If you were to ask a woman on the street to name a famous shoe manufacturer, the chances are she would say, Bally, before even thinking about Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo.
Now celebrating their 165th birthday, Bally of Switzerland still ranks among the old school brands of 19th-century.
While the haute couture Parisian houses of Hermes and Louis Vuitton struggled to regain their foothold after the war, Bally was still growing.
A big seller for the Swiss company was a two hundred step handmade shoe called the Scribe.
The Scribe got its name from the Scribe Hotel in Paris, where shoe designer Max Bally resided.
The Bally Company was   also a firm believer in getting popular celebrities of the day to endorse your products, knowing that the public would follow suit.
Buoyed by the success of a 1930’s cinema advertisement featuring the silent screen legend Charlie Chaplin, the company introduced a very successful poster campaign using renowned French artist, Bernard Villemot.

Vintage advertising poster
Vintage advertising poster

The history of Bally is like so many successful ideas by seizing an opportunity when it presented itself.
In the case of Bally, it came about following a visit to Paris by Swiss silk ribbon manufacturer Carl Franz Bally, who during his time in the French capital decided to take back a pair of lace-up boots as a present for his wife.
Not knowing his wife’s exact size, Bally decided to buy 12 pairs of boots in different sizes, with the thought that he could sell the boots that did not fit his wife to other people in the village.
When he discovered how easy it was to sell the boots, Carl together with his brother Fritz decided to get into the shoe business opening Bally& Co from their family home.
The Bally brother’s vision was to use the finest leather available to create shoes that were not only visually stimulating but also functional enough for everyday use.
 
By 1860 Bally had transformed the tiny village of Schönenwerd located north of the Swiss Alps between Basel and Zurich into a company town, employing 500 people.
Now one of the largest footwear manufacturers in Europe, it was time to expand the operation and open retail stores. The first store opened in Geneva, Switzerland in 1870 and then followed by Montevideo, Uruguay later in the year.
In 1873 the company expanded into Buenos Aires, Argentina, with Paris and London next on the agenda.
The business was now growing rapidly and by 1916 had become one of the world’s first true multinationals, employing 7000 people around the globe.
Bally is still going strong today, with the company’s footprint firmly established in the luxury goods buyers mind, and while no longer a family concern, the business has stuck by their philosophy of using a celebrity to endorse their products.
 
This was clear when film star Gwyneth Paltrow showed up decked out in Bally clothing to celebrate the opening of their flagship Rodeo Drive location.
 
Bally products have a reputation for being long-lasting, and while they may seem expensive compared to similar goods, they are quality merchandise, worth every penny.
 
Location:
Bally can be found in Heathrow Airport Terminals 3 and four after the security check.
 
Photos permission from Estampermoderne and Robert Sheie.

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