18 August 2020

Bally, when Swiss and Made make the pair

It’s hard to imagine that Empress Sissi’s wedding, the ascent of Mount Everest, Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon, the performance of the Swiss team at the 1948 Winter Olympics and the photo shoot of rapper Doug-E-Fresh’s cover could have anything in common. And yet! One and the same brand contributed to this series of events. A brand that has been around for more than a hundred years and which started out timidly in the basement of a house in Schönenwerd to become an international leader in footwear. This is the story of Bally.

by Eugénie Rousak

Bally’s path did not follow an easy path, between the difficulties of the beginning, the mistrust of the Swiss people towards home-made shoes and the multiple turbulences endured after the sale of the company by the founding family, which the House has not yet really overcome. But let’s not be too hasty. It is 1850 in the canton of Solothurn. The ribbon manufacturer and elastic expert, the industrialist Carl Franz Bally, has to travel to Paris. After settling his affairs, he takes advantage of being in the French capital to buy a few gifts for his wife. His choice will be shoes, why not? Curious by nature, he then looks at these shoes, being particularly interested in the embroidered models. Entrepreneur at heart, he has a trigger: the future of this industry lies in functional shoes made of high quality soft leather. Without waiting, he founded Bally & Co. in 1851. Together with his brother Fritz Bally, they set up the workshop in the basement of his house and the business was launched. But the road to success was tormented and the first collection was a disaster. Moreover, a disaster announced in the newspapers, which was enough to discourage the Swiss to buy the shoes of the sign and to destroy its reputation durably. But if Bally’s boutique now occupies number 47 on Rue du Rhône, it is because the brothers have not abandoned their idea of shoes as comfortable as they are elegant, even if the road to success is slow. Quality and know-how being the priority of the Soleuroise House, it takes no less than a day to produce a pair. Not really enough to conquer the world. But the Bally family will seize its chance and the industrial revolution will be a real boost for this jewel of Swiss industry.

Bally, leather architects

Relocating production to a factory in 1854 in the middle of the village, Carl Franz Bally decided to supplement the traditional know-how with the use of machines. Accompanied by his son Eduard, the entrepreneur optimizes production, taking advantage of innovation and new energy sources. The result was not long in coming. Mechanical progress quickly propels Bally to the next level! The Schönenwerd factory can now produce 100 pairs a day! Internationality is a dream come true… why dream at all? In 1881 Bally opened the doors of his London store on New Bond Street to introduce Swiss Made quality to the British monarchy. Elegant, comfortable, contemporary and accessible models were soon to rise to the top of the industry. The new clientele is seduced by the attention to detail and the mix of materials in the same pair. Designs that combine embroidery, buttons, patterns or ornaments and sometimes even bangs, will turn heads! The Swiss shoemaker then takes the lead in the international fashion industry. In order to facilitate his growing production, Carl Franz Bally gave Schönenwerd a real facelift. In order to house its several thousand workers, Carl Franz Bally completely redesigned its buildings by creating residential areas, a public park and even a swimming pool. A new way of manufacturing! The transfer of the company to the founder’s sons, Eduard and Arthur, at the end of the 19th century only contributed to the glory of the brand. Under their influence, production will approach four million pairs annually while the brand’s reputation is ahead of all the competition. Speaking of competition… Unlike other major brands, Bally has never needed to create a logo to establish its reputation. Recognizable red and white stripes, in reference to the Swiss flag, and the famous Janelle buckle were more than enough to stand out and, above all, to create continuity in the collections!

Climbing Everest literally and figuratively

In 1951 Bally exploded a real bomb on the industry with the Scribe model. The work of Max Bally, grandson of the founder, this reference to the Parisian Hôtel Scribe always turns consumers’ heads, in all styles and materials. A symbol of elegance, this classic, uncluttered style has been the House’s emblem ever since. The women’s collections also dictate the market, inviting polka dots, bows and folds on shoes that “match the personality and harmonize with grooming”, according to an advertising poster. But in addition to being a sign of taste and comfort for the city, Bally expanded its range with hiking shoes with very resistant soles in the 1920s. It is precisely this diversification of line that will propel the brand to the summit of Everest and the moon. And this is not an allegory or figure of speech! New Zealand adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary wore Ballys to tame Everest, while Neil Armstrong’s Bally sole touched the surface of the moon in 1969. A small step for mankind, but a big step for the Swiss sign! The Sparta Grip soles are still produced by the brand, if you wish to acquire. The shoes are to be completed with ready-to-wear, leather goods and leather bags, also produced since the 70’s by the brand.

A Swiss phoenix?

After the ascent of a summit, inevitably comes the descent. And this rule has not spared the Swiss sign. After being sold by the family in the 70s, Bally passed into the hands of different owners, losing its identity and the infatuation of its loyal clientele. In fact, the factory left its native Schönenwerd to take over the Ticino-based Caslano. In 2010, the artistic duo Graeme Fidler and Michael Herz began the relaunch of the more than one hundred year old know-how of the House, a project supported by their successor, Pablo Coppola. Passing into the hands of Nicolas Girotto in 2019, who had previously relaunched Harry Winston, the Swiss shoemaker may have a chance to recolor his red and white stripes and rewrite his Scribes?

Switzerland has its stars. Lindt for chocolate, Rolex for watches and Bally for shoes. The cultural heritage of this House, which produced 150 million shoes in 150 years, has left a lasting mark on Switzerland’s heritage. While few brands can boast of having a museum in their name, Bally does not deprive itself of it.

Red dress, Bally

Harper Backpack, Bally

Dahlia shoes, Bally

Small bag Viva, Bally

Crokett Moccasins, Bally

Steve Glasses, Bally