Top image: Rhude SS18
For Rhuigi Villaseñor, founder of nascent LA brand Rhude, it all began in 2014 with his first design: a black and white bandana tee. Soon after, Kendrick Lamar requested to wear the piece to the 2013 BET Awards, where the Compton rapper would receive both Best New Artist and Best Male Hip-Hop Artist. Cue the hype.
Having arrived in the US from the Philippines as a child, Villaseñor credits his tight-knit family as his go-to inspiration and motivation. “When I was younger my mother used to make our school uniforms or costumes for plays,” the designer recalls. “I don’t really know if that was the start of my passion, but I distinctly remember seeing how happy it made my mom, watching us wear the clothes she made.” That sense of pride has now come full circle. A quick glance at Rhude’s Instagram reveals the extent of its popularity; from LeBron James to Kendrick and Adam Levine, it’s now Villaseñor’s time to feel a little emotional.
After 2013, Rhude quickly grew from a selection of tees to a small team operating out of LA. Rhude’s own brand of California cool doesn’t shy away from realities of the city; hardship, lost love, and social commentary are all explored through a tongue-in-cheek vision. Take Villaseñor’s FW18 Paraiso collection for example, a playful fantasy of freeing oneself from 9-to-5 monotony, exploring themes of American consumerism, the internet, and dark fantasies.
Now in the brand’s third year, Villaseñor is keen to avoid labels and therefore limitations. What’s next? “Product design. Cars? Furniture? Womenswear? Footwear? Let’s see. It’s pretty limitless.”
Clementine Zawadzki: How and why did you first get into fashion?
Rhuigi Villaseñor: When I was younger my mother used to make our school uniforms or costumes for plays… I don’t really know if that was the start of my passion, but I distinctly remember seeing how happy it made my mom, watching us wear the clothes she made. That certainly fuelled me. And to be honest, I got into fashion out of necessity. I studied Art History and was on track to be a curator, but times were hard for us financially as a family and I wanted to help at home. Fashion was the way that made the most sense for me.
CZ: What’s the affect of that personal connection?
RV: The brand is an extension of my dreams, passions, and life experiences. Every collection tells a story, whether it’s something I went through or something I’ve been thinking about and can’t get out of my head. Rhude is deeply personal to me – what started out as a necessity has become a way for me to tell my stories.
CZ: Starting out as a teen, what were those initial ideas like?
RV: I still have those sketches and pieces! To be honest, it’s very similar to what I’m making now, but I’ve refined the styles and improved on the fabrics and construction. Growing up, my father had a really cool, flamboyant “Gucci” style, so I reference a lot of his style – that mix of eclectic and refined – but the brand has stayed pretty consistent.
CZ: Who initially inspired you?
RV: Pharrell and Nigo… I think it was more like a kid kind of looking at Willy Wonka’s factory and it gave me hope that I can have that magnitude of impact in design something cool and culturally really powerful.
CZ: Has this changed throughout the years?
RV: Yeah of course as I got older, I understand more about luxury and how I want to define it in my own way. My family and my hometown has become a bigger inspiration, as well. I think the definition of luxury is all the simple things in life, but in its truest form.
CZ: What do you love about street wear?
RV: It’s honest. It’s what people really wear.
CZ: How long does it typically take you to create a collection from its initial concept to its Ready-to-Wear form?
RV: If you want total honesty… we’ve started and finished a collection in two weeks. I mean since every collection is like a sequel or continuation from the past, we’ve created a natural flow to the design process. But everything comes freeform in our studio. Our team has a lot of fun playing with cultural taboos and building stories around them.
CZ: Your aesthetic is a real play on pop culture, from NSYNC to Marlboro. Where does that tongue-in-cheek take on consumerism come from?
RV: I appreciate sociology. I don’t want to make clothes just to make them. I really love how the human brain functions and what makes people connect with something that’s essentially cotton and thread. I play a lot on these ideas.
CZ: You started making t-shirts – Kendrick Lamar sporting your bandana tee – from him/his stylist reaching out, to witnessing him on stage – what was that feeling like?
RV: Probably what my mother felt when she saw me play an elf in a play. I feel the same way when I see a celebrity wear my clothes as to a regular costumer I have. I put my honesty and part of my life into these designs and I’m just always thankful that they understand my message.
CZ: How has this journey felt for you going from designing for yourself to being in demand, featured, stocked in high-profile chain stores?
RV: I’ve done all the work and preparation for years before I started Rhude, so being here now I’m just excited to be getting the right opportunities to execute on all the ideas I’ve built up. It becomes more about personal growth and where I am in life, so I take my consumers for this ride as I grow both the brand and myself. Because the brand has always been so personal for me, this growth of it is has felt like such an incredible journey of self-growth and exploration more than anything.
CZ: What challenges have you faced starting your own label?
RV: What was once a mood board or idea is now a job. And with jobs you have to meet goals, demands, and standards.
CZ: You also have a team now. What’s that dynamic like?
RV: FRIENDS PLAYING DARTS. I don’t like an uptight schedule or design meetings, I’m open to dialogue I really care about what people are feeling. We’re still a really small team, but there’s a lot of trust between us, and more than anything, we want to have fun and push for this thing that we all believe in.
CZ: With production in LA, what emotional input does that have on your clothes? How is the environment reflected in the result?
RV: I get to be hands-on with every product. I know what is done to it and I formulate every step of the process.
CZ: What fabrics do you like to work with?
RV: Silk to Nylon. I love juxtaposition and destroying fine luxury textiles. I just want to do the unexpected . . . It’s like a fun art or science project for us in the office. I want to know what won’t traditionally work so I can find my own way to make it work.
CZ: What inspired the need to create a functional, relaxed, fresh approach to this style?
RV: I think I carry California through my aesthetics subconsciously since I live here . . . but I thought about what could be my stamp in “MENSWEAR” and what the modern day luxury is, or what can mark this era as our double-breasted suit or a skinny suit . . . I think it’s pyjama suiting. Silhouettes that are relaxed and very American in its look and feel, but well made and tailored in an interesting and new way.
CZ: What would you like to try next?
RV: Product design. Cars? Furniture? Womenswear? Footwear? It’s pretty limitless.