The whole thing should have gone sideways; it isn’t clear to me—or to Rhuigi, for that matter—why it didn’t. The answer that suggests itself, of course, is the clothes, which made fans of NBA stars, rappers, and—most importantly—the kids who want to dress like them. Since 2015, Villaseñor’s been cranking out hypebeast catnip: boxy tees, drop-crotch shorts, Jordan-inspired sneakers. Obsessed-over details—triangular pocket flaps on jackets, extra-long yellow drawstrings on bottoms—became signature touches. Villaseñor credits his radar to his off-kilter upbringing. “I grew up having interest in all the things that I thought were luxurious because I’m coming from the perspective of an immigrant,” he said. “I was on the outside, just seeing what America was. I thought it was Beverly Hills.” The background he thought would hinder him in fact helped: “I may not be from America, but I can really reinterpret what American luxury is.” (After nearly 20 years of uncertainty, Villaseñor finally became an American citizen last summer. “I’ve never felt that emotional in my life,” he said.)
That reinterpretation of American luxury has found its audience. The brand does about $30 million in sales, he said, and has proven resistant to an industry-wrecking pandemic. His customers remain bizarrely, unseasonably hungry. “Last month I sold the most leather jeans I have yet,” he said, surprised. “Where the hell are they going? I have zero clue. I want to know, because I want to wear leather jeans too. Tell me where you all are going!”
Life on the inside has been about as cool as he dreamed it would be. A spate of collaborations track both the brand’s growing ambitions and his own developing interests: Vans, the official sneakers of L.A.; a Formula 1 collection with McLaren for the Monaco Grand Prix; Rhude cigars with Davidoff; a hat with the Los Angeles Lakers, which both he and his friend Jay-Z have worn courtside together. “[There are ] two people that I always said that I would never feel comfortable being around,” he said. “It’s Kobe and Jay-Z.”
Villaseñor can finally afford the advanced taste he’s always had. He’s relieved that his customers are growing up with him—that they’re seeing his McLaren and his collection of handbags and his closet of fine tailoring and deciding they’d like to live in Rhude World too. “Our customers want me to speed it up, because they’re seeing the things that I love that we currently don’t provide,” he said. “After a while, the kid no longer wants to be sold toys. He’s like, ‘Give me the real car. I don’t want the toy car anymore.’ ”
Sam Schube is GQ’s senior editor.
A version of this story originally appears in the February 2021 issue with the title “Welcome To Rhude World.”
Photographs by Emman Montalvan
Grooming by Hee Soo Kwon using Fresh at The Rex Agency