Rapper and producer Swizz Beatz is serious about art. So serious, in fact, that when he personally reached out to Bally via Instagram asking to collaborate, he wanted to make sure whatever he created was artistic enough to be considered, well, art.
“It’s a dream collaboration,” Beatz tells Billboard of Bally x Swizz, his new, illustration-centric collection with luxury footwear brand Bally, available now. “I’ve been a fan of Bally since back in the day, growing up in the South Bronx. Bally used to be the signature of making it, Slick Rick, Doug E Fresh with “Fresh dressed like a million bucks/Threw on the Bally shoes and the fly green socks,” and now to come back years later and be the one to bring things to a new generation…it’s amazing.”
Beatz’s life is one of constant airport hopping—while we were on the phone with him he had just passed through security. So it’s no surprise that the idea to collaborate with the second oldest heritage brand in the world (second only to Hermes) came to him while at London’s Heathrow airport.
“I saw these sneakers at the Bally store there and was like, ‘okay, these are cool. But why doesn’t anyone wear them?’ In Bally’s mind, they thought what they were doing was perfectly fine, because the leather, the know-how, the fabrics; those have always been the best. But they were very conservative about it. That’s not what the young people want,” Beatz says.
As a result, their first capsule collection is unlike any Bally line previously produced, and hopefully will be one the younger set is clamoring for. Textured leather backpacks ($825), lace up high tops ($595), slip-on sneakers ($425) and a handful of luxury accessories (iPhone cases, keychains, sweaters and even varsity jackets ranging from $125 to $1,695) are decorated with Spanish artist Ricardo Cavolo’s folk art-inspired protagonists; pious-looking symmetrical symbols designed in bright, Barcelona-like colors. “When I spoke with Swizz about the concept of the collection, he told he wanted me to create something about when the artist works with total freedom, the creation with no borders, free spirit,” Cavolo said of the inspiration behind his exclusive illustrations. “So I decided to create a few characters representing the artists who let the animal they have inside, out. Working with freedom and no borders means to work with that animal inside of us. These characters are a sort of gods or shamans with his/her spirit animal as totems.”
When asked about choosing Cavolo, Beatz said he wanted an artist whose work felt, at its core, “diverse with no color boundaries.”
“It’s very important for art to be freedom of expression, and I didn’t want people to say this is only a hip-hop thing or only a black thing or only an Asian thing. I wanted people to feel like they can be part of it,” Beatz said. “The world is very fragile right now, people are very fragile right now. At the end of the day being an African American from the South Bronx, people think I should only have one style, one taste. But I broke out of that 20 years ago and I want to help other people break out of that too. We’re inspired by the world, not just our surroundings. When I started traveling decades ago, I started collecting art from all places from the world. When I look at art now, I see cultures and united ideals instead of peoples skin.”
The Bally x Swizz capsule collection is available at bally.com and Bally stores, with products ranging from $125 to $1,695.