Can This Young American Designer Resurrect the European Luxury Brand Bally?

He sees the Bally man swaggering around in understated pieces distinguished by their craft and materials: “We’re talking vicuña wool, python, silk—you have to be a really concentrated kind of man to seek out a silk-blend tank top.” He shows me a silk polo shirt and a soft lambskin “hyper-tailored” biker jacket, along with slim, pointed-toe dress shoes with a slight heel, made on vintage lasts he excavated from the archives. There’s none of the ruggedness or loose threads he incorporates into Rhude. “Really, I want people to wear wingtips and listen to jazz,” he sighs.

Not what you’d expect from a designer frequently filed under the category of streetwear, a term whose second-rate fashion connotations, he complains, can carry racist undertones. “It’s about audience,” he frowns. At one point, Rhuigi shows me pictures of some new inspirations: European road signs spotted in his travels. “If I make streetwear, I’m going to make what you see on the street!”

“Another Aperol Spritz, please,” he says to the waiter and finally agrees to show me some preview pictures of the new Bally womenswear designs. I see safari pockets and a button-front. “It’s a bodysuit,” he says. A white leather safari bodysuit. Another style recalls Guy Laroche’s famous booty-baring cut-out black dress worn by French film star Mireille Darc in 1972 – with a built-in thong, and a bit more booty.

“I’m updating this lifestyle for where we are today,” he says. “We’ve been locked up for so long and now we’re ready to have fun.” He selects a single look to encapsulate the collection for me: a silken white blouse with a natty row of loop-fastened rouleau buttons down the front, worn with a cognac leather envelope skirt held together by just a single clip at the hip bone – that touch of ta-da revealing the model’s leg from tip-top to bottom. European swank meets American scandal.

Cultural references collide in the collection. He pulls up a picture of a bag whose handle of wooden blocks was inspired by classic Swiss toy-making. A bracelet, with emerald-cut gems in lacy golden settings, represents “Earthquake Baroque,” he says, a nod to the Philippines’ architectural style developed in 17th and 18th century post-quake reconstruction. “It would be a pity if I didn’t amplify my own heritage at a house like this,” he says, sipping his spritz. “I want to speak about my personal stories and heritage along with the brand’s heritage.”

Visions of Milan’s future will be colliding when Rhuigi presents his runway show at the city’s Fabbrica del Vapore, a youthful arts and culture institution in a former train factory. It takes place a day before national elections in Italy, which the Fascist-heir Brothers of Italy party is projected to win, ushering in an era of state-sponsored hate and rolled-back rights for immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. Giorgia Meloni, the presumptive prime minister, has cited anti-immigration “Great Replacement” baloney in public statements.

Bally may have chosen Rhuigi to tap into younger tastes and the American market, and for his talent for stoking a frenzy of followers, but it is also significant to see a Filipino designer leading the brand in this climate, on the catwalks of Milan, where Filipinos constitute the largest immigrant group in the city. Girotto tells me that for the company, which has its second major headquarters in Milan and is participating in the city’s fashion week, the appointment of Rhuigi wasn’t “to tick boxes or for elements of diversity, but the choices we make show who are and fashion needs to show positive choices.”

As an American living in Italy with deep anxiety about Meloni’s fear-mongering ascendancy, I can’t hide that I’m rooting for Rhuigi here. I’m rooting to see this city, this country, and this corner of Europe open up to new ideas, to youth, to subcultures, to foreign cultures, to the kind of free-wheeling hybridism that nurtures visions like Rhude’s American-bred style. Fashion isn’t politics, but it is a measure of our time, and right now Milan needs every sign of progress possible. All the better if it comes outfitted with chic silk blouses and glam leather skirts.

Laura Rysman is a Florence-Based writer and Monocle’s central Italy correspondent.


PRODUCTION CREDITS:
Photographs by Federico Barbieri
Styled by Alessia Caliendo
Grooming by Ricky Morandin at W-MManagement using Lierac