In 2017 Polimoda Fashion Design alumnus Torsten Hochstetter travelled back to Florence to share his professional experience with both design and business students through a workshop and lecture session held over the course of two days. We took advantage of his on-site presence to find out what he has been up to since his graduation at the beginning of the 1990s.
Torsten Hochstetter, Global Creative Director of PUMA.
When I graduated from Polimoda, Italy was a hard place to find serious employment so I went back to Germany and started working for s.Oliver, a sports lifestyle casual brand that is pretty big in Germany and the Benelux regions. I was with them as a designer for two years, after that I joined Adidas, where I worked for 15 years, starting out as a designer and eventually becoming Head of Design and then Creative Director. I learned to work across sportswear categories, all of them: swimwear, football, boxing, you name it! I also worked across product categories, from garments to accessories. During my time there, I worked as Head of Design in Adidas Tokyo, for three years, during which I also learnt to speak Japanese. After that, I worked for them in The United States, heading up the American Design team in Portland, Oregon. Then I came back to Germany and became the Creative Director for Adidas sports style – working on everything which was off-field such as Y3 and Porsche Design. After this I moved to the Netherlands to become the Creative Director for O’Neill, the surf brand.
Living across different continents and cultures has influenced my design and thinking in a major way. The key to understanding markets is deeply nestled in the fabric of each society. If you understand the traditions and people, you are able to put yourself inside their shoes and mindset. It also influences the way you design and lead design teams. Being such an intrinsic part of another culture also helps you grow and equips you with the tools you will need as a creative director.
This happened quite early on for me. It was so clear that this profession brought together everything I loved – I just sucked at everything else! It incorporated the use of various languages, creativity and sport. Already in school, my favorite subjects by a margin were sport and art. I worked as the illustrator for the school newspaper, and looking back on it, all of these elements helped identify my path.
A typical day is difficult to explain because they are all somewhat different. There is variety in each day, which is nice! It also depends on the seasons, naturally, since our work revolves a lot around them. In this instance, describing a single day wouldn’t be very representative of what I do. For example: one day I will be presenting in front of 1500 people in a large company, looking at a mockup shop of PUMA, then the next day I will partake in a discussion on how to structure the design camp for the next season. For instance, I spent a few days with Polimoda students, both in business and design, to help mentor them and give them an idea of how we work as a design team, how the industry functions and what skills they could potentially need when moving into the professional world.
This all goes to show that there are so many different elements of what I do in my job. Most of them are either fixed or variable, some happen at different times and others at the same time.
I believe that the favor of the future is always codependent on what you make of it in your specific working context. Particularly for PUMA, we have somewhat pioneered the idea of fusion within performance, function and style. Today this has given us an edge with the marketplace because we are not all blood, sweat and tears – we are also joyful.
For instance, it took me almost a year to convince everyone that the future is female. Today we can interpret sports in a stylish and trend-driven way. In this case, fashion can influence sport, especially within women’s wear.
Therefore, the future of sportswear, to a vast extent, is to look into other fields.
I always keep reminding the design team to keep an eye on other disciplines such as music, art, architecture, and industrial design. These are just a couple of examples that are super important and can help capture the zeitgeist so that you maintain relevance – because that is always our final aim.
Students need to remember that being creative is important, but to keep a firm grasp on a certain marketplace, a certain target consumer, a certain channel is key in understanding, otherwise you are bound to lose relevance.
I have always wanted my work to be significant for its time. For example, designing the jersey that the French National team wore when it became world champion, the very jersey that Zinedine Zidane was kissing when he scored his last goal against Brazil in the final!
There is an idea of having a product, which is very visible and representative of a certain time. This leads back to my aim of always being very close to what is happening and the current situation. That is why I added it to the Design Principles at Puma.
When I first started at Puma I thought it was important to set out principles that helped to focus the aim of our design, in order to create a certain level of consistency and also maintain our philosophy.
Because of the desire to stay relevant we implemented the following design principles of Keep it Simple, Make it Powerful, Be Courageous, Create Something Relevant and Make it Faster. The design principles work in connection with the brand values and this is what I wrote, then we proposed it to the brand and ever since then we have had these guidelines for everyone that works for the brand; to understand what is important and what context to use it in.
In addition to this, we also have the toolbox which consists of different colors, a palette that is very specific to the brand in order to ensure that we have a clear identity.
Right now we are preparing the design camp for the Autumn/Winter 2019 season. We work on average a year-and-a-half in advance, creating more than 1500 models per season – it is a huge production. In some areas it is more difficult because it has to be closer to trend, however in this instance we do have the production facilities which can work on a shorter lead-time. Preparing a design camp like this is a big task because we have about 100 designers, 30 of which are head designers. We also invite special guests such as trend forecasters, architects and others who can bring in different types of knowledge. We then filter everything down and create moodboards, eventually we get to the point where we decide on a roll out. There is a structure of top-down design and designers have roughly 30 seasonal colors to work with.
The sum of this helps to convey what we stand for as a brand. I think in comparison to 5 years ago, we are seeing a stronger and more consistent brand identity. I have also designed the bridge for the new PUMA building at our Headquarters, which goes to show that a creative director can contribute on many levels, from clothing to corporate architecture.