The international pop star expands his empire.
Credit…Desmond Picotte for The New York Times
A few days after a January snowstorm, Juan Luis Londoño Arias, the 28-year-old Colombian pop star who performs as Maluma, entered a Midtown Manhattan office building near the Macy’s flagship store. Wearing a tie-dyed, periwinkle, denim jacket and pants, he’d somehow managed to keep his chunky-soled white leather Prada boots pristine, despite the rivers of slush on the sidewalks. Like magic, shortly after he showed up, the sun broke through the overcast sky.
Maluma, who on occasion goes by the alter ego “Papi Juancho,” had just arrived from his hometown, Medellín, Colombia, where he took a monthlong break from his whirlwind work schedule. He was in New York to promote two movies: “Encanto,” the wildly popular, new animated Disney film about an enchanted family home in Colombia, in which he plays a square-jawed heartthrob with flowing hair; and the rom-com “Marry Me,” in which he plays Jennifer Lopez’s cheating megastar fiancé, Bastian.
But first, he had a clothing line to promote.
His baby blue outfit he wore that particular afternoon was from his first ready-to-wear retail collection, titled Royalty by Maluma, a collaboration with Reunited Clothing and Macy’s, which is expected to be available in stores on March 24. Though he was involved with the design process, he hadn’t yet had a chance to look through the finished collection and he wanted to see it before flying off to Europe to kick off a tour (his first show, at the Accor Arena in Paris, is already sold out).
Macy’s has been eyeing a collaboration with Maluma for several years, according to Durand Guion, the company’s vice president of fashion. His 61 million followers on Instagram and distinctive personal style were certainly factors, but it was Maluma’s enthusiasm for making the collection that sealed the deal. “We were giddy after the first meeting because this was not just easy, this was fun, and we felt him every step of the way,” Mr. Guion said.
“He’s never scared to try anything on — he’ll try on a women’s coat and be like, ‘I want this, let’s do this,’” Hilda Batayneh, the executive creative director at Reunited Clothing, said about his openness throughout the design process. “The line really is Maluma. When you look at it, you can see him or pieces of him in every single piece.”
Twelve years ago, at 16, Maluma decided to pursue music, as opposed to soccer, his first passion. In that time, he went from performing at quinceañeras in Medellín to playing in stadiums. In 2018, the same year he sold out Madison Square Garden, he won the Latin Grammy Award for best pop vocal album for “F.A.M.E.” He has collaborated with Shakira, Madonna and The Weeknd, among others.
Still, with all of his accomplishments, Maluma found himself wondering what was next.
“I’m building my empire,” he said, in a melodious paisa accent, the Colombian inflection that rises and falls in a singsong way. “If I don’t do it now, during the most productive moment in my life, before you know it, time will pass me by.”
He chose the fabrics and cuts of the pieces, and tried to make the collection gender fluid. The clothing is inspired by his hometown, he said, where he, his parents and sister still live.
“The sky in Medellín, to me, is special,” Maluma said, his pecan-colored eyes glinting harder than the outsize diamonds around his neck. “I don’t know, but I get there and I see the sky completely different than how I see it anywhere else in the world.”
He tried to capture that ultramarine hue in his Royalty collection, along with the vivid greens and the azulejos (tiles) that are specific to Antioquia, the region that is home to his native Medellín. He wanted the collection to be immersed in his culture as well as reflect on symbols important to him, like a crown motif similar to a tattoo on his neck.
“If you visit Medellín, or Colombia in general, and you ask a taxi driver for directions, they will not help you with directions — they will take you to where you are trying to go,” Maluma said, laughing. “To me that represents a lot of Colombia.”
He thinks his own warmth is often enveloped by his tremendous stage persona. Juan Luis, he said, referring to his given name, is disciplined and focused on the values endowed to him by his family. His friends say they cannot tell the difference.
“When I met Maluma for the first time, immediately I felt his energy and his engaging personality,” Donatella Versace, a close friend and collaborator, said in an email. “He’s the kind of man that makes a difference and makes the world a better place.”
Ms. Versace, who refers to Maluma as a “Versace king,” designed Maluma’s fiery red leather outfit for last year’s Met Gala, his second. They arrived together, both with bottle-blond hair. In her immaculate white corseted dress she appeared to be the angel to his devilish look.
The two have collaborated on custom Versace looks for his performances and red carpet appearances. She has also borrowed his dog, a deep brown Doberman named Buda, for Versace’s 2022 spring and summer men’s campaign.
“He’s a man who’s bold enough to experiment and play with his style, and I find this almost as engaging as his music,” Ms. Versace said. “He always has a very strong instinct for what he wants.”
Maluma’s ability to shed fashion norms and his impulse to style himself based on how he feels are at the core of his Royalty collection. Many pieces, such as a men’s off-white, crepe, button-up shirt with diamond-shaped stones for buttons are meant to be unisex.
“I like that the entire collection, women can wear the men’s pieces without a problem,” Maluma said, as he toured the showroom. “That was a key component of this collection, that everyone feels comfortable and that everyone could make it their own as much as possible.”
Late last year, he collaborated with Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of Balmain, on a capsule collection inspired by the neon colors that light up Miami. It became the highest-selling online collection for the brand, according to Mr. Rousteing.
The veteran designer appreciates Maluma’s disregard for rigid fashion rules and refers to his blind spots as “insouciance.” Mr. Rousteing finds his lack of a background in fashion refreshing, and thinks it may help fuel his creativity.
“He has not the same boundaries that we could have in the fashion world,” Mr. Rousteing said. “He can bring completely clashing things together.”
As a young man, Maluma spent most of his adolescence training to be an international superstar, armed with social media. He has strategically turned the camera on himself, sharing his rise firsthand.
Unlike Ricky Martin, a huge Latino crossover success, Maluma is hesitant to sing in English for the American market. “I am sure the whole world will like my music, there is no need to release a song in English,” he said. Critics tend to categorize him as a singer or reggaetonero, but he thinks of himself as more of a chameleon.
“I don’t have a defined genre, I like to be fluid,” Maluma said, his soft voice growing louder with certainty. “I like to go through different musical genres, I like to dress in different ways, I like being a box of surprises and evolving.”
“Maluma is not a single genre, it is a movement,” he said, referring to his stage persona. “Maluma is an ecosystem, a universe that breaks off into different branches, but it is all connected by one thing: love for art.”