Q&A: En Noir’s Rob Garcia Talks PUMA Collection, Corporate Collabos

By Halley Haitt  |  02/16/2017

Rob Garcia / En Noir

Back in 2015, designer Rob Garcia left En Noir, just as the brand was making its mark on a rising fashion genre that blurs high-end luxury with streetwear appeal. Apparently, there were issues internally that put things on hold, but ultimately, Garcia returned a year later and En Noir hit the ground running.

Following successful seasonal releases, which were carried in retailers like Barneys New York, En Noir recently partnered with PUMA for a limited collection, dubbed "Carpe Noctum," aka "Seize the Night". Bringing its dark aesthetic to PUMA, En Noir blacked out the brand's iconic Clyde and new IGNITE evoKNIT silhouettes for a limited release.

Earlier this month, as the En Noir x PUMA collection rolled into stores like Footaction, we caught up with Rob Garcia at a private dinner to discuss some of En Noir's history, their dark themes, and where PUMA (and other corporations) fit into their vision.

En Noir reemerged last year after a bit of a hiatus. What made you walk away from a successful brand, and what made you return?

Coming up on the five-year anniversary in August... and you know, En Noir has had quite a crazy trajectory -- we've had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I think at that time, we were coming off of our craziest stretch of success and our Achilles heel was things that were beyond our control. We had issues with investors and it happened to go legal, so it wasn't a matter of me wanting to leave, it was that I really wasn't able to do what I needed to do with the brand, because of certain restraints. I started to do a couple projects outside of it, while the situation with En Noir cleared through. Once it did, we hit the ground running. We had a great release. [Barneys New York] took us back. That got things going again, and that's what sparked the resurgence.

The brand obviously blurs the line between high-end menswear and streetwear aesthetics... where does that come from and why does it work?

I would say we were one of the first ones blurring those lines. It definitely stems from the origin of my design in streetwear. I come from streetwear. My first brand was Black Scale. I have a natural dark aesthetic and it's nice to see the dark aesthetic being embraced more by luxury and high-fashion... or whatever you wanna call it. It makes blurring those lines a little more easier than it used to be. I think it was just a matter of time. For us, it's authentic for us to blur those lines, but keep it still dark in its origin of aesthetic.

You've given this PUMA collection an all-black take. I hear this was inspired by Night. Can you tell us more about your thought process behind the design?

This collection is tagged "Carpe Noctum", which is "Seize the Night". Everyone is usually "Carpe Diem" (Seize the Day), you know, so we stayed true to the brand and our dark aesthetic. For me, during my process in designing and being creative, it happens more in the evening. For me, a lot of things happen in the evening, so it was important to embrace that for this collection. We've worked with other colors, we've worked with black and white, but it just made sense to do it all black. With the details on it, even though it's all black, you see different shades, due to the materials. It has its details and it looks special, even though it is very tonal and monochromatic.

En Noir x PUMA Collection
En Noir x PUMA Collection
En Noir x PUMA Collection
En Noir x PUMA Collection

Where does PUMA fit into your vision for fashion? And, why did it make sense to come together for this collaboration?

Puma's been doing high-fashion projects for a while. They're owned by Kering -- Kering owns Saint Laurent, Gucci, Bottega Veneta... so they have a history of being in the high-fashion world. It was just a matter of finding the right balance, and that balance comes from PUMA, with their expertise being more in athletic and technical aspects, and partnering with a brand like us, where our focus is: executing high-end product. At the end of the day, luxury comes down to the ingredients and execution.

This relationship happened organically. We were able to come up with something special, because [PUMA] was able to focus on what their strong suit is and they let us doing what we were doing. We came up with a shoe that balances the worlds of athletic, technical and leisure with luxury, high-end execution.

As for the rest of the collection, can you give us a brief rundown of the pieces you chose, their design and how they fit into the overall aesthetic?

For this first release, we decided to go real limited. We did two shoes: the Clyde and the [IGNITE evoKNIT]. The Clyde is a very classic silhouette. It's like a staple piece since the beginning of PUMA, and the evoKNIT is their newest model -- probably their most technologically-advanced shoe. We basically took the origin of PUMA, and then, hit it with other end of the spectrum with their newest shoe.

Going back into this release, this is a really balanced release. It was important to highlight the classic and what they're doing new. They have such a rich history, but also, PUMA is now known for the new stuff they're doing. They have Rihanna and the aesthetic of the brand is evolving. It was nice for them to have En Noir highlight the history and classic aspect and all the new, cool stuff they're doing too.

Athletic brands like PUMA, Adidas and Nike really make an effort to attach themselves with authentic brands and individuals. How do you feel about major corporate brands partnering with influencers and designers such as yourself? And, how does that effect the industry overall?

Good question. I think this relationship between corporations and brands -- whether they're high-end, streetwear or contemporary -- it's a relationship that's been evolving. It wasn't a matter of the two sides wanting to work together, I think it was a matter of -- I would say -- corporations embracing brands. The languages that are spoken between the two are very different. There's so many differences coming from a corporation and how they do things, and brands like us. We're very independent and just have a very different approach. So, it's really both sides embracing each other and knowing that, coming together to work on a project, each side should focus their expertise... which only enhances the project. Sometimes, when you work with a corporation, they're used to taking over and doing everything, instead letting you do what they asked you to do.

I think it's been an evolution, and it's nice to see more corporations being able to work with independent brands like myself and others. And, you see great product coming out of it. Before, these relationships weren't there and the consumer was missing out. At the end of the day, you're gonna get great product when you have these relationships.