June Ambrose–Hip Hop’s Fashion Futurist

June Ambrose | In episode 77 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks with one of the definining music industry stylists turned fashion executive about athletisure, Jay-Z, success, and her new job as creative director at Puma.

Caribbean born, Bronx raised, Ambrose is responsible for some of hip hop’s most iconic images:  Jay-Z, Missy Elliott and Nas have all benefited from her creativity. Newly appointed creative director of Puma, she has a slew of “projects” in the works and her first collection coming this fall. We speculate about the future of athleisure post Corona, laugh at her brief stint in finance, and ponder the meaning of Jay-Z’s suit v. Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie. 

 

Read Transcript

Q&A

David: [00:00:01] 

In recent years, we have become more knowledgeable about the star making machine. How it works and who deserves credit for the looks that go global in the media, social, and otherwise. Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs get all the glory, but often making magic in the background is a stylist with a vision that brings a look to life. My guest today, June Ambrose is one of those magic makers. Caribbean-born, Bronx raised, she is responsible for some of hip hop’s most signature looks. Jay-Z shirtless in a green Dries Van Noten suit in the Apeshit video, Missy Elliott’s puffy black suit in The Rain; Supa Dupa Fly, and Nas in a pink suit and white shoes are just some of the iconic looks she stage managed. The marriage of hip hop and couture is taken for granted today, but it wasn’t so long ago when the fashion houses wanted nothing to do with the culture. Times have indeed changed with Cardi B in a Balenciaga ad and ASAP Rocky the face of Dior. Just two examples of the seismic shift. June Ambrose has seen it all and enjoyed the ride all the way to becoming the creative director of Puma. Poised to take her legacy into the world of the new normal, welcome, June Ambrose.

 

June: [00:01:29] 

Hello.

 

David: [00:01:31] 

Hi.

 

June: [00:01:32] 

How are you?

 

David: [00:01:32] 

I’m great, thank you. So a lot’s happened in the last year. Do you think we’re just going to pick up where we left off? For example, luxury versus loungewear? Or where do you see things going now?

 

June: [00:01:45] 

Oh wow. I wish it was as easy as picking up where we left off, but I think the world has been so cosmically shifted. Whether it’s the pandemic or, social injustice really being brought to the forefront. I think everyone is looking at the way they consume things now, especially consumers. I think- Yes. Luxury brands will start to look at leisure wear in a different way. I think they’ll make them more of a premium priority within the company. But, you know, retail is- retail is different. I live here in New York City. I know our city has been tremendously affected as it relates to our retail stores and restaurants being lost to what happened last year. So I don’t know if we’ll just pick up where we left off, but I think we’ll be different. We’ll be better. I think we’re more energized and charged. I know I feel more creatively charged this year than I have in a really long time.

 

David: [00:02:48] 

Yeah. I’ve been wondering, will people still want fashion in the way that things were going, before all of that. Yesterday I was in Boston, in fact, walking on Newbury Street, which is sort of the hip street down there.

 

June: [00:03:03] 

Mhm. I’m familiar.

 

David: [00:03:03] 

And I was surprised to see all these girls walking around with their shopping bags. There was a sale at Zara, and there was a line, and it was like twelve degrees out there. I guess fashion still matters.

 

June: [00:03:17] 

Great. I’m really happy to hear to that. [laughter] Because obviously the more people are shopping and going about their life as- as usual is better for everybody. So that’s great news. And this is definitely the best sales time for shopper, cause everything is marked down. People are at seventy percent mark down. So it’s really- I’m glad that people are out shopping. 

 

David: [00:03:41] 

Are you buying-

 

June: [00:03:41] 

I do more online shopping than anything. But I mean, in quarantine for so long, I haven’t really been doing much fashion shopping, to be honest. What I have done, really, is edited my closet, reinvented it. I look at things, about what’s needed and what’s not needed. What’s excessive. Really minimize a lot. Simplified a lot in my life. Which was kind of great. I think I needed it.

 

David: [00:04:12] 

In your mind’s eye now, when you, think ahead to that day when we’re gonna have some fabulous event that you want to really show what you got. Do you have any ideas what you would be wearing? Or how would you like to present yourself at that time.

 

June: [00:04:30] 

Yeah, well I gotta tell you, even before the pandemic, I was doing this like really kind of like leisure- I was like, how do I remix a pair of sweats? How do I remix jeans? I was doing this high-fashion grunge kind of thing. So, I look forward to putting on a six-inch pair of heels [laughter] and really wearing something that’s couture and sparkly and over the top, and feathered and just avant garde.

 

David: [00:04:53] 

That’s what I’m saying.

 

June: [00:05:00] 

I’ve literally lived my life fully [laughs] in loungewear, leisure wear, and athletic wear. But I do think athletic and leisure wear will also be more acceptable in the workplace and in places that you wouldn’t usually see it. I think that even moms dropping their kids off to school, they’ll be fabulous in a pair of leggings. They’ll mix that with an over the top coat, fur coat, with- a pair of leggings or something like that. So I think people are gonna want to mix comfort and fashion.

 

David: [00:05:41] 

Have you been checking out the fashion shows at all that have been going on?

 

June: [00:05:44] 

I have. [laughs]

 

David: [00:05:48] 

Do you think any of the designers have it right? What’s your feeling?

 

June: [00:05:53] 

Well what’s really fun is that designers are using their imagination. Virgil just sent down some really avant garde Wizard of Oz kind of pieces down the Louis Vuitton runway. I think designers, in terms of ready to wear, will give us the essentials, leisure is gonna really hold a nice position within the retail marketplace. But I think on the runway, they’re just going for it. You know, they’re creating all these really fabulous stories, it’s really nice to see how everyone’s approaching luxury and leisure.

 

David: [00:06:32] 

And in your world looking for and finding inspiration, which we all do, what is it that you look for or look at? Is it music, is it art, is it more fashion?

 

June: [00:06:46] 

When I’m in a creative place or just in life in general?

 

David: [00:06:49] 

In life in general.

 

David: [00:06:51] 

What do you like to do more than anything? Is it movies, binging on Netflix, or what?

 

June: [00:06:56] 

I like a good movie. I am a Netflix binger. [laughs] I love cooking. That’s also like a great relaxing outlet. Playing around with still-life. I love styling still-life. 

 

David: [00:07:20] 

Is still-life, as in mannequins or…?

 

June: [00:07:23] 

No. Like a- like a plate, you know? Or like-

 

David: [00:07:25] 

Oh. I see.

 

June: [00:07:25] 

Beauty or art, like a candle, just really having fun with playing with still-life and imagining it. Floral arrangements. I look for things that relax me and inspire me. I like peonies, and that color palette of a peonies may inspire designs that I may be working on. Um. And I’m just always looking- and I love retro movies.

 

I love happy places. So wherever I can find a little joy, I love a romantic comedy, you know?

 

David: [00:08:02] 

Yeah. Well Turner Classic Movies, TCM, is- really a cult thing.

 

June: [00:08:05] 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

David: [00:08:08] 

I’m definitely a part of that cult. Love those old movies.

 

June: [00:08:13] 

Right?

 

David: [00:08:13] 

The black and whites with everyone dressing up for everything. Suits and hats.

 

June: [00:08:18] 

Oh! [laughter] So refreshing. Yeah.

 

David: [00:08:23] 

I’d love to know how you became this person that you are today.

 

June: [00:08:32] 

Well I was always a very precocious child. [laughs] The beauty in the way I was raised, I was raised in a single parent home and my mom worked all the time. It was my sister, my mom, and myself. We were latchkey kids, so we came from school, we went home, and we had to really use our imagination behind closed doors. And I remember using what I had, elements of what was available to me. And I wanted to design clothes for my dolls and I wanted to have a retail store, and I had to create all of that environment within the confines of my fire escape. That was like my patio growing up in the Bronx. And I remember cutting up curtains, my grandma’s curtains, and designing Barbie doll dresses and gowns. And- I remember creating pocket books out of crepe paper. It’s kind of like if you take all of the technology away from your kids and you tell them to get creative, the artform is so different, you know? I miss going to the library and stuff like that. But growing up, I used to always leave the Bronx and come down to the, you know, the city and go to the TV studios for tours, and go to the museums, and walk Central Park and the Botanical Gardens, and stuff. It’s really where my curiosity was born. I also went away to the Fresh Air Fund for camp, where I spent two weeks, a month, on a farm with another family and over the summer. And I think that just kind of really allows a child growing up in the inner city a different perspective of what life could be, or what else is going on outside of the confines of where they’re being raised. I really appreciated the fact that my mom didn’t dull me, and she allowed me to be as expressive and as theatrical and dramatic, as I was. She never said things like, “Speak when you’re spoken to.” Or, you know, “Hush and sit in the corner.” She would let me sing and dance, and dress up in the wildest outfits, and be very worried when I went to school in something that was just way not appropriate. I’d come up with all kind of weirdness. And I studied theater. So when I was in high school, I was quite goth and quite- I went through a number of phases. And she didn’t fight me. She just said, “This is just who she is.” And every decision I made academically and professionally led me and molded me to the person that I was. So I thank her a lot for not over producing who I was born to be. And now that I have kids of my own, I try to give them a space to be themselves, and express themselves, and find their way. And think that’s important in growing up, so that’s the kind of the childhood I had. I was extremely loved. I never felt like I wanted for anything. Um. And I think that’s why when I’m feeling, like I’m afraid to do something, I tap into that childlike sense of memory of what would the sixteen-year-old June do, or the twenty-something-year-old June do? And it reminds me to be as fearless as I want to be. It’s because of that fearlessness, it’s why I was able to walk into any room and not be intimidated. Or ask the question and not be afraid to sound stupid. Or take the risk and create the wildest costumes for music artists. They had no reason, really, to trust me at the time when I would present them. And, getting the client to believe in me. Leaving an investment banking job with security to go and take an internship. All of those really fearless and daring things are really because of the child that I was. It made me the adult that I am.

 

David: [00:12:44] 

Well hold on there, you said something. Investment banking job? You threw that in there really quickly. [laughter]

 

June: [00:12:52] 

Trying to skirt over that.

 

David: [00:12:52] 

Where does that fit in with this girl that you were just describing, who was into theater and goth? 

 

June: [00:12:57] 

Yeah. I know, it was a total left, right? Um. You know, I was-

 

David: [00:13:02] 

Tell me- 

 

June: [00:13:04] 

I was, uh, top of my high school Senior class. And, they had this program with this firm, where they were doing some placement. And they had a position open in the research department and I decided to take the position. I wasn’t interested in finance whatsoever, the position was paying very well right out of high school. I thought that was very fascinating. I had the choice to go to college, and I had registered and had plans on going, but then I fell into this place. And I was like, “Okay.” I never questioned why some things are happening. And in the two years that I was at the firm, I understood how important it is if you have an entrepreneur spirit. Or if that is your destiny to be an entrepreneur, what you need to survive. What are the fundamentals? And I learned so much being there in the research department, and prepared myself for if and ever I was no longer gonna be working underneath a company that was gonna provide me the security, that I was then gonna take on that- that responsibility of securing myself. So that’s why I was there. But I got in all kinds of trouble. I used to come, to work with a plaid suit and combat boots. [laughter] Or, you know, cut my hair and dyed it four different colors, whatever. I would teeter on the appropriateness of the corporate look. I was the youngest one in the firm. And all the brokers would come to my department to get research material. At the time, it wasn’t available on the Internet like it is now. So I was the librarian for all of that research material. I would prepare documents and get those all to them, and I was kind of like the girl Friday. But in being that if you listen, if you become wallpaper, and you consume and you understand, and you make friends, they take care of you. And, you know, I made some friends and they made sure that I had a great 401k, they made sure that I had all the things that I needed to prepare myself for fifty years from now, you know? I had a nice portfolio and I understood why these things were important. Because when you’re in fashion it’s really a colorful place, you’re in the theater, it’s like arts. You know, struggling actors, you just think that’s like your destiny and your life. And I left there knowing that I could have both. That if I kind of put certain things into position that I would be able to leave my fifty thousand dollar job a year and go and take an internship. This was back in 2000. I can go and take an internship at a record company and leave everything.

 

David: [00:16:10] 

Oh. So you went to a record company not fashion?

 

June: [00:16:12] 

I went to a record company and that’s how I found the music world, and recognizing that there was this white space in the artist development department. Helping them to develop the artist and making them really appealing to the consumer. How do you do that? It’s visual. And being in the marketing department, it really gave me a perspective of what came before the consumer, you know? And that’s an important part of the puzzle. Understanding- okay, before music hits the marketplace, this is what it goes through. Before fashion hits the retail space, I had to learn that. Because as I took on my first styling role, I couldn’t afford to spend all of the money. At the time, the budgets were very small. It was a new concept. Artists used to dress themselves, but now here they are bringing someone to kind of help them to kind of tell the story and translate, and figure it out for them. How was I gonna make this lucrative? And I had to figure out, if I can’t spend all the money on buying clothes, I have to figure out where it comes from before. And in investigating that and understanding that, and studying, then diving into, costume design in the theater. I used to do costume design in high school. Because I was a theater major. Whenever I didn’t get the role in the part, I would costume design the piece whether it was a period piece, or whether it was like West Side Story or something very modern, I developed that skill set. But I didn’t recognize that skill set could also be used in a music space. I can use that skill set of storytelling and how costume designers in film approach putting a music video together or putting an album packaging together, and advertising. And I merged those two, um, skill sets into this space, into this world of music. And I found that that really helped me in my storytelling and the narrative and development of the artist that I had the opportunity to work with. 

 

David: [00:18:27] 

Which label? 

 

June: [00:18:28] 

It was Uptown MCA Records.

 

David: [00:18:30] 

Oh. Uptown. Okay. Puffy’s-

 

June: [00:18:31] 

The late Andre Harrell’s record company- Right. Puffy was just coming out of his internship, and Andre had given him an A&R position. I remember writing Puffy’s first bio, and always walking into his office and seeing these, uh, European fashion collection magazines on his desk, and really engaging with him that way. And I didn’t work with Puffy right away as an artist, I ended up leaving the record company once I figured out “Oh, okay. I don’t have to be here to start my own styling firm and company, and start to offer this service to the artists outside of this place.” Cause as long as I stayed there I was gonna be the intern. But if I stepped outside of that environment, I knew I could then start to create my own... company and packaging, and what I have promised my mother that I would figure out very soon and quickly. That I was gonna make some money.

 

David: [00:19:28] 

Well she can’t complain. Look at you.

 

June: [00:19:30] 

She was concerned.

 

David: [00:19:31] 

You already, you know, out of school, already had a nice paying job. You had your 401k.

 

June: [00:19:36] 

I did. I did.

 

David: [00:19:37] 

I’m sure it’s really doing well today. You’re probably all set up.

 

June: [00:19:40] 

I’m very blessed.

 

David: [00:19:43] 

Very cool. Uh. A lot of your impact comes from videos, ultimately, right?

 

June: [00:19:48] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:19:48] 

You’ve done several hundred of those. Do you feel that still could work today for someone? Or have videos lost their ability to tell those stories in the same way?

 

June: [00:20:00] 

Well it’s interesting, there’s a handful of really big musicians that are spending money on music videos still, and it’s a very small handful. It’s changed tremendously. Whereas music videos was the end all be all to really marketing and selling, the product, and now social media and technology, you could shoot a music video on your iPhone, you know? And a lot of indie bands are having a lot of success and not spending that much money. But yeah, you know, in 2019, I did six music videos with Missy Elliott. But that’s Missy Elliott. Bringing back an iconic artist to the marketplace. But imagine a costume designer or a stylist trying to start a really big huge powerful career through music video at this- with a new artist, it’s not the same. My career in music and music video started, when the budgets were small and then we blew the artist up to a really big place. And then they could afford to spend a million, three million dollar music videos. I had done music videos that were forty-five thousand dollar budgets to three million dollar budgets. You could do a film for three million dollars. Are people spending three million dollars on, um, music videos now? Very few. And they’re selling them more like movie album packages. Like Beyonce, you know, they’re doing those kinds of packages. But again, very few. In a league of their own.

 

David: [00:21:44] 

And those videos had this enormous influence giving everyone out there license to say “Hey, we can have fun also with fashion. We can wear suits. We don’t have to be street all the time. We can have fun.”

 

June: [00:22:06] 

Because storytelling. We can change the narrative, you know? Especially when you think about hip hop culture. They were able to really change the narrative through costume, through storytelling, through character development. And look at the music culture now. Because we did what we did in the early 2000s and ’90s, there’s this hip hop culture. The expression is different. Europe has- has embraced them. Couture designers are, creating one of a kind couture pieces, they’re sitting front row at fashion shows. They’re walking the runway. They’re in major million dollar advertising campaigns. Because of the work that was done then, I- I believe.

 

David: [00:22:53] 

At the same time now though, I noticed that there’s a reverse influence, with the return of the gangster look with guns and women playing these stereotypical parts.

 

June: [00:23:08] 

Mhm.

 

David: [00:23:08] 

Like 69 Tekashi and look at his style.

 

June: [00:23:18] 

[laughs] Right.

 

David: [00:23:20] 

So now you have, you know, facial tattoos and- and kids-

 

June: [00:23:24] 

Right. It’s rock and roll, right?

 

David: [00:23:26] 

Do you think that’s gonna influence fashion in the same way, when you were involved in creating those looks?

 

June: [00:23:35] 

Yeah. I think street culture influences fashion. I don’t care if  you’re Michael Kors or if you’re an urban Tommy Hilfiger brand or a Ralph Lauren, you know, there’s something about the street, the grittiness. You know, no matter what city you’re from, there’s something about the texture. I think the translation is different because of the swag of it all. But at the end of the day, you know, the swag is the personas, the personality, and I think that helps with the translation. I think that most designers are influenced by street culture in some way and somehow, whether it’s metropolitan or whether it’s inner city, it’s still street.

 

David: [00:24:25] 

Yeah. And if they’re not they’re missing the boat.

 

June: [00:24:28] 

Right.

 

David: [00:24:28] 

Cause that’s- that’s where the action is, uh, right now.

 

June: [00:24:32] 

That’s right. That’s where the excitement is. Yeah, for sure.

 

David: [00:24:34] 

They’re just doing it. They don’t give a shit what other people will think, you know what I mean?

 

June: [00:24:41] 

No permission, that’s right.

 

David: [00:24:42] 

Yeah. No permission. Just go for it. You mentioned Jay-Z, I believe. Or I’m gonna mention- I mentioned Jay-Z. [laughter] You have a long-standing relationship with him, right?

 

June: [00:24:54] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:24:54] 

With one of the world’s biggest pop stars, who famously said, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.” 

 

June: [00:25:02] 

Yeah. Don’t you love that line? [laughs]

 

David: [00:25:04] 

I do. I do. That’s, you know, I keep repeating it to everyone. So tell us how you met Jay-Z and built a trust with him,

 

June: [00:25:12] 

Wow. We’ve worked together for over twenty-five years. I met him when he had his record label. So this was before he was an artist, and he was starting a small independent record company. And, Damon Dash, his partner at the time, I was working with his cousin. And he said, “Oh, I have this, you know, this great girl that’s working with me with some of my artists. I think she can help you with some of your artists.” And I went over to meet them, and I started working and helping them develop their artists. And then Jay became an artist and I started working with him and his image and his storytelling. And we had been pretty much, uh, inseparable since. He’s just a great, collaborative partner in that way because he respects the artform, and he allows you to present your ideas. I think that kind of vulnerability really makes a good man, really makes a good artist, when you’re able to render yourself in places that you feel, you know, “I’m gonna count on you for this. I got this covered, you got this covered.” And then coming together in a mutual respect and collaborating was always how we worked together, and I think that’s super important.

 

David: [00:26:41] 

Well it must be difficult, I would think anyway, to work with someone who’s image has evolved to such an extent. From the guy in the streets, the hustler, or the Brooklyn hustler who starts the label becomes a huge pop star himself. Now he’s in the boardroom, billionaire if you want to say that. If you did a movie, the life of Jay-Z, you would have to have a different look for each one.

 

June: [00:27:16] 

I mean, well we did a movie, right? If you look at the evolution of his character as an artist, it is somewhat cinematic, you know? Years ago we did a commercial. And he was changing clothes into these different personas, the gangster, the hustler. It was all these different characters we were reenacting. And I made a kind of like a Spike Lee guest appearance, you know. [laughs] In the commercial. And it wasn’t difficult because it was somewhat a natural growth, right? We didn’t abandon the culture, the culture grew with us. It grew with him. You know, when he first stepped outside of wearing a jersey and put on a button-down shirt, and he still had baggy jeans on, but mixing, slowly evolving, you know, slowly. His first shoulder in a suit was very soft. I designed his first suit. It wasn’t the Armani that I wanted, cause Armani didn’t open the door right away. But we got there, you know? We had to slowly break down the stereotypes and the barriers and not wait for permission, but create our own lane. And that’s what we did. We didn’t let anything hold us back from getting to what we ultimately knew we were worthy of. And I say ‘we’ a lot because together I think we grew in this journey. And, it was all about the storytelling. At least, whenever, we did the music videos. Even when we were playing the hustler, you were still dealing with a very intelligent individual, and not allowing the circumstances to diminish his contribution, no matter how he was going about making a living. There was a certain sense of, like you said, executiveness, street savvy, and intelligence and smarts. He was a CEO long before he became a CEO. So I always kind of treated him that way, and always approached things that way. But we also recognized that our audience was evolving, and we wanted to grow the culture and we wanted to inspire the culture, and we didn’t want to necessarily live in the moment but we wanted to- to take it along with us. And you look at the culture, how it changed. He became king of the poster child and the sovereign of it all. He was like the king, you know, everyone looked to him, and young guys coming up looked to him for direction without even necessarily admitting it, you know? You started to see kids on the street look different. And it raised the bar, and that was always the goal.

 

David: [00:30:13] 

But because you knew that a suit wouldn’t be a problem, right? You- didn’t feel like, “Nah. That’s not gonna be- that’s not me.

 

June: [00:30:24] 

Well it had to be the right suit. Cause initially, you know, back then, you only wore a suit, really, if you were going to a funeral. Cause you weren’t required to wear a suit in their boardroom. So, it was about finding the right, you know- Like when I say Armani, it’s an Italian soft shoulder and also the juxtaposition of the body wasn’t necessarily here, initially. The shoulders weren’t necessarily pulled back initially. And as confidence and growth and understanding of structure, and I’m speaking metaphorically now, all around the board,literally and metaphorically, those shoulders became as strong as where we went with Tom Ford. So you go from a relaxed shoulder, you know, Armani, very leisure, going about your business very leisurely to getting really cocky about it and going for a really structured suit with a strong shoulder. Because, now your chest is completely puffed up and you feel the part, because your character has developed into that person.

 

David: [00:31:27] 

It’s funny, because when you think about, let’s say a Mark Zuckerberg you know, a lot of the fashion of the tech world of these young, very successful millionaires, beyond millions, sitting around in their hoodies, hardly ever thinking of putting on a suit. The cool thing is not to dress up in that way and make that statement, because they want to be more like, “Yeah, this is really not a big deal.”

 

June: [00:31:58] 

Yeah. But, you know, those are white guys. [laughter] If you look at a young black kid-

 

David: [00:32:01] 

Okay. Tell me.

 

June: [00:32:02] 

You look at a young black kid in a hoodie, you know, because of the stereotype, in this country, you wouldn’t get the same response or respect. So when you look at black culture, you know, it was almost like the washing away of all of the stereotyping, where if you have money, you wore a big chain, you wore a fancy car, or you wore a flashy fur coat. Just to wash off the stigma, wash of this, you know- you can’t wash your skin off, you know. And you basically are just really trying to earn the respect that white person may, you know, get if they were in something what would seem to be normal, cause, you know, you’d just assume they would have money. A kid with a hoodie, you know, he’s poor. You know, he’s after something, he’s scheming, he’s up to something. These are all the stereotype that, you know, the culture was trying to wash away. I don’t think it would have been the same response if it was the other way around.

 

David: [00:33:21] 

Right.

 

June: [00:33:21] 

And I think that it is something to be said and talk about.

 

David: [00:33:25] 

Yeah. I think it’s another aspect of white privilege, in a way, 

 

June: [00:33:29] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:33:30] 

You can get away with it, but it probably wouldn’t work as well on, uh, Jay-Z, for example. Or even Puffy-

 

June: [00:33:38] 

Yeah, now Jay- he can walk into a meeting with a hoodie, because, you know, he’s washed away that stereotype.

 

David: [00:33:46] 

Right.

 

June: [00:33:46] 

Through a number of reasons and outlets and measures. But initially, no. it’s been a- it’s been a journey. It’s taken a lot.

 

David: [00:33:58] 

But, Puffy, Sean was into that very early, right? He embraced that whole style, like you were saying, the European fashion look for the black man.

 

June: [00:34:08] 

Mhm. I remember when we, worked with Puffy on a fashion rocks. And I bought him a tray of Fred Leighton diamonds and chinchilla fur coat. You know, really just elevating and raising the bar in luxury fashion, and how that could be interpreted in hip hop culture was the beginning of something really big.

 

David: [00:34:31] 

It’s funny, I’m just remembering now, for a moment, when what I believe was Puffy’s first fashion show that he attended, to watch the show, and he was with Monica Lynch, uh, from Tommy Boy. And I happened to be sitting right in front of her at that show, Ru Paul was in the show as a model 

 

June: [00:34:56] 

Oh, wow.

 

David: [00:34:57] 

From Todd Oldham. Yeah.

 

June: [00:34:59] 

Oh, I love Todd Oldham. Todd Oldham was one of the first designers to loan me clothes, as a stylist, for a music video. Everyone else was like, “Who? What?” Todd had vision and he understood black culture. And kudos to him, you know, for opening the doors and allowing us to use his stuff in music videos. It really said a lot about who he was as a designer at the time.

 

David: [00:35:25] 

Cool.

 

June: [00:35:25] 

Cause it wasn’t what was normal.

 

David: [00:35:27] 

Yeah, I didn’t know about that. I knew Todd quite well back in those days. Yeah, so that’s great to hear. 

 

June: [00:35:33] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:35:34] 

Now you have this new role. So does that mean you’re just doing exclusive Puma? Is that your full-time focus at this time?

 

June: [00:35:43] 

Well it has consumed me as a creative director and- Launching collections is never easy. But my phone still rings for creative costume design stuff. Certain projects that are true and dear to me, I take on still. So yeah, I still wear many hats, but it’s not exclusive. But it’s definitely been my focus over the last year.

 

David: [00:36:12] 

And you were introduced to them by Jay, right? That was-

 

June: [00:36:15] 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

David: [00:36:15] 

Helped, uh, gave you the stamp of approval.

 

June: [00:36:18] 

Jay forged that relationship. Absolutely.

 

David: [00:36:21] 

So what do they expect from you? What are they looking for you to do there?

 

June: [00:36:25] 

I was brought in for two reasons. Really kind of bridge the gap between fashion and sportswear. And, you know, this is something that I did also in the early 2000s and ’90s, bringing sportswear and making it luxury. When you think about what I did with Missy Elliott and leather jogging suits, and Puffy and his whole Bad Boy company, and just really taking that luxury fabric and creating, you know, um, sport, you know, athletic silhouettes was part of the storytelling. Now in this particular space with Puma now, it’s like how do we get consumers to look at Puma in a fashion space or in a leisure lifestyle space. Not just athletic or performance, but wearing your Puma leggings or wearing your Puma sweatshirt is fashionable and cool and acceptable. First thing I’m working with them in launching their first women’s basketball collection. And, in taking on that role, it’s allowed me to address certain, social justice things that we’re gonna really try to tackle. Female equality, how, women in sports are treated. So we’re gonna be able to tackle those conversations too. Gender neutrality, we’re gonna tackle all that. And also just creating another space and opportunity for young designers, women, and definitely addressing of color, and helping them to kind of level the playing field. Where we’re creating opportunity to at least be looked at and seen and considered is something that I’m taking on as well.

 

David: [00:38:18] 

Yeah. The women in the WNBA are amazing, but they’re not really known, enough, I think.

 

June: [00:38:27] 

Right. Yeah.

 

David: [00:38:27] 

And they could be great representatives for the story. And they’re also very progressive, in terms of social justice, in the last year.

 

June: [00:38:34] 

Oh yeah. Yeah. I think that their views, their voices, you’re right, a lot- And the whole idea of Title Nine has been brought up again. It’s like you’re funding and you’re writing the law, but the action isn’t necessarily attached to that piece of paper. So we want to try to bring all that up again and hopefully make a difference.

 

David: [00:39:02] 

Are you sort of doing the opposite now, in the sense of bringing sports to fashion? As opposed to fashion to- to the streets.

 

June: [00:39:12] 

[laughs] Exactly. Exactly.

 

It’s bridging, performance with style. When you think about performance, most of the time you think about it as just performance it’s black, it’s blue, but if you can infuse performance with a little bit of design and color, I think that that’s a little of a refreshing space. And I kind of looked, the first capsule collection to- embody a little bit of that. Where it’s not over the top, it’s just there. And you can integrate it into your lifestyle.

 

David: [00:40:03] 

I had Steve Smith on my show, the sneaker designer.

 

June: [00:40:08] 

Yes. Yeah.

 

David: [00:40:08] 

Works with Kanye now.

 

June: [00:40:10] 

Amazing. He’s awesome.

 

David: [00:40:11] 

And one of the things he was saying, which reminded me of what you were saying, that his goal when he makes a shoe is that it’s high performance first. You know, cause that’s what the brand is. And then, you know, the design to go with it, to make it fabulous.

 

June: [00:40:30] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:40:30] 

But it has to have the high performance.

 

June: [00:40:34] 

Well I think people are focusing a lot on function. And they are investing more into technology, which is great. We have a lot of work to do, and it’s been really exciting exploring this space with the brand. They’ve been super supportive and I look forward to really taking our time in developing something that has a little bit of longevity and that will ultimately change the consumer perspective of the brand down the road.

 

David: [00:41:10] 

So when will we see it-

 

June: [00:41:11] 

And being able to work with different divisions in the company too, across the board. They have not tethered me to just working with women’s basketball. That I’m able to work throughout the company in women’s space as a creative director.

 

David: [00:41:24] 

Yeah. I would hope so. When will we see some of this?

 

June: [00:41:28] 

This Fall.

 

David: [00:41:29] 

Ooh.

 

June: [00:41:29] 

So September. We’ll start sharing stuff in September. First drop in October.

 

David: [00:41:35] 

Cool. Thank you. It’s exciting.

 

June: [00:41:36] 

Yeah.

 

David: [00:41:36] 

It was so nice talking with you today, June Ambrose. Thank you.

 

June: [00:41:39] 

It was. Thank you, David.

 

 

 

Subscribe

* indicates required
Interests