Exclusive: Rihanna Fuels Soccer Mania With Debut of Fenty x Puma Sneakers Inspired by Her Family and Covers FN’s September Issue

Exclusive: Rihanna Fuels Soccer Mania With Debut of Fenty x Puma Sneakers Inspired by Her Family and Covers FN’s September Issue

This is the new Rihanna era. The superstar, who covers FN’s September issue, is now ready to make a big return to footwear — and to Puma. After striking gold once with the Creeper, the pair is looking to do it again, this time with a fresh take on the classic Puma Avanti. FN got an exclusive first look at the campaign, and talked to Rihanna about her vision for her new soccer-inspired collection.

“Football is a universal language that brings people together from all over the world, all walks of life, and I wanted to pay homage to that,” Rihanna told FN exclusively.

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The launch is generating major excitement within the company, who first teamed up with the artist at the end of 2014.

“She moves culture, sets trends and she certainly can move our business. Fenty is stronger now than it was when she was with us before,” said Bob Philion, president and CEO of Puma North America.

The surprise partnership was first revealed in the middle of Paris Fashion Week in March, not long after her headline-making Super Bowl Halftime Show performance. Puma revealed the news with a simple statement: “She’s back.”

Since then, anticipation has been building around the debut, set for this week.

The star’s innate ability to constantly reinvent herself and stay firmly in the spotlight — whether she’s partaking in a pregnancy shoot on the streets of Harlem in a hot-pink vintage Chanel puffer coat or making her TikTok debut with a video of her son RZA (it has 36 million views) — has made Rihanna an everyday icon at a time when many celebrities of her caliber seem unattainable.

The mom of two has been busy building her family with partner and rapper A$AP Rocky. And she hasn’t released another album — instead shifting much of her attention to the Fenty empire, which now includes her wildly successful cosmetics brand Fenty Beauty, Fenty Skin and the growing Savage x Fenty lingerie line. (Her luxury fashion house, Fenty, launched in partnership with LVMH in 2019, but the line was suspended indefinitely in 2021.)

Rihanna has always been unabashedly herself when it comes to fashion, too, and over the past few years, she’s revolutionized pregnancy style, rebelling again societal standards and embracing every aspect of motherhood. (This summer, before giving birth to her second child, she starred in Pharrell Williams’ first campaign for Louis Vuitton, baring her baby bump on a giant billboard in Paris.)

Brands yearn for this type of authenticity — and Rihanna oozes it. It’s a big part of why Puma is betting big on the star again — and the Fenty team clearly understands the value of a proven partner.

“All our brands feed off each other and tell one cohesive story. We are always looking to elevate Fenty, and Puma has always been a disruptive player in this space,” said Jennifer Rosales, Fenty Corp. SVP and Rihanna’s right-hand woman. “Both brands have shared values and have had great success in pushing the envelope. Now that Fenty is such an established entity, we want to bring Puma into our world.”

At a time when retro looks are dominating the sneaker world, Puma is looking to leverage Rihanna’s singular fashion perspective on heritage product from its 75-year vault, and the Avanti was the natural choice. The style is a take on the iconic King football boot, which originally launched in 1968, equipped with the outsole of the heritage Easy Rider running shoe.

“By going into our classics business and into our archives, it gave Rihanna a [blank] canvas where she can bring that creativity,” said Puma chief product officer Maria Valdes. “We already had a very big foundation. In this new chapter, we just wanted to build on top of that.”

Rihanna, fenty, puma, avanti
The Fenty x Puma Avanti launches in two colorways: black/white and chromeDennis Leupold

Nearly a decade ago, Rihanna changed the course of what a celebrity partnership could look like, disrupting the sneaker business during a lucrative period for celebrity and athletic brand partnerships.

The Fenty x Puma Creeper quickly became the most sought-after sneaker in 2016, crashing the brand’s website and selling out with every drop. It was the same year Rihanna took home FN’s Shoe of the Year.

“She almost rejuvenated the whole classic platform sneaker trend with the Creeper,” Puma global creative director Heiko Desens said. And that led to the brand offering a whole collection of sneakers and sandals under the Mayze name. “This is probably one of our most successful franchises,” he said.

Before the Gucci x Adidas or Louis Vuitton x Nike team ups, it was Rihanna who was a force in sportswear’s convergence with luxury.

Her Fenty x Puma collections showed at New York and Paris Fashion Weeks — with trainers, heeled-sneaker boots, hoodies, tracksuits, sweatpants and tees — and she had fans lined up to buy them.

“Rihanna is one of a very small group of musicians and celebs who can move folks to cop their footwear,” said Mel Peralta, VP of brand concepts at Atmos Global, which is stocking the new launch. “She’s been unflinchingly herself from the very beginning of her career, and her fans love her for it. It started with her music, but she’s also a style icon who has that rare power to motivate folks to support her and all her business endeavors.”

Alongside Rihanna’s own dramatic evolution, her fashion goals have also expanded — and Fenty is now a family affair.

“We had to extend the line to kids so the whole family can be a part of this,” the superstar said, in one of her first interviews since giving birth. Her unisex sneaker, launching next week, will be offered in all size ranges and for kids for the first time.

“She has a full family and she’s offering for the full family,” said Valdes. The exec recounted Rihanna’s genuine excitement when she saw the mini styles come to life. “We worked on this in record time. And then to think that during this whole process she was pregnant, it was quite [respectable] that she dedicated so much time to us, and there was so much passion to bring this to life.”

The product also has another very genuine connection to Rihanna — she’s a longtime soccer fan. (When celebrating Germany’s win at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, she relished the moment: “I touched the cup, held the cup, kissed the cup, took a selfie [with] the cup! I [mean] … what is [your] bucket list looking like bruh?” she tweeted at the time.)

When it came to designing her collection for Puma, Rihanna was specifically inspired by legendary Brazilian soccer player Pelé.

“Being a Latina, soccer connects to my culture and I believe that’s the same for [Rihanna], being from Barbados,” said Rosales. “Soccer brings families and countries together on a global level, and that’s what we are doing with this collection.”

Rihanna stars in her first campaign back at Puma
Rihanna stars in her first campaign back at Puma

During the design process, Valdes said the star gravitated to the King boot, which Pelé wore to win the 1970 World Cup title. “The sport itself is very attractive — it’s been always very attractive in Europe. But I think now through the latest world championships, and also the women’s [World Cup], it definitely is getting much more momentum. And we see that it is a sport that for new generations is getting much more attractive,” said Valdes.

Depop, the Gen Z-loved social e-commerce company, for example, has seen exponential growth in the category. Sneakers rooted in soccer, such as the Adidas Samba, saw a 1,325 percent search increase year-over-year, and searches for “Brazil Jersey” saw a 600 percent surge between January and June. With Rihanna at the helm and Puma’s own history in the category, the brand has the opportunity to be a leader in the space.

Fashion experts, however, know trends move quickly. But if anyone can keep the heat around soccer going, it’s Rihanna, said Extra Butter creative director Bernie Gross.

“Rihanna is such a force with her discerning looks. If executed well, her cult following may still hunger for her pointed product perspectives. … More importantly, her artistic choices seem to be undeniably authentic in every way. She’s adored for just being ‘Rihanna.’”

Puma is confident that the pair can bring a new perspective and point of view to terrace culture, which revolves around retro low-top sneakers from the 1970s and ’80s, named after the standing section at soccer stadiums.

Despite Rihanna’s undeniable star power, the Avanti could potentially face some competition from the Samba, Gross said.

“The Avanti has some great history for Puma. The inherent quilted stitched upper lends itself to telling luxury product stories,” he said. “The challenge it will face is that we’re already seeing the Samba, a similar terrace-inspired model, running through its cycle as an on-trend shoe. It’s still gaining momentum among a mainstream audience, but I’m not sure tastemakers have room for such a similar shoe. They’ve already moved on looking for another look.”

The Fenty x Puma Avanti is designed with a buttery soft vintage leather with a quilted stitched upper, fold-over tongue with a debossed and printed gold-foil Fenty and Puma Cat logo, a gum outsole and leather footbed. It’s launching with two colorways: black/white and chrome.

The Fenty x Puma Avanti retails for $160 and launches Sept. 15
The Fenty x Puma Avanti retails for $160 and launches Sept. 15

It launches Sept. 15, on Puma.com and in select retailers globally, such as Bodega, Extra Butter, Social Status, Kith, Atmos, SNS, Feature, Dover Street Market and END. The sneakers will retail for $80 in infant, $95 in kids’ and $160 in adult sizes.

The Puma team predicted the footwear franchise will be a hit with the masses, while still encapsulating Rihanna’s fondness for individuality and edge.

“She’s very dedicated when it comes to the finishing details, that color combination. She’s always thinking how you’re going to wear it, how you’re going to style it,” said Valdes, who worked closely with Rihanna on the product. “She’s quite versatile, she can pull off anything and she’s trying to always think from [that perspective]. That brings a bit of commerciality to the table, but then some excitement by finding the right balance of both.”

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