The Arizona Coyotes are known for bold fashion statements, from their multicolored Kachina logo to using desert sienna as the template for their recent Reverse Retro jersey.
Their latest foray into courageous couture: a special edition "Desert Night" jersey created by Rhuigi Villaseñor, the founder and creative director of Los Angeles-based streetwear brand Rhude.
The team is releasing the jersey to the public on Wednesday and will wear it for the first time on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights at Mullett Arena.
"This concept of design meets sports is a growing idea, you know?" said Villaseñor, who was hired as the Coyotes' creative strategist and global fashion designer in October.
"This will become the fire igniter to the culture. One of the things we bonded over was bringing culture into the sport. We're all in one ecosystem, not a separate one. For me, it's about being the team that helps make hockey a thing in street culture."
The burgundy jersey features the word "Arizona" in sand-colored cursive writing across the chest. There's a star located above the letter "I" on the wordmark, symbolizing both the desert nights when coyotes hunt and the Arizona state flag. There's Kachina-style etching on the bottom of the jersey and the sleeves. Inside the collar are small geckos, a tribute to the gecko shoulder patch from the Coyotes' original green third jersey.
The Coyotes will wear pants with a sand-colored cactus on them, along with burgundy helmets and gloves.
In an inspired twist on tradition, the team's captain will wear a half-moon "C" patch, while the alternate captains will be identified with a patch that creates an "A" with two cacti hugging each other.
All about the details 😏 pic.twitter.com/02WpEqd6D8— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) January 17, 2023
Some NHL teams have started to partner with fashion brands to create special looks for their gear. Last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs partnered with Drew House, Justin Bieber's design label, to create and wear reversible jerseys.
"We're seeing an influx of sports in fashion right now, and we really wanted to be at the forefront of that, pushing the boundaries," said Alex Meruelo Jr., the Coyotes' chief brand officer.
This isn't the first sports crossover for Villaseñor, who is also the creative director of Swiss-based Bally. Rhude had a successful collaboration with F1 and McLaren in 2021 that "reimagines the sport and modern luxury into an innovative and progressive collection," he said.
Villaseñor said he's seen other brands creating hockey jerseys, so it was time for the NHL to lean into creating jerseys that could cross over to a wider audience.
Creating an NHL jersey offered some singular challenges. Functionality isn't always at the forefront of fashion, but it needs to be when designing game-worn gear.
Villaseñor said they tried to create a hockey jersey at Rhude, something that was more of a runway look. At first, he didn't realize all the venting needed for a game jersey, nor did he account for the extra space required for pads.
"I thought I was coming in to design shapes and create a logo. But it's really interesting to see the complexity of a jersey and all the things that go beyond what we usually see, which is a silhouette and color," he said.
"With anything in life, when you have a goal, you work with that goal and then add in all the ingredients. In this case, the goal was to create an iconic jersey and one that feels like it's part of the heritage of the Coyotes. The added parts to it are the complexities."
Another difference between designing for the runway and for the ice: distance.
"You have to take a step back and realize that when we watch a game, we're not five inches away from the player. These are minor tweaks that we have to do. But in the end, it's about making a dope jersey. It was exciting," he said.
Villaseñor said that considering, and in some ways honoring, the Coyotes' previous looks was also part of the process.
"When I looked at the heritage of the jerseys, I really looked at the cool things that were used. I wanted to use the iconic parts of the jersey," he said.
His favorite part of the sweater is the desert topography that it evokes. "It's the signifier. Making sure that this becomes the Arizona Coyotes uniform, but that it also becomes the uniform of the state, right?" he said.
The Coyotes will wear the "Desert Night" jersey 14 times this season at Mullett Arena. It's their temporary home on the campus of Arizona State University as they wait for construction of a new arena in Tempe to be greenlit by voters this spring. Meruelo said adding a special edition sweater to the mix is part of an overall feeling of rebirth for the franchise.
"It's almost like we're an expansion team at this point with everything going on. It's really cool being able to create what we really see the brand and what we want it to become and engage with all those fans in waiting," he said. "We've made a sizable investment in this and we feel like it's part of the future. Ideally we want to create a Coyotes universe and service our fans in every way possible."
Villaseñor has a key role in that audience expansion. His family moved from Manila, the capital of the Philippines, to Los Angeles when he was 11 years old. He marinated in hip-hop culture and was inspired by it. He still remembers when NHL jerseys were a ubiquitous part of streetwear. He believes they can get there again.
"It was there, when you look at the 2000s and the 1990s, at music and movies and commercials and all of that," he said. "Hockey's still embedded in the culture. But sometimes things fall into cracks and new things come to life. But just like other sports have had resurgences and have become cool, hockey will enjoy that in an evolved way."