Boardroom breaks down the past, present, and future of Pretty Flacko’s work in the footwear and racing industries.
A$AP Rocky is the new Creative Director of Puma’s F1 category.
The long-term creative partnership comes on the heels of Puma inking an official deal with Formula 1 back in May, allowing the German sportswear company to produce and promote licensed apparel, footwear, and accessories at Grand Prix races.
While the news comes after the Austin Grand Prix, physical substance may be coming soon. An upload from Rocky’s Instagram account, along with a search of ‘F1’ on Puma’s website, suggests a debut at November’s first annual Las Vegas Grand Prix.
According to a release, Rocky will play a part in designing and developing bespoke capsule collections, having a hand in influencing Puma’s seasonal design direction into the future.
To close out 2023, Rocky’s footprints will be felt on visual and video content for the brand, beginning with a campaign centered around American car culture’s impact on fashion.
The campaign will be followed by an “extremely limited” Puma x F1 capsule collection of apparel and accessories, said to shine a light on what’s to come in 2024.
While the full-fledged takeover won’t take total shape until next year’s Miami Grand Prix, the breadcrumbs surrounding the deal have been piling up all year.
Boardroom breaks down Rocky’s ties to Puma, history in sportswear, and background in racing that have all aligned to time out this esteemed appointment.
On Feb. 12, 2023, A$AP Rocky popped out at the Super Bowl in patriotic fashion.
Months before being named Creative Director for an international outfit, the proud papa supported his partner, Rihanna, as she performed at the halftime show.
On his back was a Jeff Hamilton jacket bearing the NFL emblem atop the star-spangled banner. On his head was a FENTY Athletics trucker hat embroidered with the logo of a $7.9 billion brand.
To those who watch Rocky’s wears closely, it was an apparent nod to his lady’s long list of boss moves.
Famously, Puma partnered with Rihanna in 2014, naming the storied singer as Creative Director for the brand’s women’s business. The deal positioned Rihanna as the face of female training, soon transitioning into lifestyle looks like the Suede Creeper and Fenty Fur slides.
In its inaugural year, the Fenty x Puma partnership was said to have done nearly $1 billion in sales.
By 2018, the deal ended, allowing Fenty to flourish in the lingerie space, with Savage x Fenty valued at $3 billion in 2022. To many, Rihanna’s Puma partnership seemed far away in the rearview as the artist and Rocky welcomed their first child, RZA, in May 2022.
Per usual, surprises were at bay. In September 2022, months after giving birth and years removed from ANTI, Rihanna announced she’d be headlining the 2023 Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Shortly after the February 2023 performance, Puma teased the return of Rihanna’s Fenty partnership, tipped off first by Rocky’s halftime hat. In September, the multi-year partnership with Rihanna and Puma launched at retail, reuniting the Barbados star and German brand in stores.
While Rocky continued to work in a creative capacity with brands like Beats by Dre, a return to sportswear was never out of the cards.
Earning His Stripes
As an apparel partner, A$AP Rocky’s resume is both decorated and diverse.
Arriving on the scene in 2011 with his acclaimed LIVE.LOVE.A$AP mixtape, the free download project was praised enough to earn Rocky a $3 million deal with RCA. In short order, his ability to merge runway designers like Rick Owens and Raf Simons with sportswear staples like the Nike Air Force 1 and Harlem hip-hop relics gave him an influence akin to Allen Iverson in the late ’90s.
Suddenly, every artist was copping couture looks and bestowed in box braids. Designer labels rerouted their marketing, casting models meant to look like Rocky. While many merchandisers stole the style, some suitors were quick to collaborate.
Working with Adidas in 2013, Rocky leveraged his love of Jeremy Scott styles for a three-way footwear launch. In that era, the Three Stripes used Rocky in an array of advertising campaigns, using the rapper as a model, muse, and soundtrack for spots.
In the years to follow, Nike would gain cultural capital by way of Rocky proxy through work with VLONE and assorted wears. The big splash on the footwear front came in 2017 when Rocky signed a multi-platform partnership with Under Armour.
Aligning with ASAP’s AWGE agency as a means of making waves in lifestyle, the performance-centric company released the SRLo — Skate Rave Lo — as an homage to Y2K era halfpipe and party scenes.
The 2018 retail release proved limited and essentially a one-off. While Rocky was on site to launch the shoes in Harlem and wore them often, he eventually broke from the brand in an unannounced dissolvement. Following a somewhat similar design language in regard to skateboarding and flames, Flacko worked with Vans and PacSun shortly after in 2021 and 2022.
In the time since, Rocky’s remained revered in the garment space in both official and covert manners. In recent years, he’s starred in campaigns as an ambassador for Gucci. Seemingly off the books, he proved an early advocate — in an informal fashion — for the rapid rise of the Adidas Samba. In 2023 and beyond, it appears it’s another Dassler doing business with Flacko.
Though the Puma partnership may seem left field for some, considering his early work with competitor companies, it occupies a lane he’s been veering towards for quite some while.
Back in 2017, A$AP Rocky appeared in a campaign for Mercedes-Benz.
Though foreign cars had long lived in music videos for Rocky, the formal partnership signaled another luxury look for the Harlemite, leaning into his love of design in a new space.
Over the course of 2018’s TESTING rollout, custom Mercedes-Benz vehicles would appear in music videos while Rocky would wear crash test dummy-inspired suits. At 2019’s SXSW conference, Rocky sat with Daimler Chief Design Officer Gorden Wagener to discuss Mercedes and where the two looked to take the $69 billion car company.
“My personal vision for the next ten years is let’s make Mercedes the most loved luxury brand,” Wagener said at the event.
Though the pandemic may have paused presumed progress for the pairing, 2022 yielded another look for Rocky in the auto world: a custom Mercedes-Benz 190E. Revealed in accordance with Rocky’s work on the Need for Speed Unbound video game, the street racing rollout was running in accordance with a growing American appetite for F1.
All the while, industry insiders were already forecasting convergence culture where cars were concerned. Mike “Upscale Vandal” Camargo, a man of many creative hats regarding fashion, music, and marketing, had been consulting with Puma to build said space, laying the tracks for a racing revival in street fashion.
“My first goal was to make motorsport relevant in street culture,” Camargo told Boardroom in January. “Mind you, this is 2016 before F1 had a new fanfare because of Drive to Survive. In 2016, only rich people were talking about F1 and racing. But I knew that the hood was wearing motorsport. Everybody in the hood was wearing those BMW T7 tracksuits and the Mercedes zip-up jackets.”
Just as the streets saw an aspirational appeal to racing, so did the world at large.
Adjacent to the action in America, British F1 driver Lewis Hamilton was winning titles and breaking records as a member of the Mercedes team. Sporting braids similar to Rocky, Hamilton ascended as an international icon, named to TIME‘s most influential list in 2020.
Though the rapper and racer had crossed paths on many a runway, the two posed together at 2023’s F1 Grand Prix in Miami. While each icon had ties to Mercedes through preexisting partnerships, they both were wearing an apparel brand near and dear to Hamilton’s heart: PUMA.
Taking place only months after Rocky cheered on Rihanna in a Fenty hat, it was all forecasting the next move.
The Future for F1, Rocky & PUMA
In recent years, F1 has become the pinnacle platform for modern convergence culture.
From Fortune 500 CEOs to athletes and artists of all origins, the international event has become a who’s who gala for partying with people from all walks of life. It’s an arena for entertainers to debut coveted collaboration sneakers and auto brands to flaunt their riches.
Sitting in pole position moving forward is A$AP Rocky, now helming the aesthetic gap between Puma and F1. While it may seem random to race fans, it’s a collision insiders in each industry saw coming miles away.
“A$AP Rocky’s creativity and commitment to innovation aligns perfectly with F1’s vision and development in apparel,” Oliver Boden, Head of Licensing and Gaming at F1, said in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating with him to design and curate the Puma and F1 range and insert F1 into new cultural and lifestyle spaces.”
According to today’s announcement, Rocky’s work will take total shape in 2024, with the Miami Grand Prix showcasing the substantive start where all platforms collide. Aside from capsule collections designed in tandem, Rocky will also curate activations at each race.
In the statement, Puma presents Rocky as becoming even more immersed in the brand and F1 by 2025, having a hand in both racewear and fan fashion. His presence is said to be felt in marketing and innovation, designed to disrupt and widen the world of racing.
“When the world sees what we’re doing, I believe a shift will happen with how brands approach taking risks and working with diverse creatives,” Rocky said in a statement.
On the surface level, it’s a major alignment between an innovative artist and two European entities valued in the billions.
As established, it’s a full-circle family affair for Rocky and his partner Rihanna, who returned to Puma earlier this year.
“We couldn’t be more excited to be working with A$AP Rocky,” Maria Valdes, Puma’s Chief Product Officer, said in a statement. “He will showcase his vision with elevated F1 race capsules globally, which attract new audiences and undoubtedly disrupt the track.”
A vision that rightfully seems disruptive at first glance but makes plenty of sense when looking back.
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