Founded in 1948 by Rudolf Dassler, Puma has gone on to become synonymous for blending athleticism with aesthetics, 2023 marks 75 years of fashion innovation for the brand. The brand’s journey includes significant milestones like the introduction of the pioneering Puma Atom, the world’s first football shoe with screw-in studs.
Under the guidance of Helmut Fischer, Puma has become a global powerhouse, pushing the envelope, stacking up collaborations and introducing innovation.
Fischer’s vision not only shaped Puma’s identity but also transformed the perception of athleisure in the fashion world, leaving a lasting impact on the industry.
ELLE: Reflecting on Puma’s 75-year journey, what do you believe has been the brand’s most significant impact on the sportswear industry, and how have you personally witnessed this evolution during your time with the company?
Helmut Fischer: One moment I witnessed personally and which I believe was one of the moments which turned Puma into a global brand, was when Boris Becker won Wimbledon at the age of only 17 in 1985. Puma had developed a completely new tennis racket and a new mid-size tennis shoe, in red and white, for him and his victory was nothing short of sensational.
But there were several other moments, such as when Puma signed a very young Brazilian football player, who was unknown at the time, global superstar Pelé or when Usain Bolt broke the 100m world record in 2009. All these moments contributed to Puma becoming a “Forever Faster” sports brand.
ELLE: You’ve been an integral part of Puma for over four decades. Can you share a pivotal moment or a challenging period in Puma’s history that has greatly influenced the brand’s identity today?
HF: Puma was always doing well when it focused on its DNA as a sports brand and not so well when it tried to do other things. In the late 1980s the Dassler family, which had founded Puma, left the company and Puma. This was a very bad time for the company, as the strategy was aimed at the lower end of the market.
In 1993, Jochen Zeitz, a very young, ambitious manager took over as CEO and with him, PUMA returned to being a sports brand. However, at the end of his tenure, I believe we focused too much on lifestyle products and not on sports.
Since 2013, Puma has returned to being a sports brand. Our current CEO Arne Freundt continues with this strategy of focusing on sport.
ELLE: Your passion for Puma is evident in your collection of over 3,000 pairs of Puma shoes. Can you tell us about one particular pair that holds special significance to you and the brand’s history?
HF: I collected 7,000-8,000 pairs of sneakers, pieces of apparel and accessories between 1978 and 2023. This was my private collection. In 2012, I brought them all to Puma to start the Puma Archive.
The Puma KING football boots, worn by Pelé, Maradona and Lothar Matthäus are among my favourites. But I also cherish the many shoes given to me by sports legends such as Michael Schumacher, Usain Bolt, Ralph Sampson and Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
ELLE: Puma has a rich legacy of collaborating with iconic athletes and celebrities. Could you share a memorable story about working closely with a sportsman or woman that left a lasting impression on you and the brand?
HF: Tommie Smith is the greatest athlete for me. He sacrificed his career to stand up against racism. I’ve met him many times and he is a great man and a great athlete.
But I also remember that Michael Schumacher, the last time he visited Puma, gave me the Puma shoes he wore during his Ferrari years and said: “Helmut, you can take better care of them.” That was very special.
ELLE: In the rapidly changing landscape of sportswear and fashion, what innovative approaches do you believe have kept Puma ahead of the curve, and what can we expect from the brand in terms of innovation and sustainability in the future?
HF: At Puma, we have a culture of firsts. In 1952, we were the first company to mass-produce a football boot with screw-in studs. But there are so many other examples such as the RS-Computer Shoe in 1986, the first smart running shoe, or the Puma-Disc in 1991.
Most recently, we developed our advanced cushioning technology NITRO and a whole line-up of innovative running shoes based on this technology. NITRO is responsive, extremely lightweight and offers athletes a more effortless run. It’s in our DNA to keep innovating.
ELLE: Your dedication to Puma remains unwavering. Based on your decades of experience, what advice would you give to the next generation of marketers and brand enthusiasts looking to make a significant impact in the industry?
HF: I’ve been with Puma for 46 years, but I believe I still have the same passion for the brand as on the first day. I try to share this passion with my younger colleagues. People change, and the industry changes, but values such as the ones set forth by our founder Rudolf Dassler stay the same.
ELLE: Finally, in celebration of Puma’s 75th anniversary, could you give us a sneak peek into any exciting projects, collaborations, or milestones that the brand has planned for the future?
HF: Puma has made the fastest products for the fastest athletes for more than 75 years and I’m sure that the company will continue doing just that for the next 75 years.
Through Helmut Fischer’s Archives