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Bally’s audacious spring/summer collection is here

With a provocative new creative director at its helm, Bally has taken a visionary leap forward with its spring/ summer 2023 collection, writes Alex Simpson.

Rhuigi Villaseñor, a Los Angeles local of Filipino descent, titled his debut collection for Bally ‘Ecdysis’, a biological term that refers to the process of shedding an outer layer like the skin of a python to make way for fresh growth.

His ready-to-wear range ushers in an audacious new era for the storied Swiss leather goods house. And for a brand that staged its last runway show two decades ago and has been anchored largely in bags and shoes since its founding in 1851, bringing Villaseñor’s trailblazing fashion expertise from Santa Monica to Switzerland heralds the beginnings of a dynamic metamorphosis.

An intriguing backdrop

The natural elements of a jagged coastal outcrop, along with the light and shade of sky and water provide an intriguing backdrop for the collection’s metallic leathers, washed denim, safari-inspired separates and gold-toned hardware. A sultry duo crouching by a rock pool is seductively attired in cutaway evening wear. A marsala-red lip and chunky yellow gold-toned cuffs completing the looks. A python print goat leather jacket and weekender bag tail a man in mid-stride. Denim on denim is paired with amethyst and emerald glass stone cocktail bracelets, and while the ensemble’s wearer is perched precariously, inches above a tidal pool’s surface, this is clearly not the campaign imagery of a brand treading water.

“If you look at any great fashion photograph out of context, it will tell you just as much about what’s going on in the world as a headline in The New York Times,” Anna Wintour once opined.

Bally SS23 campaign by Harley Weir
© Bally

Changing tides

And the images of Villaseñor’s first collection may be doing just that – its hero outfits photographed on a rocky untamed coastline, the ocean in the background certainly not that of a summery fashion shoot in the tropics. There is perhaps a bigger story tacitly taking place here. A mood and truth that is as much at the core of the zeitgeist today as the hottest fashion trend: the tides of the world are fast changing.

It is likely no coincidence that Villaseñor’s appointment coincides with the expansion of the brand’s sustainable arm – the Bally Foundation has just opened its first permanent home at Villa Heleneum on the shores of Lake Lugano. Launched in 2006, the foundation’s purpose is to promote art and culture by highlighting themes important to Bally, such as environmental awareness, innovation and support for creativity.

Sustainability in the fashion industry

Among its endeavours, the Bally Peak Outlook Foundation was created to champion the preservation of alpine environments and, since 2020, Bally has released annual Sustainability Reports, with its plans characterised by goals that aim to gradually reduce the environmental impact of the company’s diverse activities. The brand is also a signatory of The Fashion Pact, a global sustainability initiative of the fashion and textile industry.

Bold vision

Villaseñor describes his mission as one “…to introduce a new visual language to Bally campaigns, a mix of bold sophistication and sensuality to express my modern vision of luxury”.

His collection is a sum of opulence and sexiness. Its loudest pieces are tiger and python print separates, candy-coloured metallic jackets, canary yellow shantung silk pyjamas, sculptural gold-toned bangles and lustrous lamé swimwear. There are also nostalgic nods to ’70s silhouettes and ’80s luxe; decades defined in part by extraordinary social change and hyper-extravagance. A different kind of social change is of course at work today, its antagonist the excesses of a mass-produced material world. These themes are perhaps at play in the campaign’s intriguing imagery.

© Bally

To the future

Previously, Villaseñor founded the LA-based label R H U D E in 2015, one that brought playful elevation to somewhat tiring streetwear codes and quickly became a hot new thing. Bally’s faith in his appointment has already seen the Swiss brand drawn into the folds of fashion’s highest dialogues, conversations from which until now Bally was largely absent.

The most successful creative directors forge a path that amicably combines their design passion with a brand’s bottom line. Fashion designer and former creative director Tom Ford once neatly summarised the role: “My goal is to create something beautiful, something so beautiful people can’t live without it. When you do that, people buy it… And that’s what my job is.”

New layers of innovation will be unearthed as Villaseñor settles into his pedestal position at the storied Swiss house and with Bally’s dual devotion to fashion and sustainability, greater things are no doubt yet to come.

BALLY_SS23_CAMPAIGN_By Harley Weir
© Bally

This article originally appeared in volume 44 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.