new RHUDE world order Rhuigi Villaseñor
Nine years old, with watchful eyes, Rhuigi Villaseñor arrived in the United States from the Philippines, settling with his family in the San Fernando Valley, he quickly began to learn America.
Barely knowing a word of English, Rhuigi had a Disneyfied understanding of American culture. It was the early 2000’s, the height of Tupac era; Brittany Spears and NSYNC were on pop radio. His first day of school he sported Sketchers shoes, a Spalding vest and zip-up cargo pants, he was an easy target on the playground. The ridicule did not best him, it taught him.
His mom an artist and talented seamstress, his dad and architect, Rhuigi was surrounded by an elevated aesthetic. He watched, listened and learned from his new surroundings, pop culture and became a teacher and he was an apt student. Particularly NBA basketball players gave semantic insight, especially the killers: the way Kobe Bryant talked, the suave sureness and ruthless grace with which he carried himself, or how reed-thin Allen Iverson turned a giant man’s game into his own hip hop work of art, all by sheer force of will. Rhuigi thus understood early in his years that life was an act of self-creation.
By the time Villaseñor’s freshman year of high school came around he was head-to-toe in monochromatic black, Chrome Hearts, safety from mockery. But Rhuigi possessed an innate bent towards experiment, so he decided to switch up his style, he went 180…
“I was that kid that tested the boundaries, that needed the limits, and tried to break the rules. One day I decided I was going to be colorful, so I wore like a pinstripe American Apparel shirt and skittle pants,” Rhuigi says. “And yeah, I got bullied. Jesus, I got bullied. To me, that is when someone doesn’t understand an idea. That is what interested me: how can I get them? I think it’s probably the Leo in me, or whatever: how can I engage them, and convince them to like the idea, or just open up to it?”
Somehow, he got them. His sister Rhoxy recalled that Rhuigi had skittle jeans in every color and just kept the look going.
“Next thing I know, I see everyone wearing these skittle jeans,” Rhoxy later told GOAT magazine. “I think that planted a seed. He was in fashion class in high school and taking pattern classes after school. He was determined to learn and make something happen, and he did.”
Rhuigi learned fast. He was the valedictorian of his high school class. During his speech at the graduation ceremony, he told his classmates exactly what he was going to do: start a fashion company and take over the world.
“I look back at high school and there is that cool table,” Rhuigi says. “There’s always that one table that’s very, very cool and the rest is a bit not. And I responded as if the cool table is everyone’s table. I want to break the idea of cool as to just more of a universal feeling, as to everyone.”
His other response was to take what appeared to be a disadvantage — arriving to a country without its language, literally and culturally — and forge his purity into a competitive edge.
“I actually see that as such an insane advantage that I came here not understanding a single English [word] or even knowing how to have a simple conversation,” he says. “I came here when I was nine years old, I spoke purely Tagalog, and a bit of English, like ‘stop’ and ‘water’ and ‘go.’ But as I get older, it’s become very, very evident to me that it was an advantage that I saw the world, or American pop culture, as an empty canvas. I had no restrictions in understanding what it was, and I studied what it is that people gravitated to.”
After high school he set about doing exactly what he said he was going to do. His parents had hoped he and Rhoxy would study medicine; instead, Rhuigi enlisted Rhoxy to help him build a fashion brand. He was living on her couch and their brand didn’t yet have a name when their big break happened: Kendrick Lamar wore the very first item Rhuigi had designed for his fledgling brand, a black and white paisley bandana T-shirt, at the BET Hip Hop awards.
A few days after, Rhuigi remembers driving around in his sister’s beat-up Toyota and crying tears of joy when thousands of orders appeared as if by magic. It was 2012 and he was 20 years old. The next year, he named the brand. The Rhude world order had arrived.
Seven years later and Rhude is a go-to brand in premium street wear.
Rhude, the product of Rhuigi’s tutelage to pop culture, now helps shape that culture. His childhood hero, Kobe Bryant, is a Rhude wearer, as is the current king of the NBA, LeBron James (who suggested, successfully, that the Rhude be featured on the wildly popular NBA 2K20 video game). Rhude has also steadily expanded the range of its brand, from tees and hoodies to its iconic “traxedo” pants to footwear and, most recently, modernist furniture.
Rhude’s streetwear leanings and pop culture references are evident, from recontextualizing popular logos on its graphic tees and button-up shirts to the Marlboro “Fumer Malle” (smoke trunk) accessories, all with a knowing nod to Warhol and an exuberant commentary on consumer culture. But there’s another strain that runs through everything Rhuigi designs, a clean sort of classicism that hearkens to his love of modern design but also speaks to his own sense of narrative. It’s what makes Rhude utterly unique, and groundbreaking; the brand is obliterating not only the walls between streetwear brands and big fashion houses, but between past and present. Virgil Abloh, has called Rhuigi “the future of fashion.” Forbes magazine listed him in its “30 under 30” list of culture influencers.
Rhuigi cannot help but look back as he looks forward. His realization is everything came from his family.
“My father was an architect so he was very archetypal, and very classic in his style,” he says. “My mother was an artist and she was our stay-at-home mother, and she was a seamstress as well. But as I get older I start to really understand where the components of my life come from that turned me into who I am. My father wore a lot of vintage Gucci, which is vintage now but back then was Gucci. He wore a clutch with really high waisted pleated pants and loafers. Just a classic man. My mother, she painted a lot. If it was a home, my father did the foundation, and my mother furnished it, and added all the colors and all the wonderful artwork in there.” This summer, the brand made its debut at Paris Fashion Week, taking over Lycée Carnot, the prestigious high school where Riccardo Tisci held many of his Givenchy shows. Rhuigi took his little brother, Rhayaden, to help in Paris, while his sister stayed back in LA to run Rhude HQ. “It’s part of my culture to have the family very super-united,” Rhuigi says.
And in LA, he considers Maxfield an essential part of his artistic family. He still recalls with awe the very first time he stepped into the store as a teenager, and his recent pop-up event at Maxfield — where he debuted his furniture — is a testament to the boutique’s influence in the ongoing emergence of Rhude.
“Maxfield is definitely my favorite store in the world,” he says. “Again, when we talk about rules and breaking rules — in my head, Maxfield is the standard boutique retailer that is able to communicate in many different fields, not just in fashion itself. When I first walked in when I was a kid, before I was even able to buy anything, I saw it almost as like a trip to LACMA, like a MOMA. It was a gallery trip, and I think through that, it built a dreamer in me.”
Working with Maxfield, Rhuigi says, is a very personal and fulfilling experience. He credits founder Tommy Perse for helping a new generation of designers find their fullest freedom of expression.
“I think it shines with Tommy’s passion, of course,” he says. “I think it’s about the brands they cultivate with it, and the way they want to grow with the brands that they work with. They give essentially a freedom to work in this space with them, and I think that is why kids are very open to them. It continually transcends, for 50 years now, and that’s not easy to do…For such a small boutique like Maxfield, the way it amplifies — I mean, it’s a small store but a very, very big voice.”
Rhuigi, as is his way, studies Maxfield. He says that as Rhude reaches a point of global distribution, he hopes to keep the purity of his intentions in everything he does, keeping his family close and the kids who have been his most stalwart followers close to his heart and mind.
“I think that is how we are scaling, how we are going to evolve, is going with the roots of why we started and making sure that the message is still crystal clear,” Rhuigi says. “I think the worst mistake is to try to catch the speed of the stampede, instead of trying to slow it down and make sure that the herd is still together.”
"it's about the person"
The nine-year-old Rhuigi, in other words, is still very much present. He hopes to help the kids who love Rhude understand that fashion is about more than clothes and is only part of the finest art, that of self-creation.
“Really, the message to kids that kind of watch my work is to not focus so much on fashion but focus on the likely behaviors of people, why people do the things they do, and why they like the things they like,” Rhuigi says. “‘Cause clothes are clothes. It’s about the person.”