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Visual History — Behind the Brand is a HIESSIK® chapter segmented series celebrating the stories that have shaped the sneaker industry through the lenses of the brands that have driven change. The fusion of sub-cultures that exist around the brands and sports from which they are derived has created a new market. Basketball has heavily influenced street style, whilst athletics and football have transformed sporting innovation. The acknowledgment of a recent shift within the luxury fashion ecosystem, which has enabled the convergence of principles that until recently had classifications restricted to either the luxury or sports segment has defined the current period of rampant collaboration. Behind the Brand looks at the classic sportswear brands such as Nike and Adidas to iconic luxury fashion houses such as Balenciaga, who have recently played a role in transforming the sneaker eco-space.

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Behind the Brand: Puma

Puma have traditionally been considered part of the Big 3 sports brands - alongside Nike & Adidas. Puma's legacy is derived from acute technical detail to performance innovation - particularly in football and athletics, today, Puma hold a longstanding reputation as a lifestyle sports brand. They famously pioneered the athlete endorsement in the NBA through Walt Frazier and the Puma Clyde, but the majority of Puma's heritage lies in Europe.

Pictured: Pele wearing Puma's during 1970 World Cup Final. Media Credit: Popperfoto

From their original endorsements with Pele, Johan Cruyff and Maradona to their signing of Boris Becker and a rookie Serena Williams in 1998, Puma have held the mantle for some of the biggest stars in sports. Today their biggest endorsements include Olympic great Usain Bolt, footballers Sergio Aguero and Antoine Griezmann - as well as F1 frontrunner Lewis Hamilton. They have recently re-entered the NBA landscape signing 2018 No. 1 pick and Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton and No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III of the Kings - their first major NBA endorsements since Vince Carter annulled his contract in 1999 (Kenny Wallace & John Wallace actually laced up in Puma after this). Outside of sports, Puma hold a fruitful partnership with Rihanna, and have recently worked with Jay Z, Meek Mill, Selena Gomez and Big Sean.

Pictured: Usain Bolt after winning the 100m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (06/08/2008). Media Credit: Jmex / Wikipedia.

Family feud - A rift that forged iron

Before Puma, the Dassler brothers, Rudi and Adi formed 'Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik' from their hometown in Herzogenaurach, in the Bavaria region. The brothers worked together to create and sell sports shoes. Adolf Dassler was a creator, an innovator; whilst his brother, Rudolf was a people-person, a shrewd businessman; thus Adi worked as a product developer and Rudi worked as a salesman. In a period of global conflict due to World War II, local conflict arose between the two brothers over army enlistment, control and internal scheming and as a consequence of the war running shoes were expendable, men drafted into the army required boots not running shoes. The Dassler brothers felt this and almost became bankrupt. In 1946, after the close of the war and an intense period of scrutiny from allied forces, the Dassler brothers split the company assets in 2 and moved to opposite parts of Herzogenaurach. Their town was notoriously christened 'the town of bent necks' in reference to the propensity for the townspeople to look down at each other shoes in order to see which brand they were aligned with.

Excerpt also included in Behind the Brand: Adidas - due to their shared history.
Pictured: 'The Town of Bent Necks', Herzogenaurach. Media Credit: Gerry Cranham (1966).

The Puma

Rudolph Dassler originally named Puma, 'Ruda' before changing it to PUMA Schuhfabrik Rudolf Dassler in 1948. The use of the softer sounding Puma brought about versatility due to its denotation with the animal. As a consequence, the original Puma logo was an emblem of sorts (a representation of the times), featuring an amorphous hexagon with Puma jumping through a centralised D {for Dassler), within the emblem was 'Rudolph Dassler Schuhfabrik'. The logo was altered in 1957 with Rudi's name and the border removed, in addition to the font changing to a modern sans serif (similar to MYPUMA by Samuel Park). The final chapter of the Puma logo story occurred when the Puma icon was created by Nuremberg cartoonist Lutz Backes in 1967, the stripped down pop-art style (popularised by the likes of Keith Haring) is an iconic symbol even today.

Registered Trademarks of Puma SE. All Rights Reserved to Puma SE.

The Formstrip

Puma introduce the Formstrip in 1958. Like the 3 stripes at Adidas, the Formstrip originally served a purpose through function, the stitched panels joined 2 parts of the upper together, providing stability and support. Over time, what started as a practical requirement turned into a global aesthetic marker, the Formstrip became one of the most recognisable symbols across the world.

Power on the Podium - Puma Suede

The Suede was introduced in 1968 for the Mexico City Olympics, it was actually developed as a lightweight replacement for the Puma Basket. During the 1968 Games, Tommie Smith & Juan Carlos finish 1st and 3rd respectively in the 200m and perform the Black Power salute on the podium whilst having (but not wearing) Puma Suede's. At the time the move would go down as one of the most controversial moments in the history of the Games as the 2 were later banned but it marked one of the most iconic and important moments in sports history through their combined disregard of the authoritative system in place, in order to highlight civil injustices across America (& the World). The Suede reached the height of its powers when New York Knicks point-guard Walt Frazier was given a variation of his own named the Clyde which coincided with the growth of B-Boys & hip-hop culture in New York.

Pictured (left to right): Pete Norman, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Media Credit: Neil Leifer (1968). All Rights Reserved to Neil Leifer

New York Icon
The Clyde

Adidas led by Adolf Dassler, held an advantage over Puma in technical innovation and creativity due to Adolf Dassler's design background, Rudi acknowledged this stating Puma needed to 'produce better shoes, new ideas and explore other areas'. Puma's inability to garner an advantage in performance led them to explore an alternative avenue - the athlete endorsement. In 1970 Puma gave New York Knicks point guard (and future Hall of Famer) Walt Frazier a signature shoe named the Clyde (after his nickname). On the hardwood, Frazier pioneered uniform personalisation, often taking to the court in orange and blue laced (NY Knick Colours) Converse's, but he was arguably more influential off the floor; Frazier was known to turn heads with his iconic eccentric dress style and can be credited as one of the first sporting celebrities. After leading the Knicks to a championship ring, Puma felt there was no individual more suited to headline the brand. The Clyde is a fusion of the ever-popular Puma Suede and the Puma Basket (which was introduced to rival Adidas' Superstar). Puma & Adidas were renowned for providing athletes with free athletic footwear, but never before had an athlete been paid for it, Walt Frazier not only received a lump-sum payment for his contract, he received royalties on every Clyde sold - and the Clyde was rumoured to have sold over a million pairs throughout the 70s.

Pictured: Clyde Frazier wearing his Puma Clyde's (left) and Wilt Chamberlain (right). Media Credit: George Long/Sports Illustrated.

The Becker

Puma produce the Puma Becker after Boris Becker becomes the youngest Grand Slam winner (at the time) whilst simultaneously being the first unseeded and first German to win Wimbledon, all achieved wearing Puma sports shoes. The Becker Winner was amongst the first tennis shoes to utilise a raised profile in order to provide the ankle with greater support and reduce injuries. Aesthetically, the Becker took on a white leather upper with a red (or contrasting) Formstrip on the sidewall, a relatively understated design but one with enough presence to catch the camera lenses' eye as Becker dazzled on the court.

Pictured: Boris Becker at Wimbledon. Media Credit: Popperfoto.


Developed as part of Puma Vistech. The cushioning system for Puma's trail running series was introduced in 1989, Trinomic cushioning was also featured in Puma's XT iteration (XT1 and XT2) released from 1991. Trinomic was built into the forefoot and the heel of Puma shoes for cushioning, the concept behind the technology being absorption of force between the ground and foot through miniature honeycomb shaped cells that collapsed on impact, in order to make the wear more comfortable. A few years after the development of the Trinomic system, Puma would develop & release the Blaze of Glory silhouette. The Blaze of Glory featured an identical sole unit to the Disc Blaze which was about to be shelved; the sidewalls forwent the use of the iconic Formstrip and instead opted for reductive branding with the only notion of the shoe being made by Puma on the tongue tab - you could argue Puma took the idea from Nike & their Huarache silhouette released in '91. The Blaze of Glory distinguished itself through its unique lacing system.

Pictured: . Media Credit: .

No Strings Attached
The Disc

The Puma DISC system was built with the internal wiring system acting as a means for the shoe to wrap around the form of each individuals foot. A radical change in function at the time (from the usual velcro or laces), the Puma DISC crossed multiple sports disciplines and was worn by a number of athletes such as Heike Drechsler and Colin Jackson as they flew to gold medals (in the '92 Olympics and '93 World Championships respectively). The DISC series was pulled from production due to production issues and corporate strategy changes derived from management restructuring. The original function of DISC was centred around improving athlete performance, before the DISC Blaze was released in 1993. The Disc Blaze has something of a cult following, despite the shoe originally only staying on the shelves for 3 years. A collaboration in 2012 with Ronnie Fieg brought the Disc Blaze out of the archives.

Pictured: Colin Jackson. Media Credit: Michael Cooper

RS Series

Puma release Running System cushioning technology and decide to display its effects through a series of silhouettes. The first of which was the RS-100, the shoe was built to optimise comfort by combining a leather upper with textile panels and a padded ankle collar; least we forget the new RS midsole and rubber outsole. A year later, Puma released the RS-Roland Computer Shoe, a direct competitor to the Adidas Micropacer. The shoes were pioneers and early predictors of a trend of fitness tracking technology infused in clothing and footwear, at the time the Puma RS Computer Shoe (and Adidas' own Micropacer) failed to catch on but Puma had set the wheels in motion to combine computation with sports performance. Puma would later release the final RS model, the 350 in 1987. The 350 combined suede and nylon across the upper with the signature Formstrip donned on each sidewall.

Jil Sander + PUMA

A forgotten about collaboration, but an important one, nonetheless. Jil Sander x Puma debuted in 1996. Jil Sander's work with Puma was one of the first instances where fashion embraced sportswear as its contemporary. Jil Sander, an expert in textiles and fabrics, translated that brilliance into her Puma silhouettes with her selection of premium materials, adding a touch of craft and luxury, she cited the inspiration to work on sneakers with Puma as being underwhelmed with the existing material construction of sneakers on the market. Prior to this, the number of notable houses or designers that worked or delivered sneakers on the runway was diminutive but includes: Vivienne Westwood, Miucci Prada & Prada, Margiela and Karl Lagerfeld & Chanel. The Puma + Jil Sander collection, featured a Puma model with a conic rubber sole that takes design cues from football boots; a reinterpretation of the German Army trainer, a silhouette called the Easy Rider, in addition to a Puma King in soft glove leather.

Alexander McQueen + Puma

The late Alexander McQueen and Puma teamed up in 2005 to produce a number of sneakers inspired by the human anatomy. McQueen reportedly a purveyor of sneakers - owning over 500 to his name, the partnership reflected a need for distinctly unique products in an industry that needed a breath of fresh air. The partnership was amongst the first fusions between a luxury brand and a sportswear brand. The most famous silhouette of the early collection was the Ribcage, which featured a moulded leather cage on the sidewalls. In 2014, the collaboration was altered slightly with design cues now coming from McQueen's diffusion line McQ by Alexander McQueen. Puma by McQueen was an important step in moulding the landscape, but its of note that the collaboration never reached mass sensibility or generated significant commercial success, but this doesn't take away from their continued willingness to experiment and take risks in design. The array of sneakers that have been released in over 10 years since the collaborations inception represent a penchant to think outside the box and not allow the market to dictate output, a potential pleasantry where curiosity for the new is concerned. The collaboration has seen the birth of several McQueen silhouettes, in addition to modifications of existing Puma ones: Disc Blaze, Move, Tech Runner Sandals, Faas TR, Cell Runner and the Spine.


Introduced in 1998 as their new line for cushioning. Cell technology revolutionised cushioning through the TPU hexagonal cell units on each shoes outsole, the cells were built in order to enhance stability and deliver sustained improvements to running performance. Puma CELL celebrated 20 years since its inception in 2018, and Puma responded by re-issuing the Cell Endura and Cell Venom silhouettes.

Pictured: Puma Spectra. Media Credit: Puma SE


In 2014, Puma appointed Rihanna as a creative director. During the period, Puma's sales were ambling and they were struggling to make inroads in either footwear or athletic wear. Puma released the SUEDE Creeper for women in 2015 and it helped improve their fortunes across the board, it also represented a meaningful cultural moment as Rihanna was one of - if not the first - female artist to produce and design a collection for an athletic brand. The Suede Creeper was followed by 'Leadcat' Fur Sliders that proved equally successful. The success of the collaboration led to Rihanna debuting a collection at FW16 for New York Fashion Week, which received critical acclaim. In 2019, Rihanna and LVMH announced that they were working on her own fashion house (Project Loud), a natural move since Rihanna has proved herself a commercial success across a host of industry fields, but a potential issue lies in conflict of interest since Puma is partially owned by LVMH competitor, Kering.

Pictured: Rihanna on the runway for FENTY at NYFW AW16. Media Credit: JP Yim

Other Collaborators

Puma's collaborative arsenal is not as vast as their contemporaries across the pond at Nike and Adidas but it includes a host of big names and brands such as:
A Bathing Ape®, Ader Error, BAIT, Big Sean, Hussein Chalayan, Jay Z, Karl Lagerfeld, KITH, Marvel Comics, MCM, Ronnie Fieg, Selena Gomez, Sonra, Stampd and The Weeknd

Pictured: Big Sean for Puma. Media Credit: Neilson Barnard


In 2018, Puma introduced the Thunder Spectra to their arsenal of products. The Spectra is inspired by the 90's Puma CELL models and a number of silhouettes from Puma's longstanding collaboration with Alexander McQueen (which was inspired by the human anatomy e.g. the Ribcage). The Spectra is striking and exaggerated, with the upper being made from multiple panels that are elevated at distinct proportions, the Spectra utilises an array of textiles with the lace guard and toecap area finished in mesh, to provide levels of breathability; the sidewalls and toe guard feature synthetic leather and nubuck. The IMEVA midsole features contrasting waved ridges that emphasise the Spectra's figure, and the outsole is vulcanised rubber to maximise traction. The Spectra found its way as a popular alternative to the lifestyle offerings provided by Nike & Adidas, and sold out with its initial releases in 2018 before receiving wider releases for the new year.

Pictured: Puma Spectra. Media Credit: Puma SE

Potential Resurgence?

In an attempt to re-establish themselves as a leader in the sports and leisure landscape, Puma have made a series of monumental moves. In 2018, Puma brought back their Basketball division by working with Jay-Z and Roc Nation Sports with the release of the Clyde Court Disrupt; they have recently signed a deal with the NBA to be the official marketing partner & uniform provider. Puma are attempting to use the legacy they hold in Basketball through Walt Frazier as a catalyst for modern day success, whether it will pay off is yet to be seen. A number of recent endorsees are young rookies such as Deandre Ayton & Marvin Bagley, so the brands trajectory is directly linked to their success on the court and their marketability factor. Unlike Walt Frazier (pictured left), Ayton and Bagley are not in what would be considered big-market NBA teams or potential contenders and this greatly impacts the potential reach of Puma's project, however, Puma may look at Nike & Kyrie Irving's signature series as an outlier since he was in a non-contending 'small market' team but found success in his shoe series.

Pictured: Walt Frazier (left) & Deandre Ayton (right). Media Credit: Jamie McCarthy

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