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Claudia Cividino, the CEO of Bally Americas, talks with Whitewall about David Chipperfield, J. Cole, and Bally’s new Rodeo Drive boutique.
WHITEWALL: Before joining Bally you were at Miu Miu, Coach, Yves Saint Laurent. What initially drew you to a career in fashion?
CLAUDIA CIVIDINO: I was one of those fortunate kids that knew from a really, really early age what she wanted to do. I think I was eight years old when I started my collection of Vogue magazines.
I grew up in Italy, and then my family moved to the West Coast. I knew that I needed to leave the West Coast and move to New York because it was clear that if you wanted to work in the industry at a high level you had to be here.
WW: How did growing up in Italy affect your eye for fashion, do you think?
CC: Being that young in Italy, for me it was about this recognition of the idea of beauty—whatever beauty was. That’s what really stayed with me from the years spent there.
WW: You’ve said that your focus now at Bally, as head of the Americas, is to rebuild its presence here and elevate Bally’s profile. How do you see that happening?
CC: In its day, Bally was a very modern brand. It was, from a design prospective, a super-modern brand—in terms of its product, the design of its stores, the artists that collaborated with it that designed for Bally, the design of their posters. Bally was the first brand to enter China well before any luxury brand went there. So, in many ways, Bally has been a leader. It’s just that specifically on this continent, it really fell back in the last, I would say, 25 years.
I think that, fundamentally, that story needs to be told—the story of the history, the heritage, and the modernity of the brand as it was originated. But then, the brand needs to show its modernity today. What does it mean to be modern today? How does Bally move back into that place where it always knew how to live?
I should tell you that I came here because Bally was a brand that I had watched from the outside for a number of years. But I really see this need in the market for a heritage brand at a democratic price point offering real luxury, really beautiful leathers, real quality. We are the only heritage brand sitting in that place of affordable luxury. We’re a Swiss brand, Switzerland being the country of NGOs, the country of democracy and neutrality. I think that the market is actually interested in a brand that knows how to be luxury, but can be accessible.
WW: That makes me think about your past collaboration with the music artist J. Cole on a series of boots and backpacks. It made so much sense on so many levels. Bally does have that link to hip-hop from the eighties, but the heritage hiking boot also looks very contemporary, style-wise.
CC: It was such a fantastic collaboration—and can I can tell you, it was just such a pleasure to have him in our “kitchen.” He was so honored to be connected to Bally, to have had this opportunity to design something that he was passionate about. It made sense because of what we’ve done in the past with that community historically. And so when it’s authentic, I can’t tell you how easy it was to do this with him.
WW: Last year, there was the big opening of the London flagship stores designed by David Chipperfield. Is there now a push in the American stores for a redesign?
CC: Most definitely. I’ve just opened the first David Chipperfield store on this continent in South Coast Plaza, Orange County. It is a remarkable center and the store is performing right away, incredibly, with double-digit growth over the prior year. So that tells a story of the power of the concept.
I’m going to spend next week in that market. I want to spend time in the store. I want to watch the flow of traffic, where the customer goes when they enter the store. Where does their eye rest? What do they walk toward? Where do they go? What do they avoid? It’s important to spend time in a store to really understand all of that because through understanding it more deeply we can better iterate the stores to come.
This spring I will open the Rodeo Drive store. It’s an amazing two-story, 7,000-square-foot flagship—it will be the largest store in the U.S.
WW: How do you think a well-designed store affects a customer’s relationship with the brand?
CC: Well, it is fascinating because a client will have a reaction to something well before they’re having a reaction. Actually, they may never realize they’re having a reaction. When you’re looking at what to put in a store, you assort a New York very differently than you assort an L.A. And particularly when it comes to ready-to-wear, you can put a wool in New York—no problem. But if you’re thinking of putting a wool in L.A., if it looks heavy or too nubby, a customer won’t even go near it. Even if it just looks heavy. It could be a cotton bouclé, it could be a silk bouclé—a customer won’t even touch it if it looks too heavy.
That same thing goes on with the look and feel of a store. You’re sending messages without even knowing you’re sending messages. So it’s on us to be really aware of: “What are the messages we’re sending to the client by the look of our store?”
When the experience is so consistent through every touchpoint—through every client moment when the experience is so high, at a high level—then something registers.
This article is published in Whitewall‘s spring 2016 Art Issue.