Before the advent of cozy couture, there was Russell Athletic®, a heritage brand that laid the foundation for athleisure before it became synonymous with “casual cool.” Since its founding in 1902, Russell Athletic® apparel has established itself as a landmark in the sportswear retail space for professional athletes and consumers alike. With more than a century of retail success and a résumé that includes bragging rights as the inventor of the sweatshirt, the brand has set the precedent for clothing that marries innovation with finesse. And, with a hyper-limited Heritage Collection collaboration with Rhude’s Rhuigi Villaseñor dropping exclusively at ComplexCon this fall, indications are that the trajectory for success for the Russell Athletic® brand is only climbing higher. “I just wanted to celebrate the legacy that Russell has with athletic sportswear, but also modernizing it by reworking and putting this sports spin that I do and have been getting noticed for,” Rhuigi says of the collab. “It’s celebrating heritage, but it’s also redefining the silhouette by using different textiles.”
When it was founded, the Russell Athletic® business, formerly Russell Manufacturing Company, was a small family-owned factory in Alexander City, Alabama with just 12 employees crammed into a small steam-powered building. From those meager beginnings, the company has blossomed into a global brand worth millions. The brand’s evolution is a testament to the old adage: Innovation is birthed out of necessity. Russell’s first defining retail moment came in 1926 when the founder’s son, Benjamin “Benny” Russell, who played football in high school, dreamed up an idea for what became the first crewneck sweatshirt. The design was to be used as an alternative to the uncomfortable, chaff-inducing wool practice football jerseys of yore. Not-so-surprisingly, the all-cotton pullover quickly became a hit, and maintains its status today as a staple piece in people’s wardrobes.
“I used to wear Russell [Athletic®] in high school,” reveals Rhuigi, who coaches youth basketball in his spare time. “I thought it was very cool, just how my family’s tradition starts from an R, and the Russell company starts with an R. It was something that I could wear that I could completely relate to. I think the logo is iconic. I think the sports kind of P.E.-style, collegiate font is an iconic thing that Russell’s done for ages.”
Much has changed for Russell Athletic over the course of its 116-year history. The company has solidified its place in American athletics as a staple in professional sportswear. Their iconic eagle logo has had the sports world on lock, and the brand has had a front-row seat to many of America’s most unforgettable sports moments. To date, Russell Athletic® has served as the exclusive producer of uniforms for a number of professional baseball teams, including eight champions and dozens of MVPs, as well as 34 college football championship teams.
“Russell is the perfect reintroduction to the new age of consumers now,” Rhuigi says. “To be able to show their heritage and to be able to kinda show kids that this is what the aesthetics has been, and hasn't changed. I think other brands are kind of pulling from that.”
Within the last year, the brand has focused more heavily on the lifestyle retail market and people certainly took notice. In December 2017, Russell debuted their Heritage Collection at Barneys New York in collaboration with street-inspired label, Visitor on Earth®. The revamped collection quickly garnered Hollywood’s seal of approval with various celebrities and tastemakers all sporting the signature eagle-branded Russell “R®” design logo.
With a focus on its roots in American sportswear, the Rhuigi Heritage Collection successfully marries contemporary streetwear concepts with vintage appeal, bringing “the soul of the field to today’s fields of play.” A capsule sportswear collection, Heritage plays up the classic pieces that made the brand famous. Think: graphic tees, tanks, sweats, shorts, and, of course, hoodies. Every piece in the line has a story to tell, which is why the brand’s Heritage collaboration with Rhuigi is a sublime match.
Rhuigi, who is originally from the Philippines, emigrated to L.A. at a young age and quickly developed an eye for fashion. Much like Russell Athletic®, the young designer’s ingenuity was also birthed out of necessity. His family did not have the resources to buy the clothes he wanted to wear, so he began to create his own. The result was Rhude, a popular streetwear brand with a design narrative rooted in customization. Rhuigi’s pieces encourage consumers to look at vintage staples with fresh eyes. Ever with its finger on the pulse of pop culture, the brand plays up color schemes and logos and reinterprets them in striking ways for the present. He applied that same aesthetic to the Russell collaboration.
“For this collection I revisited the idea of Americana, and consumerism,” Rhuigi explains. “So it’s a lot of the quintessential American brands that we all consume. I wanted to explore that, as to why we buy the things that we buy, and we love the things that we love.”
The few fans lucky enough to snag one of the limited-edition pieces can expect the ultra-soft, durable wear with old-school flair that Russell is known for, coupled with Rhuigi’s edgy blend of raw and refined street sensibilities. In the ultimate meeting of athleisure that is as fashionable on the streets as it is functional on any playing field, Russell’s latest Heritage Collection is highlighting timeless motifs and introducing fans to sportswear leveled up.
“We’re excited to partner with Rhuigi,” says Greg Galbraith, Senior Director of Marketing at Russell Athletic®. “Russell loves the fact that he really understands our heritage and how to create something unique and new from even the most traditional pieces.”
“I think this collaboration has the potential to be coveted by people for years to come,” Rhuigi adds. “Russell has the capability to communicate with new consumers decades and hundreds of years later… I feel so honored to be able to work with Russell and reinterpret the sweatshirt that is the kind of catalyst for what is being made now.”
To see the unveiling of the Russell Athletic x Rhuigi collab, click here.