The spiritual home of streetwear has always been New York City. It was there that designers, artists, and boutiques converged, growing and shifting until, before you knew it, a style movement had occurred. From the very beginning one of the heroes of that movement was Alife — the Lower East Side label who are celebrating fifteen years on the scene. To mark the milestone, Alife designers Jesse Villanueva and Manny Sanchez teamed up with sneaker goliath Puma to create a footwear collection. Limit’d caught up with Jesse to find out how the duo went about designing a collection that references the legacy of both brands while simultaneously stepping in to the future.
Hey man, can you introduce yourself?
Jesse Villanueva, Alife New York, Magic and Illusion Dept.
Tell us a little bit about the Alife brand, what’s the vision behind the label?
The vision is to amplify the culture that surrounds us.
Is Alife a lifestyle?
Alife is the amalgamation of expression within our community. We try to shed light on the things that make sense to us. In that, a lifestyle has spawned and risen from the ashes like a phoenix with a Yanks hat on.
You guys are a stalwart of the New York streetwear scene, how much has it changed in the past 15 years?
The world used to be smaller. There’s less personal interaction now. I’m not mad at where things are by any stretch of the imagination. If you can’t embrace change for what it is, growth seems pretty grim. I love the idea of amplification through technology. If you look at what Futura was doing early online with Project Dragon, it really is an interesting outlet to get freaky with. I love that people have a place to get weird.
Do you miss the old New York at all?
No idea, I can’t even think like that. Change and progression is beautiful. I love nostalgia, but we’re not 100 per cent guided by it.
How did the PUMA collaboration come about?
A guy reached out to a guy. We saw smoke signals in the sky.
You’ve picked some pretty iconic models to work with. What brought you to the patterned R698 and Blaze of Glory silhouettes specifically?
I’ve always loved sneakers that were inspired by change and updated technology. Items that change the course of the future are always of interest.
The Blaze of Glorys were inspired by the Alife sessions, right? How important is music to the Alife identity?
It’s a part of the web that we exist in. The music may be the most integral part, as it’s kind of the underlying essence. It’s the material the web is made of.
When you take on a project like this, what are you looking for in a collaborator?
A connection is most important. Whether that connection is from today or many moons ago, there needs to be a connection.
What makes PUMA the right fit for the Alife brand?
The PUMA Suede and Clyde are such a part of this city’s history. There is such a connection historically. You can go through pictures over the last 50 years and see these styles’ life story. The idea that something can resonate for so long is crazy. It’s also pretty crazy to be able to work on a shoe you’ve worn most of your life. I’ve literally been wearing them for 32 years. Asking for them as a kid, hunting for them as a young adult, and then being able to work on them is pretty wild.
Do you think the collection captures the essence of Alife, and Lower East Side New York?
It captures our piece of the essence.
If you had one perfect day to show someone the LES, what would it look like?
We’d play lazer tag, free piraguas for everyone and all the police would be on vacation in Barbados.
You guys have been holding it down in streetwear for so long, where do you think the industry is heading?
Who knows? Hopefully it keeps a sense of grace. Hopefully there’s a sense of identity and people doing what they want because they can. We all got into this world to do us, I hope that’s never lost.