1990 - 2022
PUMA TRINOMIC Retrospective
In the 1970s and 80s, performance footwear brands used basic foam compounds like EVA to handle cushioning and shock absorption. But as the boombastic 90s loomed large, the appetite for souped-up sole units, chunked-out midsoles andmuscular uppers flaunting all manner of experimental concepts suddenly seemed limitless. The spirit of futurism was alive and cashed-up consumers craved more of everything. This was a dramatically new vision of maximalist footwear, exemplifiedby PUMA TRINOMIC, which was based on simple geometry and engineering knowhow sourced from the humble honey bee. Three decades after it debuted, TRINOMIC is back for an anniversary lap of honour. Tune in, turn on and twist thatDISC to 11 as we rewind to 1990 and dig deep into the PUMA Archive with this long overdue retrospective.
Biomimicry is the practice of using lessons gleaned from the natural world to solve complex human design challenges. Engineering feats like Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train, which was based on the aerodynamic properties of bird beaks, and record-setting swimsuits which emulate the dynamic properties of shark skin, are two prominent examples. In the case of TRINOMIC, the origin story lies in the study of organic geometry and a design philosophy inspired by a miniature force of nature.
TRINOMIC also represented the emergence of visible technology, or ‘viz-tech’ as it later became known. The old adage that ‘seeing is believing’ inspired sneaker designers in the early 90s to let it all hang out and enhance shoes with inflatable widgets and encapsulated air units. Over at PUMA, the TRINOMIC hex-cells were made visible via transparent windows mounted in the sole, almost as if runners were cracking open a beehive to take a peek inside. Over time, these panels would constantly evolve in placement and shape as designers pushed TRINOMIC to the limit.
That cellular structure is an elegant and simple mechanism that effectively compressed energy then rebounded the load to propel the wearer forward. At the same time, the compliant nature of the honeycomb reduced the likelihood of ankle pronation, while also promoting anatomical movement in natural flex zones. ‘Innovation in movement’ was the driving philosophy. The tenets of three-dimensional design as PUMA decreed it in catalogues – cushioning, stability and flexibility – are referenced in each corner of the TRINOMIC logo.
TRINOMIC is essentially a structural skeleton made up of hexagonal cells, much like the wax honeycombs instinctively constructed by bees. The prismatic walls were made from Pebax, a Polyurethane Elastomer that was plotted across the footbed in different sizes and topological configurations. Smaller cells increased the firmness underfoot, then as the cells expand towards the heel where they are needed most, the level of cushioning increases. PUMA also maintained that TRINOMIC retained 90 per cent of its cushioning properties over the life of the shoe, a monumental increase over traditional foam compounds.
Dawn of the Decade
TRINOMIC was unleashed in 1990 in the form of the XR 1 and XR 2 runners, whose numerical nomenclature denoted how many hex windows were installed in the sole unit. TRINOMIC cushioning also featured in tennis and basketball. The World Cup S football boot also featured TRINOMIC inserts, though there was no window in the sole.
In 1991, PUMA followed up with the XR 1 Plus, XT 1 Plus, XR 2 Plus and XT 2 Plus, all of which offered significant visual refinement and tech upgrades. The following year, the zukunft vibes were once again amplified and channelled into the XC 700 Plus, which used primary colours and a splattered heel print as points of difference. The XS 850 Plus from the same year is another iconic TRINOMIC moment for vintage PUMAheads.
Although the tech was top-billed as a high-priced and high-performance running innovation, TRINOMIC’s application across tennis, basketball, cross-training and other indoor sports made it PUMA’s first offical multi-sport franchise.
Departing even further from convention, the DISC System was introduced in 1991 as the tip of the PUMA Progressive product line-up. Named in honour of the plastic ‘frisbee’ that featured front-and-centre on the tongue, the radical closure system created a snug fit by retracting and releasing a series of wires that wrapped around the foot. The most successful model was the TRINOMIC-endowed DISC System Blaze, which was promoted under a vaguely hallucinogenic slogan that incited runners to ‘Turn It On’.
The category included shoes for the whole family, such as the DISC System Excell, DISC System Lady Blaze and the DISC System Trail. Other prominent relatives included the DISC System Terrain and the DISC System Scion. Somewhat forgotten gems like the cushioning-oriented DISC System Kestrel and a sleek racing silhouette called the DISC System Turbine arrived in 1993. A year later, the TRINOMIC/DISC combo was expanded to include the TX 4000 and the DISC System Flash.
Aided and abetted by endorsements from pro athletes, the convergence of TRINOMIC and DISC was a boon for PUMA designers who suddenly had twin technologies at their disposal. At the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Heike Drechsler secured a long-jump gold medal wearing DISC. In the 100-metre sprint, Linford Christie romped home in custom PUMA spikes then accepted his medal in the TRINOMIC-endowed DISC System XS 7000. At the 1993 World Championships, Colin Jackson also donned DISC spikes when he won the 110-metre hurdles, reportedly scribbling over the flashy neon green Formstripe with a black marker prior to his world record performance.
Over in basketball, Cedric ‘DISCman’ Ceballos was signed by PUMA after he won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest with a blindfolded leap in 1992. The Stealth and Stalker high-tops came equipped with TRINOMIC, but the basketball standout was the fierce-looking DISC System Weapon, which was marketed as the first-ever laceless basketball shoe. A relic of the 90s mentality – when too much was never enough – the towering silhouette was sold as ‘an athletic shoe technology that revolutionises basketball footwear’. While it may never have lived up to that ambition, the mystery model remains a PUMA catalogue highlight from the era.
In tennis, Karel Nováček provided grass court endorsement. The Davis Cup model was PUMA’s flagship TRINOMIC trainer through the early 90s, while subsequent years delivered updates in the form of the DISC System Response and DISC System Tempest. The 5-shoes-in-1 segment included the DISC System Cross-Trainer, a versatile multi-sport shoe, and there was even a DISC-inspired collection of running apparel with circular insignias emblazoned on running shorts, leggings and t-shirts. As a result, PUMA catalogues from the mid-90s are some of the most visually compelling in the Big Cat’s history.
Party Up Top, Business Underneath
As the debut range of TRINOMIC and DISC models reached their planned obsolescence, PUMA retired the OGs from the roster and updated both platforms. The new style direction was… more of everything! The Asaltor Crosstrainer featured a blinding ‘yam-charcoal’ colour combo, murdered-out midsoles and a strap-happy upper that would look right at home at Paris Fashion Week 2022. The Bronx was blazed with oversize techno-branding on the tongue, while the staunch DISC System Hocus was even more imposing than the DISC System Weapon it superseded. For asphalt specialists, the TRINOMIC Elevator and Rocker models were laced with overt ‘blacktop’ basketball styling cues.
Two gems from this era combined both DISC and TRINOMIC in non-conformist packages. The trail-inspired DISC System Calgary moved the frisbee to the ankle and used a ‘seat-belt’ crossover strap to cinch the shoes tight to the foot, while an acre of brown, olive or berry nubuck added muted doses of outdoors flair to the funky off-road slipper.
The Prevail officially joined the TRINOMIC running family in 1993. Several iterations and colourways were released over the next few years, including the Lady Prevail, which was curve-lasted and tuned specifically for female athletes. In 2016, PUMA brought back the all-time classic edition from 1994 in the white-purple-black combo with ‘Carox air’ mesh and the crispiest white leather.
Another mystery marvel from this era is the DISC System Voltaire, which could have been named the Kitchen Sink. The exaggerated tongue height, tiger print graphics, ‘lobster tail’ rubber toe module, elephant-skin texture and all-around moody presence are an extraordinary melange of influences. In the PUMA JP catalogue from 1993, the Voltaire is renamed as the P7797. Take away the DISC unit from the tongue and a design lineage all the way to the Blaze of Glory is suddenly palpable, but more on that topic later.
In running, the sole units revealed how far TRINOMIC had come by 1996, expanding the scale of the hexagonal cells for max cushioning, while fluorescent lime was adopted to accentuate the future-forward focus. The TRINOMIC Maxima and TRINOMIC Concept were sleek in comparison to the DISC Evolution, which featured Aeroprene fabric and an overlocked stitching detail that would also be reprised on the Blaze of Glory. The hiking rope that seemingly tied the DISC unit down and wrapped the ankle is another decades-before-its-time flourish. With so much pizzazz going on up top there was barely room for PUMA branding, which was reduced to an oval shape with a mini-Formstripe, a harbinger of PUMA CELL which was just around the corner.
End of an Era
As the decade closed out, for reasons that are not obvious from our extensive research, PUMA moved on from their commitment to TRINOMIC and released an update in 1997 they christened CELL. Under the hood – and in the trunk! – CELL used an identical structure with maxed-out hexagons.
Rebranded and relaunched with the now-official CELL logo and an even bulkier and more aggressive moodboard, the new generation was billed as ‘Better Living Through Science’ and arrived in the form of CELL Endura, CELL Venom, CELL Alien and CELL Viper among others. By this point, PUMA designers had either moved the tech to the heel so it was highly visible from all 360 degrees, or applied it in oversize form to the midfoot arch, where it resembled a Torsion-style shank.
Following a decade-long hiatus, TRINOMIC was resurrected in 2005 with a retro bringback of the DISC Blaze, along with the introduction of the nu-retro R698 and an all-new model that would soon become inextricably linked to Sneaker Freaker. Using all three as exploratory templates, PUMA was able to forge new inroads through a well-curated rollout of exclusives created with the help of a global cast of collaborators.
The R698 design was plucked from a 1991 PUMA Japan catalogue. Fused to the DISC Blaze’s TRINOMIC midsole, the pillowy ride and familiar retro profile was embraced by Footpatrol, Alife, Shadow Society, Black Rainbow and House Of Hackney among others. Solebox added gimmicky ‘light-up’ laces while Sneaker Freaker joined the R698 coming-out party by releasing the beiged-out ‘Geography Teacher’. Brooklyn We Go Hard’s ‘Bluefield’ project was another highlight, as designer David Obadia decked out the R698 in spectrums of tasteful azure suedes and a second offering in cardinal red tones.
Blaze of Glory
The Blaze of Glory was a similar new-gen PUMA invention, though the upper this time was an amalgamation of remixed TRINOMIC-era heritage, such as the plastic straps and the overlooked stitching around the prominent sock-like tongue. The first Blaze of Glory to hit the street was a digital camouflage edition in black, grey and yellow, which was observed prior to its official release by Sneaker Freaker at PUMA’s Boston office.
That serendipitous meeting set off a string of Blaze of Glory collaborations. Taking inspiration from the ocean’s fiercest predator, the ‘Great White’ was released in 2008. Oceanic neoprene mixed with silver mesh and blood-red pops held it down up top, while the forefoot was splashed with gummy pink. A river of blood emanated from the TRINOMIC cells, while an anodised shark tooth hung like a precious holiday necklace from the top eyelet. Flipping the silver to inky black and adding a slash of turquoise introduced the ‘Black Beast’ edition. A further 20 ‘Friends and Family’ pairs were handcrafted using genuine shark leather, making them some of the rarest and most exotic PUMAs of all time.
The partnership was reprised in 2013 with a well-timed retro of both OG colourways, while a stunning mint green pair known as ‘Sharkbait’ broke the Internet when just 50 pairs dropped via SneakerFreaker.com. In 2015, inspired by the e-comm meltdown precipitated by the ‘Sharkbait’ snafu, Sneaker Freaker dropped the Blaze of Glory ‘Bloodbath’ at a New York City pop-up store with Packer Shoes.
Partners in Crime
Between 2012 and 2017, PUMA was on a TRINOMIC roll. Between the DISC Blaze, Blaze of Glory and the R698, PUMA assembled an impressive roster of partners that included Pink Dolphin, Hypebeast, ICNY, Monkeytime, Staple, Careaux and Sophia Chang, along with global retailers Sneakersnstuff, Limited Edt, Rise, Bodega, Overkill and United Arrows. BAPE contributed a white-out Blaze of Glory in snow camo and a DISC Blaze in a more traditional forest green DPM. Ronnie Fieg, the noted tastemaker and founder of Kith, released the DISC Blaze ‘Cove’ to wide acclaim. As seen on Fieg’s ‘Coat of Arms’ and ‘Sakura’ designs, the dipped-toe schemes would go on to become hallmark flourishes. A Velcro strap was also added to Kith’s Blaze of Glory colabs with Parisian super store Colette in 2016 and Highsnobiety in 2015.
Stampd was another of PUMA’s most influential partners at the time. Chris Stamp – designer and namesake of the ‘avantstreet’ West Coast brand – delivered his monochromatic take on the TRINOMIC Sock, one of several hybrids introduced by PUMA to capitalise on the stretch-fit movement. Amsterdam’s Filling Pieces curated a unique variant known as the Blaze of Glory Strap which featured an elastic forefoot wrap and luxurious woven leather toeboxes. In 2014, the XT 1 and XT 2 both made welcome returns in OG spec. A handful of solid themes (shout-out to the Mesh Evolution pack) were released along with tasty colabs including Sneakersnstuff’s ‘Pizza and Burgers’ and a technicolour ‘Wild Wonders’ double pack with Solange. The Japanese connection came via atmos, Whiz Limited and mita sneakers, while Brazilian store Homegrown and Korean streetwear brand thisisneverthat added global cachet.
The Power of 3
In 2022, PUMA is once again assembling the troops to celebrate the power of 3. Reprising previous collaborations – guess who? – and inviting new friends into the fold – even more guess who? – PUMA will be reimagining TRINOMIC tech in unique ways. Some 30 years after the honey bee-inspired concept launched, it’s time to charge your glass and say three cheers, in all its charismatic triangular forms, to PUMA TRINOMIC!