“My grandfather loved the white Bally loafer, which is why I even made a white loafer to begin with, which is insane,” said Bally’s newly appointed creative director Rhuigi Villaseñor, a Filipino immigrant who grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley and without any formal training became a fashion go-to for celebrities and athletes such as Kyle Kuzma, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z.
Villaseñor (who has also been known to rock a white loafer) is set to meet the full Bally team for the first time this weekend, when he’ll travel to the brand headquarters in Lugano, Switzerland, and spend two weeks of every month there and two weeks in Los Angeles working on his own business, Rhude.
He started Rhude in 2015, building a men’s wear brand based on a casual formality epitomized by such pieces as the “traxedo” (a track pant with side taping), and expanding to a full range of clothing, footwear, accessories and eyewear, as well as newly into women’s wear.
“What does this mean as a Filipino? Oh my god, my dad called me in tears. He and his friends have zero to do with fashion, but they were like, what? That for me was an indication this is much bigger than myself and I have to use the responsibility for good,” he said, reflecting on the moment.
He succeeds Pablo Coppola, who exited Bally in 2017 after three years, and was the last to hold the role.
Villaseñor’s first collection for the Swiss luxury brand owned by JAB Holding Company will bow for spring 2023.
“For me, when I design it’s always deeply rooted in my personal life so that was the defining factor with me choosing to go with Bally,” Villaseñor said. “Also that they are giving me men’s and women’s because I’m still proving to myself I can do both,” he added, noting that in his own business, women’s only represents 10 percent of sales.
The chance to work with Bally chief executive officer Nicolas Girotto, whom Villaseñor calls a friend, was also a selling point. “He told me a street-style photo of me was on the design team’s mood board, and finally they said, ‘Why is he on the mood board? Why don’t we just get him?'”
Bally was founded as a shoe business in 1851 by Carl Franz Bally, expanding into ready-to-wear in the 1970s. The brand has roots in sport (the boots worn during the first ascent of Mt. Everest were Bally) and the arts, having tapped Charlie Chaplin for an advertising film, painter Otto Baumberger, architect Karl Moser and others as collaborators over the years.
“The brand’s partnerships with artists, that they made the first shoe that landed on the moon…where is that storytelling now that space exploration is such a thing in our culture?” Villaseñor said. (Perhaps today’s billionaire space explorers might want a Bally moon boot?)
In terms of design vision, he’s looking to explore the idea of Switzerland as a land of luxury, but through an L.A. guy’s eyes. And judging from how business titans, cigars and flashy cars have been part of the Rhude brand DNA, he will likely reflect on Switzerland as a financial center, too.
“I’m not classically trained, but I have a lot of curiosity which is going to push my ideas forward,” Villaseñor said.
But more than anything, he’s going to rely on heritage and craft, starting with what he hopes will be a new “It” bag.
“Bally is closest to Hermès in quality and heritage.…They were formed a few years apart for each other,” he said. “It’s about making sure that existing customer receives an update and creating my own realm within the company.”