Maximus exposure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am


Resurrection is in, with many major fashion houses reviving their archives in recent years. At the same time, the revamp is being extended to historical structures as luxury brands fund various renovations. Among the latest is Tod's Group, which is sponsoring a major overhaul of the Colosseum in Rome, one of the world's most famous ancient sites.

Although previous restoration works were finished in 2000, Italy's most famous landmark, completed in AD80 under Emperor Titus, remains damaged by ageing, earthquakes and vandals. Pollution has also blackened the stone surface, while underground railway vibrations are also said to have affected the structure.

But the Italian company's Euro25 million (HK$283 million) contribution isn't without controversy. Gianfranco Cerasoli, a unionist representing Italian art and cultural workers, has filed a lawsuit asking Rome prosecutors to examine the understanding between Tod's and city authorities, which he fears is overly generous to the company.

Tod's insists it has no plans to make commercial use of its sponsorship agreement with the Italian authorities. Group president Diego Della Valle rejects criticisms the deal is a PR coup for his company. 'There is only a social message and zero advertising message,' he says. 'It's a strong sign we give to the world that we are very proud to do this for our country.'

The Italian luxury goods company is the sole financier of the project to restore the ancient amphitheatre where gladiators once fought to the death. When sealing the deal, Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno said the contribution from Tod's finally ended a nightmarish quest to finance the renovation of the Colosseum, which attracts about six million visitors annually.

Della Valle says the project allows the company to give something back to its home country, citizens and tourists. It was Alemanno who personally asked if he would sponsor the restoration when a petition to private companies had previously returned no result, Della Valle says.

'I said yes - the Colosseum is the most Italian monument and symbol of our country. Tod's Group is a strong global representative of the 'Made in Italy' philosophy,' he says. 'It is an honour and our duty to contribute to the support of our country's image and credibility, as well as its cultural heritage.'

It isn't the first time Tod's Group has sponsored such cultural projects in Italy. The company previously financed productions at Milan's La Scala for a year and also collaborated with the opera house on creating a limited edition ballet-inspired shoe. The company has also previously supported other artistic institutions as the Whitechapel Gallery in London, PAC (Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea) in Milan and Moca (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Los Angeles.

Launched as a family shoe business in the early 1900s by Della Valle's grandfather, Tod's has since grown into a luxury brand group, encompassing its eponymous shoe brand, labels such as Hogan, Roger Vivier as well as the casual wear brand Fay. It's an expanding business: the group recorded sales of about Euro787.5 million last year, representing a 10.6 per cent increase from 2009.

Nevertheless, funding top-notch heritage restorations or cultural ventures may prove to be great advertising value for money. After all, its contribution to La Scala netted the company a short film in which the opera house's ballet troupe dances to the inspiration of the making of a Tod's shoe.

Might the Colosseum soon feature a Tod's logo carved into a pillar; Tod's banners flying at high noon; a particularly iconic shoe reimagined in stone, perhaps? Some reports have claimed that the Italian label is being given exclusive rights to use the official Colosseum image for up to 15 years on its products. The company has declined to comment on the claims.

However, mayor Alemanno has guaranteed that the tarpaulin covering the scaffolding will not be displaying Tod's logos. Della Valle also insists the group will only get the right to use the phrase 'sole sponsor for the restoration of the Colosseum' in its branding over the course of the refurbishment and for two years following completion.

Perhaps mindful of past controversies when commercial funding of heritage works resulted in major landmarks swathed in advertising, Della Valle is careful to distinguish the Colosseum restoration from other sponsored projects.

Last year, Venice citizens were outraged when Bulgari billboards covered the Bridge of Sighs because the city's agreement with Dottor Group, the company behind the structure's restoration, allowed it to sell advertising space to defray costs. In Florence, public outcry forced supermarket giant Esselunga to remove its ads on the Ponte Vecchio less than a week after putting them up. In a show of civic responsibility, the group agreed to continue paying for the restoration anyway.

Gucci has approached its cultural sponsorship with a little more finesse. When the luxury products conglomerate funded restoration of the facade of Florence's Santo Spirito church, the scaffolding reproduced the building's shape, albeit printed with the Gucci name.

Della Valle is apparently opting for subtlety in its heritage funding.

'In Italy, the Colosseum is a big example for everyone,' he says. 'When I was a student, we would take school trips there every two or three years.'

So Tod's will also set up a non-profit foundation, Friends of the Colosseum, dedicated to making the tourist attraction more accessible to youth, the disabled, the elderly and working people.

Visitors will be able to view Rome's most popular tourist attraction during the renovations, estimated to take three years. In addition to restoration of the structure, a service centre will be built for international press and VIP visitors.

'Many other Italian businessmen like to do the same thing,' says Della Valle. 'I try to convince Italian businessmen that it is very good to this for our country.'

The restoration of the Colosseum is set to start at the end of the year, and if all goes well, the ancient monument will again be in vogue, groomed Italian style.