TOKYO — Bally launched its latest artist collaboration at its flagship in Ginza here on Wednesday, unveiling a series of limited-edition products while hosting the opening of an exhibition by London-based street artist Shok-1. The project is the second in a series of artist collaborations curated by music producer Kasseem Dean, who goes by the name Swizz Beatz.
Frédéric de Narp, chief executive officer of the Swiss brand, began his career in Japan and still retains a high level of admiration for the country and its culture. He said that his decision to have a creative collective — rather than a single creative director — head Bally’s design activities was inspired by the country he once called home.
“This creative collective mindset, for me, was born in Japan. This is what I wanted to learn from the Japanese culture, what belongs to the Japanese culture, and what the Japanese are the best at,” he said. “This sort of respect and working together as a group, it’s a cliché, but it is true. And it’s not a fact of a one-woman show or a one-man show. It’s a fact of a group, and I believe in this, especially for a brand that has this kind of strength and values.”
Collaboration and mutual respect are not the only values de Narp admires about Japanese culture. He also maintains that, even now, the market remains at the epicenter of the luxury goods industry.
“Still today there is no other country or population recognizing and having the level of sophistication [of Japan] to recognize and care for what’s behind the product,” he said. “And that’s the essence of luxury. We work tirelessly for hours to develop craftsmanship around our products to deliver the quality. And here the Japanese do recognize that and care for that. And that’s unique to Japan.”
De Narp said he plans to continue working with Dean on collaborations with other artists, and that Bally will be launching two such collections each year moving forward. It is one element of the executive’s ongoing rebranding of the house, and one that he says makes sense given its history.
“Bally, I have discovered through the [brand’s] heritage, has had this art of collaboration for a century. In 1927, I discovered how much Bally was collaborating with Robert Mallet-Stevens, the founder of the modernists, or Le Corbusier, or even Roger Vivier or even Pierre Cardin. Bally has collaborated with amazing brands and creative minds, and the fact of redoing this art of collaboration with Swizz Beatz, for example, last year and this year again, these are elements that contribute to electrify the brand,” he said. “If Bally is the oldest Swiss brand and the only existing Swiss [luxury fashion] brand, with 168 years of history and everything, it is quite exciting to excite and create a desirability through these collaborations that allow us to do much more. To go beyond any frontiers, to go beyond boundaries with the art world, connecting with the artists. And that is really contributing to changing the perception of the brand to a younger audience.”
As Bally targets new, younger customers along with its historical clients, its business has been expanding worldwide. De Narp said that the United States is its largest growth market, with double-digit increases the past two years. Japan is second, with double-digit growth last year and single-digit growth this year. So it is not surprising that the 8,600-square-foot Ginza store is the brand’s largest in the world, and that its most significant collaboration in decades would be launched here.
“Opening this store close to two and a half years ago at the gate of Ginza had lots of meaning for me. The gate of Ginza, the gate of the most important business and fashion district in the world [is at] this location,” he said. “And now as we are creating traction with this brand and developing it all over the world, I thought it was fitting that the epicenter of this development could start in Japan.”
Looking forward, de Narp has more big plans for the brand, this time focusing on other markets. By summer of 2019, Bally will open a store at the corner of Via Montenapoleone and Via Alessandro Manzoni in Milan. The three-story, 5,900-square-foot space will be the brand’s first flagship in Italy.
“Montenapoleone in Milan is really the capital of fashion, and to have a statement flagship opening there is just magnificent for us,” de Narp said.
Also before next summer, the brand will open its first flagship in China, at Beijing’s China World complex. That store will measure roughly 6,460 square feet over two floors, with a large facade facing the street.
De Narp said the Beijing store will be an important step for Bally, but that it is not the only way to reach potential Chinese customers.
“Seventy-five percent of the growth [of the luxury goods industry] of the last 15 years came from the Chinese population consuming luxury goods around the world, and I think 75 percent of the growth moving forward for the next 15 years will come from China again,” the executive said. “But travel is huge and will not stop. If you think that in 2000 you had 30 million Chinese traveling around the world, in 2015 you had 120 million Chinese traveling; in 2030, my own statistics would tell me that around 240 to 260 million Chinese will travel. Just take these numbers, and imagine the impact on the world’s consumption of luxury coming from the Chinese.”
In addition to increasing its women’s offering from just 20 percent of its collection four years ago to 40 percent now, Bally’s brand strategy that de Narp has honed over the past two years includes a more exclusive emphasis on casualwear.
“When you do a brand strategy, it’s very important to know where you want to be or what you want to become, but it is just as relevant to be able to identify what are the things you don’t want to be,” he said. “And we decided we’re not a red carpet brand. That’s it. You can’t be everything to everyone, and that’s not our choice.”
Because of this, de Narp said he has been pleased to see the lines between luxury fashion and streetwear continue to blur.
“For me it’s probably the most important opportunity for the company, because I don’t have to invent it,” he said. “We are more casual, everyday. This is where we are set to win and this is where we want to belong, much more than the red carpet.”
This last point illustrates Bally’s inclusivity, which de Narp said is one of its three core values, along with authenticity and what he refers to as “fairness,” an element that has to do with pricing.
“The Millennials and Millennials-at-heart are aware of everything through digital, and they want to buy good products at a good price,” he said. “This is what I call fairness. Not abusing the system and s—ting on the client and pumping prices where it’s not justified.”