As unpredictable and unorthodox of a year as 2020 has been, Rhuigi Villaseñor has still found a way to add some accolades to his resume. He held his debut presentation at Paris Fashion Week in January (before quarantine), he made a short film, and he's collaborated with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team he's been a fan of his his childhood, on their road to a 17th NBA championship. Just before the rollercoaster we all call 2020 comes to a close, Villaseñor is adding yet another big project to his list, a nostalgic collection of sportswear with Starter through Foot Locker's Greenhouse hub.
"I used to wear Starter hats and then the anorak jacket, to me, is one of the most iconic pieces of warm up gear. It was so important. I think anyone knows that with warm up jackets, the Starter one was the most valuable, even the Raiders gear to me had to have Starter on it or otherwise we didn't collect that," Villaseñor tells Complex. "Throughout the beginning of my career, I was making these Starter-like bomber jackets that I was calling Re-Starter and I remember getting in trouble with Starter, but then years later I am able to work on a partnership with them."
The collection includes pieces that helped define Starter as one of the most desired brands in the '90s—black and silver pinstriped hats, wool varsity jackets, graphics T-shirts, and the the sportswear brand's signature anorak pullover are all available—but with a Rhude twist. Sweatpants feature yellow drawstrings seen on Rhude's signature Traxedo pant, Rhude is written across certain items in Starter's recognizable font, and anoraks are constructed of silk and borrow lightning bolts from Rhude's varsity jackets for a more premium feel. It's also being released through Rhude's ongoing Rhude Bowl program, which Villaseñor describes as his version of the Rose Bowl Flea Market, that offers the brand's pieces at a more affordable pricepoint. This collecton in particular ranges from $45-$295.
"These jackets that we make are beautiful silk and nicely hand done, but they're also at the price point that is attainable. So to me it's about giving access to the kids," says Villaseñor who shot the lookbook for the collab with some of his closest friends. "It's getting back to that youth and how we used to mob out, take the bus, and thrift for all these vintage finds. I think it's a way for me to pay homage and put it all together full circle. The Rhude Boys run deep and I've never actually put them in anything. It's a nice feeling, and it felt so organic because we were just having fun."
Ahead of the two-part Rhude x Starter release taking place on Nov. 27 via footlocker.com and Nov. 30 exclusively on the Greenhouse app, we go a chance to chop it up with Villaseñor about his history with Starter, the Lakers winning the NBA title, if there will ever be a Rhude diffusion line, and more. Check out our interview below.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You've talked before about your love for vintage and how you used to thrift all the time. Did working on this project take you back to that time and that mindset at all since Starter has that history?
Absolutely. I think Starter is the catalyst to that part of my life. I wore a lot of vintage Starter gear from different teams, especially the Lakers. I thought it was important for me to retell that story to the new generation that is not so acquainted with the importance of Starter. It's sort of like a reintroduction to these sportswear dreams I have. I think as the brand progresses, I can't abandon the pillars of my company and how I started, which is really sportswear. So as we grow, we figure out different partnerships that make sense, and this to me made a lot of sense.
A few months ago, you fused your logo with the iconic Lakers logo. For this project, you fused Rhude with the Starter logo. Is it surreal for you to see that the first time?
Yeah, man. I went from boosting vintage gear in different thrift stores to now being able to partner with brands that I was hunting down. Before the pandemic, we flew to New York, and I was able to see the Starter archives and thought it was such a monumental time. Hopefully I can continue to grow and do more partnerships with them.
This is the latest Rhude Bowl project you've done. I know you've set up in-person flea markets before this. Why is it so important for you to keep providing that type of affordable product to your fans along with the main collection?
Well, it's important for me to have my finger on the pulse and sometimes it's tough. The more we try to climb high, it's hard to do that. So we used to do these Rhude Bowls that would create a 400 or 500 person turnout in small Rose Bowl tents. That thought was so pure because it was so organic that these kids would line up and thrift and find stuff in boxes. I wanted to give them that thrifting experience but with Rhude clothes, and that to me was the easiest way to get the pulse on the kids and what they're interested in. More than anything, after we showed in Paris, like I was telling my team, it's important for us to always give back and go back to the streets, regardless of where we take the brand.
Can you talk a little bit about how some of these pieces came together for you? We mentioned the anorak. You did the pinstripe hat, which alludes to the classic Raiders hats, West Coast style...
Come on, man. It’s got to be. It's always an homage to something. I can only speak about what I know and it's an homage to the things that I once was really fond of, which is Raiders-like motifs. One of the things that I was really, really adamant about was the hardware, the zipper that Starter used to do, and the washed nylons that made it feel like when you thrifted it you found something that withstood age and time and still looked new. That's something that Rhude celebrates. We do these treatments to kind of hyper age the garment, but Starter, they were able to do that for us. And I think the color palette was designed by Madison, who's no longer with us, but who used to design with me, and she structured some of the plans for that. We used the yellow drawstring on the pants, which is iconic to the sportswear pants that we've done and similar fits to the same garments. It’s really just giving that access to the kid that is still discovering a traxedo pant or a bomber jacket we were doing before, but now allowing him to be able to purchase it at a price point that is accessible.
I feel like one of the designers that's done that well Jerry [Lorenzo] with his Fear God line and the Essentials line. I know with Rhude you have the main line and then certain collaborations and projects to hit the affordable price point. But do you ever see yourself doing a full diffusion line with Rhude?
At the end of the day, there's my dreams and aspirations, but there's also currents and waves. I think about people as currents and waves that can dictate where we flow as a company. It's like if my customers feel that they would like that, and if I could fulfill that, then I think it would make sense. I mean, the dream is really to be able to be Ralph, right? I mean, the dream is to be able to sit in Macy's and still have a store on Rodeo and just have people enjoy it the same way as the person who bought a Polo shirt from Macy's. I guess we're hoping to be able to balance in both, and I'm constantly doing a study on what is the modern man and what they want out of a company. Is luxury dictated by price or design? So I don't know, I'm thinking about it a lot. I want to, I really want to.
What do you think is the modern man?
The modern man is able to mix and match. He buys a $2 white tee and wears it with some Rhude boots or Bottega Veneta, whatever, and I think he's able to mix and match and dictate how his wardrobe is worn.
I saw in the commercial for the whole 12 Days of Greatness Foot Locker campaign, you had a little cameo, with your boy Kyle Kuzma. What was that like?
[Laughs.] Yeah, man. They got me doing mad acting now. This weekend, I shot another commercial. I was like, come on, man. I need to get back in the studio designing. But I'm really so honored to be able to do these things and kind of organically grow. Everything has been feeling as natural of a progression as I could hope for.
I know everything has been weird in 2020, but have you had a chance to formally celebrate the title with Kuz yet since he's won?
No, I haven't. I haven't. I'd say now, I think the real celebration is just being able to share with your loved ones. And I think we'll charge this to the game and then we'll go back. I mean, we just did some crazy signings with the Lakers, so we'll go back to back, I think.
[Laughs.] Yeah, they got even better.
Yeah, we got way better. I'm very hopeful and I want these moments. I want the athletes to be able to wear this stuff. So we're just praying that things get back to normal.
You did the big Rhude Lakers collection. How big of a moment was that championship for you as a lifelong Lakers fan?
I still talk about it with my family to this day because I was on a call with [Lakers] management of course and they were saying how they were a fan of the company and what we've done, and they see this as a long long-term partnership. I really am so honored. We align ourselves with luxury. When you think about a luxury team in sports, there's really so little that you could think of. It's the Lakers, it's the Knicks, it's the Yankees, the Dodgers, these are things that have real brand value that only time can really define. So I was just really happy to be a part of that, and continue to align ourselves with partnerships and brands that we feel are important culturally and to the DNA of the company.
I saw you recently tweeted that it felt like you were prepping for Paris Fashion Week all over again.
Oh my God.
What else are you kind of working on right now to close out 2020 that you can talk about?
Man, we are expanding rapidly, but one would be the women's collection. It's something that I'm so excited about because I feel really focused. And for once I don't feel like I'm rushing, and this is really a time for us to storytell. We've added loads and loads of attention to content, and video, and all that. I'm just really excited to announce more partnerships to come. It’s going to be big.