Why Did Rhuigi Villaseñor’s Time at Bally End Early?

Rhuigi Villaseñor, the founder of Rhude had a surprisingly short run heading the luxury label Bally. Here's potential reasons why the partnership ended.

Rhuigi Villasenor at Bally Spring Summer 2023 Show

Image via Getty/Marco Mantovani

Rhuigi Villasenor at Bally Spring Summer 2023 Show

On Tuesday, Rhude founder Rhuigi Villaseñor and the 170-year-old Swiss luxury house Bally announced that their partnership has mutually come to an end. Villaseñor had only been the creative director of Bally since January 2022. At the time, Villaseñor was the first creative director hired by Bally in five years. He presented two seasonal collections while he was there. His debut in September 2022 was the first runway show Bally held since 2002. In January, Bally CEO Nicolas Girotto told Elle that he admired Villaseñor’s “multidisciplinary approach, with his background in art; his love for craftsmanship, music, travel, and designs; and his ability to engage and build community with his genuine positivity.”

So what happened? 

While creative director positions cycle in and out, Villaseñor had a surprisingly short run at Bally. Like Virgil Abloh and Matthew M. Williams before him, Villaseñor was the latest example of a luxury brand tapping someone from the streetwear world to help reenergize itself. The difference is, Villaseñor was given much less time to execute his vision for the Swiss brand. Even though Villaseñor brought in a new logo, expanded on their womenswear line, and boosted Bally’s annual sales by 20%, it seems that wasn’t enough. Alternatively, he’s hinted at disagreeing with the larger Bally team at times, telling Vogue that his team advised him to “fuck up” his collections by adding sneakers into the line. At the same time, Villaseñor also told Elle that he wanted Bally’s brand identity to be so strong that “when you look at a flower arrangement, you think of Bally.” Respectfully, that didn’t happen within the past year he was there. 

Here, we analyze Villaseñor’s time at the house and potential reasons why it didn’t work out as expected. 

Villaseñor Didn’t Lean Into His Strengths

Rhuigi Villasenor Bally Fall Winter 2023 Show

The Collections Were Too Referential

Bally Spring/Summer 2023 Show by Rhuigi Villasenor

Lackluster Storytelling

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What distinguishes luxury labels like Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga in recent years is top-tier storytelling from creative directors. While all luxury labels can make elegant products, a captivating story to sell to the consumer is what distinguishes one label from another. Demna’s Balenciaga runway shows have provided intriguing commentary on current events such as the war in Ukraine, climate change, and unhinged capitalism on Wall Street. While Virgil Abloh’s eight-season run at Louis Vuitton constantly riffed off the theme of boyhood and thus brought forth intriguing stories that piqued his childhood interests in underground subcultures, art, and hip-hop. 

Villaseñor hinted that he would bring such storytelling into the design process. “For me to reference an era of hip-hop for Bally would be so…preliminary,” he told Business of Fashion. “It would be like the first layer of design. Hip-hop itself is deeper than that. It’s jazz, it’s rock-n-roll. It’s a reference to so many other things.”

Yet instead, the most that Villaseñor dove into hip-hop during his time at Bally was having Mike Dean create a soundscape for his second and last runway show. It seems remiss that a designer, whose own label is clearly influenced and celebrated by hip-hop, didn’t really expand on the Swiss label’s own prominence within the culture. Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh popularized Bally sneakers on their album covers and on timeless anthems like “La Di Da Di.” Down South, Bally Animal sneakers were popularized by rappers from New Orleans in songs like Bust Down’s “Putcha Ballys On.” Granted that Bally worked with Slick Rick and Swizz Beatz in 2018, it’s interesting to hear that despite being urged by his team to bring sneakers to the runway, Villaseñor told Vogue that he declined to do so. 

As for the story he sought to tell at Bally, it didn’t feel fully fleshed out. “Rhude is the story of an immigrant kid who had the American dream for myself. And Bally is my European dream of what luxury is,” he told Forbes. Yes, the clothes looked luxurious, but where was the “risk-taking” and “bold choices” that Bally CEO Nicolas Girotto said that Bally needed? The most ambitious creative dive during Villaseñor’s tenure at Bally was a campaign centered on Western cowboys picking up curling—a popular winter sport tied to Bally’s Swiss heritage. While it’s a quirky and fun campaign, it felt more like a basic mash-up between American and Swiss culture rather than a captivating story about an American immigrant discovering what European luxury is. ​​​​​—Lei Takanashi

Celebrities Reign Over Designers

Rhuigi Villasenor Bally Fall Winter 2023 Show

Bally Didn’t Give Rhuigi Enough Time

Pusha T in custom Bally by Rhugi Villasenor

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