Although created in 1968 as running shoes, the Puma Suede officially entered the scene in 1973, worn by basketball legend Walt Frazier, known as “Clyde,” a former player for the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Clyde” wasn’t just one of the most decorated NBA players in history; he was considered a trendsetter.
His style was always fashionable and a source of inspiration for the youths roaming the streets of New York in the early ’70s.
The nickname “Clyde” was given to him due to his passion for Clyde Barrow’s fedora in “Bonnie and Clyde.” His looks featured pinstripe suits, turtlenecks with a gold pendant on a long chain, and a wide-brimmed hat.
Puma associating the image of the Suede with such a charismatic figure was the key for the German brand to unlock all doors of street style at the time. Soon, the Puma Suede became a symbol of a fashionable, refined, and elegant style, just like “Clyde’s.”
Later on, the champion asked the German brand to produce a version bearing his name, to be associated with for the rest of his NBA career. Thus, the Puma Suede Clyde was born, essentially a consequence of the immense success of the Suede.
Back then, brands didn’t pay athletes to wear their shoes. They could have them for free, as seen with Jesse Owens and Pele, but even the greatest champion in history wasn’t paid for it.
However, for the first time in the history of a sports brand, Puma made a commercial proposal to Frazier to associate his image with the Puma “Basket” model. But when presented with the silhouette for the first time, the player deemed them heavy and stiff. Clyde wanted a shoe to wear on the parquet court and showcase for lifestyle, distinctive of his personal style. He liked the Suede model, so he asked PUMA to create his version, lighter and more flexible.
It was at that point that Walt signed Puma for his first signature sneaker: a shoe like the ‘Suede’ but more suited to his flashy style. Puma Clyde was born.
The athlete committed to wearing it off the court as often as possible, aiming to establish his namesake design as a stylish sneaker. By the end of the decade, the Suede was a solid presence on the streets, largely thanks to Clyde.
The boom continued into the ’80s, as the sneaker left the court definitively and firmly established itself in street culture: rappers and street artists like DJs, b-boys, and b-girls, graffiti MCs needed a sneaker that matched their New York look, and the suede perfectly met this requirement. In the ’90s, beyond the Hip Hop community, the Puma shoe was discovered by the skate community; in the early 2000s, it became symptomatic of a rebellious style in alternative rock.
Today, Puma Suede has made a strong return among the younger generation, thanks in part to successful collaborations with brands like Pleasures.