Celebrity stylist and costume designer June Ambrose has designed a multitude of fashion collections since she came into the spotlight in the early ‘90s, but her latest for Puma — her first co-branded collection with the sports giant as its creative director — has Ambrose taking a unique design approach, looking to the past, present and future of the brand.
“This is an exciting time in my life for many reasons,” Ambrose said from her office at the Puma New York City headquarters. “It’s my 29th year as a costume designer, stylist and creative director, and it’s 50 years of hip-hop. So 2023, it’s the year I’ve been keeping score. It’s the culmination of my contribution to culture. I think it’s all in a bubble right now with this collection. It’s called ‘Keeping Score,’ so it’s more than just about fashion. I really wanted to infuse performance and style. Life is a sport, so we continue that narrative with this collection.”
Ambrose’s “Keeping Score” collection offers 20 women’s pieces, half of which debut on Thursday. The collection is designed in a burgundy and navy color palette and offers fashion-meets-sportswear pieces like an oversize hoodie, a removable mesh jersey sports bra, an adjustable maxi-to-midi skirt and color-blocked leggings. The collection also offers Ambrose’s version of the classic Puma Ralph Sampson sneaker and Prevail sneaker. Ambrose’s line is available at Puma stores, its website and select retailers globally. Pieces range from $30 to $200 at retail.
The costume designer first joined Puma in 2020 as creative director for the women’s basketball category, launching a collection called “High Court” the following year that included fashion-meets-sportswear designs on par with what the brand was offering on the men’s basketball side. Ambrose’s “High Court” collection was met with success, with retailer Nordstrom seeing the collection’s faux fur jacket, reversible beanie and other styles sell out on launch day. Specialty retailer Woodstack also saw the collection’s beanie have a 90 percent sell-through rate and other accessories experience a 70 percent sell-through rate.
“[Ambrose’s] entire career has been about bridging the gap between streetwear and fashion and really elevating our stories, elevating the look of our athletes and our ambassadors,” said Puma chief brand officer Adam Petrick. “When it came to figuring out what we were going to do with regards to meaningfully providing an equal approach to our women’s basketball program, I think it was natural that June, from a storytelling and brand elevation standpoint, would have a huge impact on that. And it’s absolutely been the case.”
Given the success of “High Court,” Ambrose looked to some of the collection’s style elements when designing “Keeping Score,” such as the high-waisted leggings with color-blocked lines. Ambrose also looked to the 50 years of hip-hop for the collection by incorporating oversize styles with vintage washes. She looked to Puma’s vast history in sportswear and added in her own modern, high-fashion touch meant to bring the collection into the future.
“There’s something about hip-hop culture that’s unapologetic,” she explained. “When you think about some of the images from the early ‘80s and ‘90s that are still timeless and classic and you’ve seen them reinvented and repeated, it’s really telling you that hip-hop is a timeless genre of music. I wanted to create something that felt like it was a timeless genre of sportswear.”
“Keeping Score” will launch in two drops — the first is more subdued than Ambrose’s prior collections, she said, with a muted color palette. She explained she went with this design strategy to make the collection appear “classic and rich” and infuse more of a lifestyle aesthetic.
In addition to looking to her “High Court” collection, Ambrose also leveraged her history working with Puma for the line. Ambrose said that she’s been a fan of Puma since growing up in the South Bronx, New York, and witnessing the rise of music culture. She stated she took notice of who the brand partnered with or endorsed, and she used it in one of the first music videos she styled for Missy Elliott.
“For June, her main thing is taking a classic and redefining it,” said Emory Jones, cofounder of streetwear brand Paper Planes, who serves as a creative consultant for Puma. “Some people always want to walk in and change who you are. The difference is you can’t change the brand. You have to tap into the history and the heritage of the brand and redefine it for this moment for the people in a new generation to understand it.”
Being relevant within the fashion world has been an important strategy for Puma, which has been collaborating with brands in the industry for the last 25 years, according to Petrick, to “find new and interesting ways to push the culture around sports forward.” The brand started its fashion partnerships with French fashion brand Xuly.Bët in 1996, then later teamed with fashion houses and designers like Jil Sander, Alexander McQueen and Miharayasuhiro, among others. The brand’s foray into high-fashion has also been supported by its celebrity collaborations, including with the likes of Rihanna and Dua Lipa.
“We’re certainly trying to be as unique as possible when it comes to hitting that sweet spot between sports and fashion,” Petrick said about what’s driving growth at Puma. “Our whole approach of thinking about the culture around sports has allowed us to really meaningfully think around the lifestyle and the cultural context of the consumer. That’s been the point of view that’s been unique and refreshing in the marketplace that’s allowing us to bring in new customers.”
Bringing in new customers was one of the impacts of Puma’s New York Fashion Week show hosted last September, according to Petrick, who explained the experience was “a reintroduction for a big audience” to the brand. Ambrose helmed the fashion show, called Futrograde, and showcased her “Keeping Score” collection, as well as other sportswear pieces.
Petrick explained Puma will continue to appear in global fashion weeks going forward, with another large show slated for this fall during New York Fashion Week to celebrate the brand’s 75th anniversary.
Following the January drop of “Keeping Score,” Ambrose will debut the collection’s second drop in March. The next collection will leverage Ambrose’s affinity for bold designs, while still sticking true to her design aesthetic, she said.
“I feel that in order to reinvent myself, I have to follow my AI — my authentic intelligence,” she said. “I know authentically there was a bigger consumer here and a bigger reach. Now the second drop is a little bit bolder and the color palette is very polarizing — it also speaks to that retro ‘90s energy with the silhouettes and the color. This [drop] is the appetizer, then there’s more seasoning and flavor in the second drop.”