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Words Laura Bannister

Illustration André Saraiva

Return of the poster

One of BALLY’s best posters was released in 1969. It is referred to as Brown Legs Small. In reproductions I have seen, via design books or on websites (never an actual lithograph, though I know it so well I can almost smell it), French graphic artist Bernard Villemot performs at his very purest. Two pairs of leather shoes protrude from disembodied legs in slacks, a sort of visual trick that’s executed in olive-brown and carrot orange. It is simple and decorous, perennially pleasing.

BALLY began using posters for their advertisements in 1910. Almost all of them revolve around shoes. There are smart, shiny lace-ups and heels by Leonetto Cappiello, the former caricaturist turned ad man. There are sprightly, collaged legs by Donald Brun—they come in from the top left and slice the page in two. There’s a Herve Morvan one from ’52, in which a pink-faced, smiling gentleman laces his entire body—armpits to feet—inside a men’s shoe with a monochrome gradient.

Villemot—who was rather in-demand when it came to the poster business, working with Perrier, Charbon and the sweet, wine-based aparatif Dubonnet—also created one of the shoemaker’s last illustrations. It was issued in 1990, the year after his death. And then, for almost two decades there were no posters, only photographs—until an announcement two weeks ago.

In collaboration with orreet artist André Saraiva, a longtime friend of BALLY’s design director Pablo Coppola, and known especially for his deviant character Mr A, the Swiss house have launched a capsule collection of sturdy boots and belts and travel things (wallets, card holders, a silk scarf), fittingly dubbed BALLY x André. Key to the partnership is a jovial poster, adorned with children’s building blocks and striped balls and a candied, city backdrop. It is the first, Coppola says, of many for the brand; he is bringing the storied tradition back.

To mark the occassion, Museum presents an email thread with Coppola, in which we quiz him on the poster.

LAURA BANNISTER I am interested in the history of BALLY’s poster archive beyond this new advancement: its origins in 1910, its eventual abandonment in favour of photographic campaigns. Can you give me a little history? Who are some of the artists that developed BALLY posters—were they all big names, or were some created in-house, or by unknown artists? How many posters, roughly, do you think have been created for BALLY?

PABLO COPPOLA Since 1910, when BALLY started collaborating with artists and illustrators, there have been many posters produced to promote products, store openings and BALLY anniversaries, among other things. Some of the artists became quite influential in their [respective] fields: Bernard Villemot, Rene Grau, Emil Cardinaux, Federico Ribas, Pierre Gauchat, Herve Morvan and Pierre Augusburger.

BANNISTER Where are they currently kept? How many copies of each are in existence? Are they rare items now, collectibles?

COPPOLA We currently have around 450 posters, which are kept in the BALLY archive in Schonenwerd, Switzerland. Many of them are one-off originals; others are artist proofs. They’ve become very sought after—highly collectible in some cases, whether due to the artist or the poster’s relevance within the BALLY history.

BANNISTER I wonder about your own relationship with posters. In a way, the poster is antithesis of luxury culture. Torn, ripped, stuck to walls in teenage bedrooms. Temporary and cheap. Did you have posters as a child? If so, what were they of?

COPPOLA As I mentioned before, all the posters in the archive are a source of inspiration. We randomly look at them and borrow details or they became a starting point for a print … Switzerland has strong roots in graphic design and typography, so it seems normal to us to approach print and graphic design almost as if we were [making] posters. The poster we have done with André could be looked as the antithesis of luxury, but on the other hand it follows the BALLY poster tradition: it was created by a renowned graphic artist, using state of the art silkscreen techniques. We have done a limited run of 120, all of them signed and numbered by the artist. I did have posters as a child—after all I am a kid of the 80’s. I used to have my room plastered with Madonna posters.

BANNISTER Do you personally own any BALLY posters?

COPPOLA I have a few that I managed to get in the last few years, but I will surely cherish André’s one the most.

BANNISTER How did the collaboration with André begin?

COPPOLA André approached us with regards to a pair of vintage BALLY boots form the 70s that he has been wearing nonstop, but they needed to be remade. Since they were so nice we decided to do also a women’s version and to create a limited edition capsule. Organically, between emails and meeting back and forth we started adding small leather goods [and so on]and finally I realised  he could be the best person to restart BALLY’s posters tradition.

BANNISTER I’m rather fond of André’s collection of impossible concert posters: Dream Concerts in the Streets. I’d be interested to know what you think of them, and what other work of André’s you find compelling.

COPPOLA Yes, I do love those posters, and in fact I do own one, but what I connect with the most with is his Mr A character. I find him funny, cheeky and full of humour, plus it reminds me of my early years in Paris in which I used to come across Mr A graffiti all over the city.

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