Can Rhuigi Villaseñor, the Arizona Coyotes’ New Creative Strategist, Make Hockey Cool?

Can Rhuigi Villaseñor, the Arizona Coyotes’ New Creative Strategist, Make Hockey Cool?

Rhuigi Villaseñor wears many hats. He’s the founder of Rhude. He’s the creative director of Bally and presented his first collection for the Swiss luxury label last month. He has partnered with Zara to deliver the more affordable Redesigning Human Uniform line. And we haven’t even touched on the projects with brands like Puma or Starter yet. The 30-year-old is clearly a busy man. But that won’t stop him from adding yet another job to his extensive résumé. Villaseñor’s newest title: creative strategist of the Meruelo Group, an organization with a portfolio that includes the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes and Sahara Las Vegas casino.

“Everything that I’ve done lately has really been about the unorthodox and something that’s unexpected. To me, it’s beyond me trying to do a hockey jersey,” Villaseñor tells Complex. “It’s about raising the level of interest in the sport and in the Arizona Coyotes, and creating something that isn’t limiting to the sport. It’s about creating clothes that I want to wear with a pair of jeans.”

In his new role, Villaseñor will be creating apparel for Coyotes fans and Rhude customers alike. The Americana-inspired gear includes T-shirts, hoodies, caps, and other accessories. Each item clearly takes cues from Rhude–like vintage-washed black T-shirts sporting faded images of canyons and cacti, caps that replace the usual Rhude “R” logo with “AZ” in Coyotes team colors, or arch logo hoodies fused with new elements like “Coyotes Hockey” and criss-crossed hockey sticks. Along with the merch offerings, Villaseñor has also designed an alternate jersey set to be revealed in the coming months that will be worn on the ice by the team throughout the upcoming season.

“He’s truly a visionary. I didn’t know how to get to him, but I knew I had to get to him. He’s a one of a kind talent, and so we’re really excited to bring him on board,” says Alex Meruelo Jr., chief brand officer of the Arizona Coyotes. “We’ve set out on a mission to reimagine how sports interact with their fans, and we really wanted to push the boundaries of sports and fashion.”

The move isn’t entirely surprising when you consider the culture that has been established within this particular franchise. The Coyotes were the first NHL franchise to implement a relaxed dress code in the league and allow its players to wear custom slates on the ice. Sound familiar? Rules like this have been beneficial to the NBA in its ongoing journey to become the most fashionable professional sports league by a wide margin. By partnering with Villaseñor, the Coyotes seem to be taking some pointers from the NBA in an effort to bring more excitement to the sport. The NBA has tapped prominent designers like Don C and Daniel Arsham to take on similar roles for the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively. Villaseñor is hopeful that working with an NHL team will open the door for other creatives to do the same. 

“It’s really all about being the first person who hops in the pool to see if it’s cold. If it’s not, we all jump in. To me, right now, we’re jumping in a pool that’s already warm. If someone doesn’t see that it’s warm, that’s crazy,” says Villaseñor. “You’ll start to see other projects within the hockey field that are unprecedented. All it takes is one good project to pop. I think it’ll become the new igniter.”

Ahead of the announcement, we sat down with Villaseñor to discuss his latest gig, future plans for Rhude, his thoughts on his first Bally presentation in Milan, and more. 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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