It may be a luxury leather goods company steeped in traditional craftsmanship and family values, but that doesn’t mean Tod’s can’t have fun.
“We want to give some exciting colour to our roots,” says owner, Diego Della Valle. “We want to remain high quality but also very cool … sometimes it is not easy.”
At the firm’s Hong Kong showroom, Della Valle flicks through tongue-in-cheek images taken by a famous LA-based photographer, which were inspired by their newest bag, the Sella (Italian for horse saddle).
“Now, everybody speaks about quality, craft and handmade rules. It has been our DNA for a long time, ” he says. “So we want to grow from this – one idea was to give us a way to explain our product with a very modern touch.”
Although its main advertising campaigns remain in the rather conservative vein of luxury image-making, Della Valle likes to keep clients and the media excited.
In February, the label appointed a new creative director, Alesandra Facchinetti, who had previously worked at Gucci and had a short-lived stint heading Valentino.
“We wanted to have a designer but also an ambassador representing an Italian style of life, and the DNA of Tod’s in Italy,” Della Valle says. “She’s Italian, she has very good taste and the feminine touch that we need in part of our collection.”
We can judge for ourselves come September, when her debut collection for Tod’s will show in Milan.
“We want to mix 20 per cent strong fashion product with our DNA,” says Della Valle. “We need this to attract the fashion people … the other iconic products are already best sellers in the world, so we won’t change that.”
Growing up in the Italian shoemaking region of Le Marche, with his shoemaker father, Dorino, and cobbler grandfather, Filippo, Della Valle’s first respect is for the artisanal craft.
Tod’s still uses the finest leathers, usually sourced from Europe. And their products, such as the iconic D-Bag or new men’s Sartorial Touch handmade collection, show off impeccable workmanship, detailing and leather treatment.
“This is what we are and what we come from. Because with luxury it is different from fashion, which changes quickly.”
But it’s a formula that has worked – so well that the brand now has become a household name worldwide. Last year, Tod’s Group’s sales revenues came in at a whopping 963.1 million euros, a 7.8 per cent increase on 2011.
Support in Asia continues to grow, but growth in this area will be gradual, for fear of diluting the brand.
“We want to develop,” Della Valle says, “but when you speak about luxury, don’t forget that exclusivity is part of it, if you do too many stores, too many commercial products, maybe the high quality customers won’t like that.”
It’s not only his family company Tod’s that Della Valle has steered into the global limelight under Tod’s Group. He has Hogan, a sportier, trendier and younger accessories label founded by his father and driven by his brother Andrea, as well as fashion label Fay, French shoemaking label Roger Vivier, and the couture house of famed fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, acquired in 2007.
But Della Valle says that he isn’t yet looking to acquire a large portfolio, like his friend Bernard Arnault at LVMH.
The focus right now is his existing labels.
“We want to remain as specialised as possible. I call my group a Special Specialist,” Della Valle adds.
This year, the Vivier label celebrates 10 years of relaunch under Italian creative director Bruno Frisoni and Della Valle. It also celebrates a doubling of sales figures from 2011 to 2012.
As is de rigueur in the Tod’s Group stable of storied brands, the key has been to resurrect the legend of the label and its craft, appealing to luxury clients while injecting contemporary designs that appeal to a more fashion forward customer.
Last month Della Valle announced a major coup. After taking years to find the right designer, he recruited revered Christian Lacroix to the creative team at Schiaparelli.
“Many artists and designers love the Schiaparelli story and Christian loves it,” he says.
“For couture week in July, he wants to do 15-20 pieces as a tribute to Elsa, her brand DNA and his translation.”
Della Valle’s growing wealth and his political outspokenness in his native Italy have made him a symbol of hope in tough economic times. He and Berlusconi were famous enemies and Della Valle was one of his most publically vocal critics when he was president.
His profile was boosted when, in 2011, Della Valle and Rome’s Mayor Gianni Alemanno announced from the ancient walls of the crumbling Coliseum that the Tod’s owner would fund its repair and renovation, estimated at 22 million euros.
As one of Made in Italy’s most vocal champions, does Della Valle think there is a duty for successful Italian business to preserve its traditions and cultures?
“Yes,” he says, “because Italy has a long story and a real easy sense of culture, of the details, of taste, it’s natural for Italians. Italy is the most important country for culture and I think that Made in Italy is an important guarantee now.”
Despite owning homes around the world, yachts, an Italian soccer team and a private jet, the billionaire Della Valle brothers are known for their down-to-earth charisma.
“The size of the company has changed, but not the culture and not the focus,” says Diego Della Valle, “and it’s easy if you love to do something, if you don’t love it, then no chance.”
Does it annoy him that their family old mottos of ‘quality craftsmanship’ and ‘heritage’ are now some of the most overused words in the industry?
“No,” he laughs. “People do what is popular, it’s normal. But we stay one step ahead.”