Herzo Heritage from the Puma Tramp

The Puma brand is one synonymous with sport. Those with even a passing interest in trainers will be aware of the story of the formative years of Puma and how the brand came into being.

Rudolf Dassler and his brother Adolf worked in the family business, but following World War 2 they parted ways, with the latter famously establishing a brand based on his name, while Rudi struck out on his own, similarly creating Ruda, which was later changed to Puma. What followed was a storied and almost legendary history of sporting stripes and family strife, on which a multi-billion pound business is now based. Without this real-life soap opera saga, would we all be consuming footwear on the scale we are today?

The shoemaking town of Herzogenaurach was host to both companies created from the ashes of the family business, and the rivalry extended beyond family lines. It even became known the town of the bent necks, as the inhabitants were always looking down to the feet of others to examine which brand they were loyal to.

The antipathy between both brands remained for many years after, and when the brothers passed away, both shared the same cemetery, but were buried as far away from each other as possible. The roots of the rivalry ran deep to the end. These days, things are less tense. Puma really kicked on when Rudi’s son Armin took the reigns from his father, establishing the brand outside of their German heartland.

Meanwhile, Adolf’s knack of falling out with family reared its head again with his son Horst, who was banished to France to run the brand’s operation there. Even his success caused a further rift, as the French iteration of the business began to rival the rest of the organisation, so well respected it became. The envy kept father and son enemies to the end.

Rudi and Armin found it just as difficult to maintain a healthy relationship too. The son relocated to Salzburg, Austria to run a factory, and from here he circumnavigated his father’s wishes and introduced Puma to the U.S. Rudi wrote Armin out of his will, and only a legal loophole saw Armin and his brother Gerd eventually inherit Puma when Rudi passed away.

Another generation emerged and the Dassler name remained associated to both companies until the late 1980s. Horst passed away from cancer aged 51, while Armin’s reliance on the U.S market saw the brand lose market share and eventually pass into the hands of French ownership, where it remains to this day. The family feud has largely dissipated, and the legacy is one of friendly rivalry, where the common history of both brands is actually a positive. Rudi’s Grandson Frank Dassler worked for adidas in their legal department until his own untimely death in 2020, aged 64.

Like all the best rivalries, the thing which separates both brands is the same thing that binds them together. History itself is one aspect of this, but it’s more than that. A burning desire to be the best, which perhaps comes from a sporting mindset still powers both brands. Puma excels these days at linking up with the right ambassadors, inside and outside of a sports setting. Indeed, they were the first brand to work with a sportsman on an endorsement basis, releasing the Puma Clyde with Walt Frazier back in 1970. Without this, would we have seen sportsmen work with brands in this way? Would there have been an Air Jordan? And then there’s Kanye.

This was at a time when Pele was also a Puma athlete, so they were clearly clued up in this regard, more so than their contemporaries. Maradona and Cruyff both later joined the Puma family.

The Puma Clyde was also a forerunner (no pun intended) for the crossover from sport to street. By the late 1970s, tales of British football supporters returning from the continent with exotic training shoes began to filter back to the UK, fuelling an enduring scene of its own. But prior to that, Frazier’s patronage of Puma introduced the brand to the masses via the basketball court. His time at the New York Knicks saw his shoe become popular on the streets of New York. His youth in the segregated South was spent at an all-black school, and his progression from an oppressed childhood, the eldest of nine children, to a Hall of Fame Athlete made him an icon for kids from a similar background. This in turn kept Puma in the hearts and minds of those communities which saw it remain popular into the early years of hip hop and beyond.

Today, Puma’s heritage remains a big part of its pull. While they’ve made serious moves in football of late, and their endorsements with musical icons remain strong, that 1970s sepia-tinged style will never not be cool.

The Puma Tramp is the latest excellent embodiment of that aesthetic. Smooth suede pairs up with a reassuringly chunky sole to create an understated yet still eye-catching shoe, with a name you won’t forget in a hurry.

What the future holds for the Puma story remains to be seen, but with a wealth of history and a sense that it’s in the ascendancy once again, there are more chapters to be written as 100 years of Puma slowly comes into view.

Check out the Puma Tramp here.

Mark Smith

I had pizza for tea.

Write A Comment