Without any formal training in fashion design, Rhuigi Villaseñor — founder and creative director of luxury brand Rhude (stylized as “RHUDE”) and newly appointed creative director of Swiss brand Bally — credits his understanding of garments to his mother who sewed school uniforms and party clothes for him and his siblings. Coveted and worn by Kendrick Lamar (his first customer), Frank Ocean, Justin Bieber, and ASAP Rocky, the label sits somewhere between high fashion and streetwear, combining American iconography with nostalgic references and luxury techniques, something that he will surely bring to Bally.
Known for its incomparable craftsmanship and leather shoes, Bally preserves its essence as Swiss shoemakers that combine heritage, artistry, and contemporary design. In the five years of operating without a creative director, the brand underwent a repositioning and returned to its roots as a discreet and accessible luxury. And with the addition of Villaseñor — a talented visionary who melds luxury with streetwear — Bally is set to reintroduce modern-day Swiss lifestyle to the luxury market.
Villaseñor had a slower, more thoughtful evolution in his approach to design at Rhude, which is known for its ready-to-wear clothing, footwear, and accessories. When he had first started his own brand, his thinking and decision-making process were lined with a diplomatic take. “I wanted to be very anti-institutional, putting out new ways and innovation and taking things that I like and making it in the highest quality,” he said. But as years passed, Villaseñor realized that the objects of our fascination change at sporadic rates. “I think design is actually purely social studies,” said Villaseñor. “I think people forget that there’s a big, big aspect in design for it to live and it’s human.” He underscores how fashion captures how painstakingly natural and human it is to keep falling in love with the new and fall back in love with the old. And in a way, the beauty of the brand remains in how it has grown with its maker.
For Villaseñor, Rhude is the preservation of an open conversation. The continuous churning of collections and releases means the 30-year-old designer is able to keep building the bridge between his consumers and his imagination. His work at Rhude is also woven with intimacy and reverence for his family and loved ones. In previous collections, bags and accessories were named after his mother and girlfriend. “I’m building a fashion house here and most fashion houses have iconic names,” said Villaseñor. “So, I created items named after people who mean the most to me.”
Included in his tight-knit circle is Jay-Z, a man who Villaseñor considers as not only his mentor, but also his brother and biggest supporter. The 23-time Grammy award-winner is often spotted as the first to wear designs by Villaseñor, from his Puma trainer collaboration to Lakers-inspired Rhude hats. “It’s crazy though, the way the world works,” he said. “I listen to his albums to get me through [the] dark times of my life.”
Seven years after putting up his own label, Villaseñor moved into his new seat at Bally as its Creative Director.
Villaseñor’s admiration for the Swiss luxury house dates back to his early childhood —- with articles of the brand worn from generation to generation. “My grandfather wore Bally, my dad wore Bally, and I stole my dad’s Bally [loafers] and wore it. I still wear it,” he said.
His work at Bally is characterized by precision and a sense of structure as he renovates and re-structures the future of the Swiss luxury fashion house — designing clothes and accessories that can uncover heritage and re-tells the story of Switzerland. “I hope to talk about the craftsmanship, the beauty of the leather work and the Switzerland story, what I think the ultimate luxury is, you know?” said Villaseñor.
His personal understanding of Bally, one of the world’s longstanding luxury brands, coupled with his imaginative and creative spirit steer his vision and direction for the brand. Working on his debut collection for Spring/Summer 2023, the Manila-born creative director intends to invigorate and modernize the brand while remaining faithful to its longstanding traditions.
He equates his appointment at Bally as a mirror of hard work. “I think it’s important not only to my people but to just minorities alone,” said Villaseñor. “These are the things that are super important to me: how do we get more colored people in places and how do I give that hope?”
Villaseñor’s recent decision to go on a trip back home to the Philippines stems from a strong desire to work with local talent and to learn subcultures within his own heritage. He cites woven furniture makers as one of the many types of artists from different regions that he hopes to collaborate with through the Bally Foundation. “Now is [when] I have the opportunity to be the mirror and be the stage,” he said. “I don’t wanna be the talent, I wanna be the stage.”
His fascination with clothes starts with its implications and culture. “I fell in love with clothes and I saw how much that was meaningful to culture. Streetwear was growing and growing and you had people re-interpreting the way fashion was,” said Villaseñor. Witnessing fashion in LLos Angeles unfold — from a rock ‘n’ roll movement gravitating to high fashion — prefaced his desire to start wearing clothes that documented a culture or period in time. “It was like, ‘Oh man, I gotta get some clothes but I don’t have the money for it,’” he said.
Villaseñor often got things done through a sheer force of will. “At that time, you kinda needed to make things work in capacity,” said Villaseñor. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna make it, I have to make it because by any means I have to help my parents and I have to help my younger brother and my younger sister at that time.’” Living an undocumented life in the United States distanced Villaseñor from any prospects of a job. “I still had to eat, I still had to figure [it] out, so I started selling clothes online.”’
Having left the Philippines at 11 years old, Rhuigi Villasenor’s new life in the United States began at his aunt’s living room before his family relocated into a one-bedroom apartment. Seeing the United States through his eyes as a child, an understanding of America as a center for pop culture pushed him forward, at odds with language barriers. “I learned how to speak English and communicate with people through pop culture,” said Villaseñor. “I was consuming information as much as I could so I [could] have a proper conversation.”
While he coursed through American culture growing up, Villaseñor feels he remains culturally an islander. He likens his return to the Philippines last March to an exploration of his way of being. “It’s my travels, my ancestries and core beliefs that have been passed down and now it’s turning,” he said. “Because to me, it’s also a question of: what is all this for if I can’t keep the door open for people?”
And as he grows older, the stronger he feels drawn back to his roots. “My most Filipino trait… Ooh, oh my God, I just — soup. Soup,” said Villaseñor. “If you ask me [what] my comfort food, they’ll know it’s soup. Even at like a Michelin-star restaurant, I’m always like, ‘Fuck I want soup.’” He revealed his soft spot for sinigang, bopis, and kare-kare. When he’s not on a plane balancing his life between LA and Milan, he withdraws into reading and talking to his family. “And I watch, like, dating shows.”
It is one of Villaseñor’s philosophical tenets that the youth are invited to the conversation. Thinking long-term, he hopes to push Bally to the forefront of the issues surrounding the next generation. “How can I use this platform to encourage kids to be part of something much larger than just a leather good?,” he said. Not only is Villaseñor’s altruistic outlook charmingly astute, but it is also paramount to running the creative point of both brands. “I think that’s my duty now as I grow into my career, obviously, I will make beautiful clothes, beautiful items, conquer all my dreams but I want to make sure that I want to be a mirror to everyone.”
Even when he gets down for brief periods, his mind remains at work. But instead of contemplating garments and articles of clothing he wants to release next, he ruminates on what the next collection should represent. “[Because] of my father, I think I’m super focused on things that I love and I only do that,” said Villaseñor.
Video by SAMANTHA LEE
Portraits shot on location at SHANGRI-LA THE FORT, MANILA
Special thanks to DEBRALIZ GALANG