Award-winning costume designer June Ambrose joined Puma in 2020 and has wasted no time in making her presence felt. Puma, led by Ambrose, has officially launched its women's hoops category behind the Puma High Court Collection, a basketball-inspired lifestyle collection that takes specifically into account the everyday life of the professional woman athlete.
With a talented roster of WNBA stars, Puma is focusing in on what makes the likes of Skylar Diggins-Smith, Breanna Stewart, Katie Lou Samuelson and Jackie Young so special. As a veteran in the fashion world, Ambrose took inspiration from Title IX -- a federal civil rights law -- in the making of the High Court Collection to fill the void in the industry when it comes to meeting the needs of women in sports.
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In an exclusive interview with CBS Sports, Ambrose discusses the idea behind the High Court Collection, Puma's deep WNBA roster, the importance of Title IX, her friendship with Jay-Z and much more.
The collection is officially available starting Dec. 1 across all Puma platforms.
CBS Sports: As an icon in the fashion world, what is it about the Puma High Court Collection that you're most proud of and ready for the world to see?
June Ambrose: A number of things. I'm excited to put women in the collection but mainly excited to have the opportunity to launch the women's hoop division for Puma. It's a huge milestone for the brand. That's what really excites me. The idea that I get to see athletic fashion in a stylish way and being able to bring that to the marketplace through my lens has been very exciting. I don't think it's anything that anyone is really expecting because when they look at my body of work they might think I'm going to do a blowup suit or some shiny bombers or something like that. The process was so different and I really thought about the customer along the way.
CBS: The collection is inspired by Title IX. Why is it important to you that in fashion, and now sports, women receive nothing less than equal treatment?
JA: We signed Breanna Stewart, we have Skylar Diggins-Smith, we have Katie Lou Samuelson, we have Jackie Young -- those women work really hard all year and they, unlike the male players, don't get time off. They have to work all year round to make up those wages. Title IX was built to prohibit sexual discrimination and that's very telling. The timing of this collection couldn't be any more right. The fact that this collection is going to celebrate their fearlessness, their contribution, their right to pass. Everything that has to do with what they go through on their day-to-day and that we can utilize this collection to kind of amplify that conversation is great because no one is really talking about it in that.
CBS: Skylar Diggins-Smith, and some of the other women of the PUMA Hoops roster, will be part of the campaign to go along with the collection. What can you say about Skylar and the rest of the WNBA athletes on the Puma roster and how they can come together with this collection?
JA: All of our girls speak to their own strengths. Skylar, particularly, struck me. She's been with the brand for a while now. She's been a wonderful ambassador and partner and I'm really looking forward to developing things with her as one of our Puma assets. No one talks about women in basketball like how they talk about the men. I really want to change that conversation. I want to create the girls club because right now it's a boys club. When we shot all four of our girls together they had never been shot together before, and just seeing all four of them together was magical. It really showed that when women hold court together how powerful and strong they can be. They became one and at the end of the day as women we're all on the same team so I really want to sharpen that conversation more through this lens.
CBS: If this collection is a starting point, what are some of the other things you hope to do alongside Puma to further grow and drive equality in women's sports?
JA: Life is a sport. I really want to push a narrative that just because something has performance ability that it can't be stylish, especially coming out on the other side of the pandemic. The narrative of sportswear and athleisure wear has changed completely. It's so much more socially acceptable that I had to create a collection that spoke to that. That spoke to the needs of not just the athlete on the court but off the court, so I like to say that it's 'from the court to the courtside.' The collection is built on performance pieces, but we also have lifestyle pieces so it's for that athlete as she's walking through the tunnel. You know the guys have had some great tunnel moments; it's time for us to have some tunnel moments.
CBS: Tunnel looks have taken over the sports world over the last few years. How cognizant of that are you when it comes to putting a collection together?
JA: The tunnel has become a runway. When I was designing the collection I had to think about the fact that this may not be Thom Browne, but it should be just as unique, iconic and eye-catching as any high fashion moment. I think it's even better because it has the performance-infused ability. The DNA of this collection comes from a place of skill, a place of performance and sport. It's a celebration of women and their contribution in this space. As you go through the collection you can see that I thought about what it's like to travel from city to city as a player. Being able to not have a huge suitcase of over 100 outfits and knowing how versatile things need to be when you're traveling. The collection is designed to be interchangeable in so many ways. We have a jacket that can be worn seven different ways, that consumer that is playing the style game is going to immediately find that to be a really great purchase. The energy of the collection, the cut lines, the colors -- I just see them coming through a tunnel. I'm going to redefine the tunnel as the runway.
CBS: You say 'fashion is definitely not a sprint, it's a marathon'. What are some of the key things you've learned along this marathon?
JA: Tap into your authentic intelligence. Speak up for yourself. My mom always said 'closed mouths don't get fed.' Course correct, we have the ability to do that. Know that you have the ability to change the narrative. I've learned so many things and I'm still learning. I'm always surprised at the new things I learn at different opportunities along this journey.
CBS: You've been associated with Jay-Z for a long time. You both are playing big roles for Puma right now. Can you speak to the impact you've both had on each other through the years?
JA: I think that's why our relationship spans over 20 years because of the mutual respect of each one's ability and skill set. I'm always in awe of his business acumen. He's always handled his business. I worked with Jay before he was an artist when he had his independent record label so we really go back. Just seeing how he's evolved as a businessman and as a human has been nothing less than inspiring. The fact that he has witnessed my growth and respects my ability and my skill set, he's a great collaborator and I think that's what it takes to have a really well-formed relationship that sustains the test of time.
CBS: In your own words tell me why Puma is the place to be for any athlete looking to elevate their swag.
JA: I'm definitely flipping the script. Not necessarily chasing that hypebeast, trendy moment. When the world thinks of Puma they don't necessarily think of it from this stylistic way. It's from a classic way with the tracksuits that they've been game-changers in that way for a long time. That narrative that they've been speaking to over the years has been classic, timeless and traditional. Now we're going to flip it on its head a little bit and do things that are not expected. It's a huge risk but I like taking risks and I've been doing it throughout my career but I take risks with a sense of authority. I have to forecast, it's one of my super powers. I love putting square blocks in round holes. With this collection there's a little nostalgia, bringing in the history of Puma, the history of Title IX, the history of black colleges, the history of women in the sport. There's so many little nuances. We're celebrating women and that's what I wanted to do.