It’s an interesting time to become an U.S. citizen, but that’s what happened earlier this month for Rhuigi Villaseñor, who moved to California from the Philippines when he was younger.
“I’ve waited 20 years for this,” says Villaseñor over the phone.
His first half of 2020 also included Rhude’s first official show at Paris Fashion Week in January, an NBA All Star activation in Chicago with Pusha T and Courvoisier in February, and sitting courtside next to Jay-Z, who wore a Rhude T-shirt and a Rhude Laker’s hat, in March. Villaseñor had the rest of his 2020 planned out, then Covid-19 hit and everything changed.
“Just like anyone else, I think we were all devastated and shocked, but it's hard for me to make it all about myself,” says Villaseñor. “I’m lucky that I’ve been able to pivot and survive this.”
Much like other designers, Villaseñor has had to adapt to this new normal, which is what he’s doing for his Spring/Summer 2021 collection. Titled “The Audacity To Dream,” which references the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, a U.S. immigration policy that’s supposed to help children (Dreamers) who came to the United States illegally defer deportation, the collection won’t hit a runway, but it will be presented in a short film shot in a midcentury Los Angeles home.
To commemorate the collection and the film, Villaseñor is releasing a limited edition “Staff” hoodie and T-shirt, which are exclusively available now on Complex SHOP.
Here Villaseñor talks about how the pandemic affected his Spring/Summer 2021 collection, why Jay-Z connected with that Rhude Lakers hat, and FaceTime shopping with Pop Smoke.
What was your reaction when you first learned about the pandemic and everything shutting down?
We had a really, really amazing calendar plan for the year. In January I just did my first show and I think I almost prepared myself for all the things that were planned out from March until the end of the year. And just like anyone else, I think we were all devastated and shocked, but it's hard for me to make it all about myself. I came from a place of the people that are enabled to pivot and thankfully survive this.
How did it change your business and how you produce things?
Well, the tailoring and all the footwear was at a stall in Italy, and they're still taking real proper precautions there. So I guess it's like moving in a one-wheel car. In L.A., we were fortunate enough to have the capacity to develop in-house and still move forward. But HR and the whole team, I think were very, very keen on taking the proper precautions to make sure that every single employee is safe, but also still be able to produce what we need to.
But I can't sit here and tell you that things are wonderful and things are being produced right on time, because it's not. But we are moving at the capacity that we can at this moment. And it's not the sharpest and fastest, but it’s what's most efficient for us right now.
When did you come up with the idea for the film?
We'd been developing this collection since before the pandemic and we designed a few things, but we just had to downsize on the collection and really think about what it is people are buying. Designing clothes that I believe are essential to someone's wardrobe.
For the film, my approach here is what we’ve been dealing with during the pandemic and we’re at home. So I wanted to extend that to were it felt like these are pieces you have in your closet, but upgraded. It’s about how can I have the same feeling of what I already own, but exceed the imagination and the design. So a lot of it is things that you're very familiar with—things you probably already have in your closet— but excelling the fabrication, the cut, and all of that.
Can you name maybe one or two of your favorite pieces?
Oh man. I made these super tailored chinos with this Japanese soft brushed twill that we wash in-house to make it as soft as possible. And I did a seersucker Hawaiian shirt. Seersucker is usually striped, and I did something completely different. And it's all about classic pieces. There’s this new energy in fashion were no rules apply, but I do feel like there needs to be someone who presents a classic look that’s more accessible for today. Sort of like what is the new Tom Ford suit or that Ralph Lauren vibe of today.
And more often than not you get that communication from somewhere that you don’t really relate to. I was the young kid literally was making graphic tees in their garage. Why can't I bring that imagination to the suit? How can we redefine the term suit?
Are you using this short film as a way to do sales since you aren’t in a showroom in Paris?
So we're doing it in studio. We filmed a 360 video and we're showing the looks, how it's styled. It's a lot of new foreign things for us, but I think it's necessary. But the video is really mainly to show the lifestyle aspect of it. It's like, what is the guy wearing? Where does he live? What is he participating in?
Have you felt creative during this time?
Yeah. I think it's hard not to remain creative. I feel like I'm a wild animal that was caged, and all I could do was think about what I would do if I was in the wild. I don't really know what it would look like months from now, but what I can do is prepare. Sort of the saying is like, “If you remain prepared, you never have to get ready.”
Do you think you're going to change anything about the way you conduct business with Rhude after this?
We're still figuring out what shows will look like in the future. So in a way, I still want to participate because I'm very, very thankful for the Federations allowing the show. But also as far as scale, I think for us it's about how do we build a community? How do we sell to the stores, but not fully be reliant on just that? I think it goes back to the realm of design being design and just allowing that to be the real foundation. So we can't lie that months ago, a lot of it was driven by social media stuff. Now more than ever it's about why is this needed and how can this better people's lives in some capacity?
You always have great accessories. What have you made for this season?
Thank you. I think that's my biggest focus for the whole show is to develop the firm pillars for the company now. These bags that I named after my girlfriend and some stuff named after my mother, just things that are very important to me. Obviously you want to cultivate that culture. We are introducing the first Rhude main line sunglasses.
You debuted women’s earlier this year. Are you building on that with this collection?
For October, I'm thinking of doing something just for women. I am still thinking about what the modern woman wears, what is her concern? I guess I'm trying to figure out whether it's about unisex or it's about giving a special wardrobe to a woman. Regardless the whole focus is still giving that main light to shine on the women. I just don't think I'm doing it justice by showing women's with men. I do feel women are special and they deserve their own stage so there will be no women's with this collection.
And you've had some bright spots within the past six months. You became a U.S. citizen, right?
I did. It took 20 years. I think that sparked the idea of the collection. It's about what does this mean to me? And again, I go back to what is the modern American man? But through the perspective of an immigrant coming to America that’s heavily influenced by American pop culture, whether it’s James Dean or Steve McQueen. These classic figures that are now stamped in American culture.
And then you have Jay-Z wearing your pieces courtside at a game in March. How did that come about?
I was with him that Monday. I was on his balcony and we were just hanging, and so I was explaining to him the importance of the hat and what it stands for to me, and to kids, the Dreamers, all these things. Even just the fact that the Laker Forum was such a signal of hope for kids back then. My whole thing is not necessarily redefining classics, but educating people on history. So I visited that logo. We spoke, and the next morning he told me to come back to the office, and he's wearing this Rhude shirt. And he connected with the story of the hat so he wore it and we just went to the game together.
And then let's talk a little bit about Pop Smoke who was at your Rhude dinner in Paris earlier this year. Can you just talk about how influential he was, how you all met, why he was important?
It was like a LeBron moment. You knew he was going to become that guy. And when I met the kid, he was the kindest dude and he was genuinely just a big fan of what we made. And we hopped on FaceTime together, talk about different things. We'd go shopping and he'd be like, "Yo, look at this." It's really tough for me because I do feel like was he was a Messiah in his own right. All he wanted was the whole blue outfit in the collection. I felt like we were the two people that would grow together in some way.