a hockey jersey. First and foremost, me, Alex, and the rest of the Meruelo family have created a true friendship. This is one of the projects that I thought was very interesting because it’s sort of similar to what I’ve done with Rhude and F1. I find it interesting when I can put a new spotlight onto something that isn’t really existing in the culture right now. People go to hockey games. But I think there can be another push for it. My goal here is once we are able to do Netflix documentaries with this, we’ve done quite a great job of it. So for me, it’s about raising the level of interest in the sport and in the Arizona Coyotes, and creating something that isn’t limiting to the sport. It’s about creating clothes that I want to wear with a pair of jeans. That was a clear challenge for us. But you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You can look back in time and in the ’90s there was a time when hockey was at its prime time. It was on every TV, commercials, etc. If we do it correctly, that’s sort of going to be the next thing. I just want to always be ahead of it and create a long-lasting wave for what we’re doing.
You mentioned the stuff you’ve done in the past with F1 and McLaren. More organically, we’ve seen plenty of NFL and NBA guys wearing your designs in the tunnel every night. What made you want to tap into hockey? Was it really just diving into uncharted territory and seeing what you could create?
We all get fly. We wear hockey jerseys. But we don’t wear the new ones, you know? So, that’s what I’m trying to do, recreate and redesign and reimagine the hockey world sort of how we did with the McLaren F1 project. You don’t have to steer away from what the culture is asking for. I’m seeing all brands recreating hockey jerseys. It’s very important for the sport of hockey to lean into that and see that the kids are yearning for something that they could relate to on a brand level, from merch to jerseys. So, our goal here is to create something that is beyond the sport on ice and think about hockey in a way that is unprecedented. What better way to do it than with someone that isn’t coming from the sport, but seeing it in a lens of, “I want to wear it outside of the rink.”
We have seen the NBA do this too with Don C and the Chicago Bulls, Daniel Arsham with the Cavaliers, and there’s a handful of other examples. Basketball has a bit more of an organic connection than hockey to fashion. Do you think you in this role can be like a gateway for other creators in the space to work with the NHL?
Absolutely. There’s no secret sauce to this. It’s really all about being the first person who hops in the pool to see if it’s cold. If it’s not, we all jump in. To me, right now, we’re jumping in a pool that’s already warm. If someone doesn’t see that it’s warm, that’s crazy. So for us being the first to do this, and being the guys that are now merging culture and fashion into the sport of hockey, you’ll start to see other projects within the hockey field that are unprecedented. All it takes is one good project to pop. I think it’ll become the new igniter for this blazing hot flame of hockey meets fashion and culture.
But the thing that I think we bring to the table is, in the same way that basketball players were wearing F1 x Rhude collaborations, we’re now able to cross-pollinate sports. You’ll see baseball players wearing hockey and hockey people wearing basketball stuff. So, this is sort of the exciting part of it in the next few rounds as we roll out what we’re doing. I just think it’s very important that I align myself with brands that I think have shelf life beyond the sport.
I did get a chance to see some of the teaser shots of the apparel that you came up with. It definitely gives fans, even if they aren’t necessarily big fans of hockey, an option that doesn’t feel like traditional fan gear. You definitely see that Rhude design DNA in it, which I think is definitely important for something like this to really work. Can you talk about your approach to the designs that you settled on?
Everything has to come from a logical sense. When you say “Arizona Coyotes,” I hear Americana all the way. It’s the DNA of what I’ve always done. From Rhude to what I’m doing now with Bally, it’s all about this level of innocence in design. When I heard “Arizona Coyotes,” I didn’t even think about it in the realm of hockey. I thought about it just as product. How can we become the product that people turn to when you hear Americana or want to dress up for Arizona? There’s also real cultural studies in this with F1 moving their ways into the desert and all these Arizona sporting events starting to really grow. It’s important that we see that and create magical moments for the fans. Just like how you go to any parties, chances are if you throw the after-party people are going to go to the after-party. We just want to make sure that we have the after-party for the party and can be part of this movement in Arizona sports culture.
You wear so many hats in the design world now. But what’s next in your mind for Rhude?
I can’t lie. It is getting tougher. But it’s about delegating and creating a team of thinkers and dreamers. I want to keep the innocence and the glass always half empty. And for me to do that, it’s about having kids that have zero knowledge, even in fashion sometimes, involved in whatever projects that we do because there’s an added touch of reality to it. I want to make things that are ready to wear. So for me, the next ventures are about, what other things am I not a part of? What can I put my lens on and be a part of? With me, Alex, and the Meruelo family, there’s a few things in the portfolio that I’m interested in. We’ll see what we can expand on.
How’s Switzerland been treating you?
[Laughs.] It’s cold, man. That’s the one thing I wasn’t prepared for, the cold weather. I come from the West Coast and before that I came from the islands. The snow is not what I’m prepared for. But what is cool is I’m learning about curling culture in Switzerland and then I’m seeing hockey and I’m seeing this parallel to it. So, it could be something interesting that I activate. But my goal here right now is to jump-start and launch this thing and then we can sort of cross-pollinate. Imagine like hockey meets ping pong or something, something random.
You recently did your first presentation with Bally. Now that you’ve gotten to sit with it, are you personally happy with what you put on the runway?
Yeah. I think it’s great. I always do things that are great for the brand first and what’s good for myself second. I don’t want to say that I put myself last, but I want to make sure that it’s for the betterment of the long term of things. It’s always nice when the reaction that I aim for in the long term is appreciated in the short term. So, I’m very happy that in the first rounds there’s a lot of great reviews for it. I think it’s good that I can show my talents at all levels: womenswear, menswear, streetwear, whatever you call it, whatever box you put me in.
You’ve done it at Rhude, but you’re really getting to dive into womenswear at Bally. What has that taught you about design? I imagine it’s a whole new set of tools you’re getting to explore and play with.
It’s cool to see everything and the different types of monsters you can create, right? But what I’ve done to create something sustainable is to create codes and things that will grow on their own. You’ll see what we do with the Arizona Coyotes and everything else that I’ve done with other projects, it’s creating these identities that the companies can take and absorb and grow. My job is to put them up on the stage and have these big-ass magnets of codes that can collaborate with other things. Should there be a Coyotes collab with one of the shoe companies or whatever, the codes are already built. It’s an easy process. It’s much harder to go into a grocery store when you don’t have an idea of what you want to cook. So for me, it’s about creating these recipes and a menu for the brands that I’m with.
Some reviews have made comparisons to Tom Ford-era Gucci and Ralph Lauren. Were those things you were trying to channel at all while designing this collection?
I’m just really thankful that my name is a part of that level of sophistication and taste. I grew up being a connoisseur and fan of their work. But this all came naturally. It’s sort of what I see myself wanting to make. I’m very happy to be compared to that level of names. But this is a new day and a new wave. I got three different brains in my head or something. [Laughs.]
Now that you’re overseeing three different collections along with other projects like this on your plate, has it been challenging to compartmentalize those ideas?
No. My team and I have a clear mission before we get into things. We want to make sure that it never contaminates each other, but it just coexists. I want something that creates a perfect symbiosis of Rhuigi’s world on all levels. You will always see bits and pieces of codes that I always choose to do in all the projects. The last thing I want to do is make it look like I’m 100 different guys in one. But there’s always a decision that I make and it is always pretty prevalent in all the projects that I do. It’s this element of Americana. I always tap back to when I was moving and what I thought America was going to look like. That’s always been the energizer to the dreamer in me.
I saw you tweet out a photo of Thanos a couple weeks ago. So in that regard, what’s your next Infinity Stone?
[Laughs.] My god, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I’ve got two assistants that are reminding me of so many things. We’re figuring it out. But there may be another stone. And after that, I’m going to talk to the Meruelo family about creating a clone of me.