June Ambrose on Hip-Hop, High Fashion, and Her New Puma Partnership

June Ambrose’s impact on fashion is undeniable: the dominance of streetwear, the influx of hip-hop performers in high fashion campaigns, and sneaker culture can all be traced back to the template that Ambrose created in the 1990s. As the stylist for high profile artists like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, and Diddy, she connected music with the world of European luxury, dressing her clients in looks that remain iconic to this day. Missy floating through the “The Rain” video in a glossy patent leather, Diddy walking through a halo of lights in his shiny suit in “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” and Jay-Z’s bevy of supermodels putting on an impromptu show during “Change Clothes”—the list goes on. The imagery would change the relationship between fashion’s old guard and rap’s power players, and go on to influence a generation of designers who grew up immersed in MTV. 

Twenty-five years on and Ambrose remains powerful, her reach having expanded into films (she created look of Hype William’s now classic 1998 crime drama, Belly) TV hosting, writing, and now design. This morning, Puma announced Ambrose’s role as their new creative director, putting her at the helm of one of the world’s biggest brands. Set to advise and design across multiple categories, she’s eager to visually and philosophically take Puma into new territory. “This was definitely on my bucket list,” she shared on the phone. “To be in a position where I’m part of the development and in those meetings where we decide what we should be representing and how we can truly grow.”

Ambrose has never minced words about fashion’s ability to impact society, and by viewing style through that lens, her contributions have had a wide-reaching effect. “There are very few people that indisputably shift culture,” says music legend Jay-Z, her frequent collaborator, and close friend. “That is something June has done for over 25 years. Her pure energy and spirit come to life through her fashion and designs.” The artist’s belief in Ambrose’s talents led him to introduce her to Puma CEO Bjørn Gulden and global director of brand marketing Adam Petrick, following Jay’s involvement as creative director of the brand’s Hoops range in 2018. “When he partnered with Puma, I got to see the brand [through] one of my closest friends. We always talk about legacy, about how we can leverage what we have done over the years to have a positive impact,” Ambrose adds.

Her conversations with Gulden and Petrick convinced her that a partnership could be fruitful, while both men were impressed by her vision and scope. “When I spoke to Adam, I knew that collaborating with Puma would be a beautiful experience and that it would transcend beyond the products,” says Ambrose. “We can do things that impact the culture like what we did with music videos, and Black music in the ’90s and early ’00s. We were able to go global and change the narrative.”

Though talks about the project began before the coronavirus pandemic and 2020’s ongoing protests against police violence, the year and its events have shaped Ambrose’s goals. “Timing is important,” she says. “Right now, a light is being shined on these issues. I’ve always felt a calling to create with purpose. I don’t want just to make clothes, I want people to feel fearless and inspired, to create a space where young men and women feel empowered on and off the court and use that to disrupt things a little bit.” To that end, Ambrose plans to amplify some of Puma’s existing charitable initiatives and spearhead new ones that put the brand’s international reach to good use. “They’re already working with several organizations that focus on fighting inequality in race, gender, and sexuality, which was very important to me,” she says. “Using my voice to amplify that will be one of the most fulfilling parts of the next chapter of my career.”

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