Following the steady rise of his luxury streetwear brand Rhude, LA-based Filipino designer Rhuigi Villaseñor is now tasked with shaking things up at Bally Switzerland.
“Sorry my camera isn’t on, I’m currently in transit.”
Rhuigi Villaseñor is in a car, somewhere in Milan, only a few days after showing his Spring/Summer 2023 collection for Rhude in Paris. Three years ago, he made his official fashion week debut in the French capital, but the supposed encores have been upended by the pandemic and its oscillating travel restrictions.
His streetwear brand, Rhude, however is back in the City of Lights, filling the otherwise quiet hallways of the Sorbonne with the buzzy and frenetic energy of a live fashion show.
When probed on the choice of Paris among other fashion cities, the LA-based Filipino designer shares, “Paris to me was one of the reasons I got into this world of high fashion, and design in general,” he says. “I thought it was a pinnacle where the greatest clothes were shown.”
And Rhude did not disappoint. Through his newest collection, Villaseñor managed to surpass the high standards he set for himself, and solidified his spot on the official calendar of Paris Fashion Week
With buttery leather jackets, cashmere separates, and perfectly tailored jeans, Villaseñor presented a lineup that was coherent, impeccably styled, and ultra desirable. “Americana meets Beachy Collegiate,” he sums up casually, and yet it feels like a serious distillation of the visual DNA and aesthetic alphabet of his brand.
Here, Villaseñor paints a very distinct portrait of the Rhude man, so clear that I am certain I have seen him before: sprawled on a sun bed with wet hair and technical silk swim shorts, squinting at the Adriatic Sea. I have seen him in a gallery opening, smoking outside, gamely talking about Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and Drake’s latest album with an implacable accent. Or elsewhere in Rome, one late night in early Spring, wearing a light cotton t-shirt and linen trousers, sleepily crossing some piazza towards a restaurant that would always have a table for him.
He’s all about easy luxury. But where a normal preppy guy de bonne famille would register as prematurely world-weary, the Rhude boy is filled with verve and youth, his casual jet-set bravado undercut with urban stylistic codes.
As much as it feels like a culmination of all of Villaseñor’s work for Rhude, it is also a prelude to what he plans to do in Bally. When a photo of him was included in the moodboard of the design sessions of the Swiss fashion house, CEO Nicola Girotto reached out to Rhuigi to see how they could collaborate. Later, he was appointed Creative Director.
Established in 1851, Bally is known for luxury leather goods and classic menswear staples. Following Pablo Coppola’s departure from the label in 2017, the interim collections were developed by an in-house design collective. Now, Rhuigi has free creative reigns on the European fashion brand, thanks to his global street cred and fresh take on luxury dressing. The path to this high point, however, did not come without a few hurdles.
In the early days of Rhude, the designer mirrored so many young creatives wanting to make it in fashion: lugging around suitcases carrying his looks, showcasing collections in apartments, and absorbing losses from short-sighted business decisions. “I’ve learned that there really are no shortcuts to hard work,” he says. “And that to create quality products is to understand quality. You need to dive in and make the time.”
If time is the ultimate teller, there’s no wonder Rhuigi has such an unforgiving eye for detail and an instinctive approach to design. His first contact with fashion was watching his mother hand sew his school uniforms and costumes as a child, and later, as a teenager, thrifting vintage designer pieces and reselling them for profit.
This early training in fashion curation and commerce, compounded with Rhude’s steady, lucrative growth, means that Rhuigi falls squarely into a very narrow categorical arena, that of the discerning luxury consumer. Known for his penchant for handcrafted leather goods and archival fashion pieces, he claims that being on the designer shop floor browsing, discovering, and having close contact with a product has helped hone his sensibilities, and ultimately prepares him for his future tasks in Bally.
“I come from an understanding of a customer,” Rhuigi confides. “So when I’m designing, it’s not so much as democratic, but I value everyone’s opinion. I think it makes my job easier.”
Villaseñor has a taste for investment timepieces; he owns an impressive personal collection of premier watches from Cartier, Audemars, and Patek. He talks with the grounded enthusiasm of a connoisseur, scrutinizing exposed inner gears or the pros and cons of steel bands, but not without the sentimentality of a collector.
Cherishing items inherited from his father and grandfather, and now labeling his current acquisitions as “future heirlooms,” he exposes a heart not for materiality, but for craftsmanship and the longevity it entails. “I’m a byproduct of a hardworking family. We didn’t have much,” Villaseñor offers. “So whatever we purchased needed to be something that withstood the test of time.”
Is this his idea of sustainability? “Totally,” he answers. “That for me is the ultimate answer. To build something so well-designed, so high-functioning; something you can keep for a long time. That’s the bottom line for what I’m doing in Bally, and Rhude as well.”
He writes in an Instagram post. “Two houses. One I’m building and the other one I’m renovating.” If his previous body of work can be taken as an indication for what’s to come, we are going to be living big.
As overly hopeful as it seems, it’s true: to talk to Villaseñor is to be infected by his drive, to be buoyed by his optimism and inspired by his quiet confidence. “Today, there is a much bigger stage and a lot more on the line,” he muses. “But the hunger stays the same.”
This story originally appeared in Vogue Philippines September 2022 Issue