Alessandra Facchinetti brings a feminine touch to Tod's

As the first women's creative director at Tod's, Alessandra Facchinetti brings a fresh feminine touch to the Italian brand, writes Jing Zhang

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 9:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 11:47am

As the first female figurehead helming Tod's women's division, the pressure is on for Alessandra Facchinetti. Although she didn't have a specific muse in mind when designing her debut collection, her idea was really to get "the right attitude".

"She's casual but very sophisticated with something very rich and modern, so I wanted to put all these elements into the [debut] collection," says Facchinetti, elegantly perched on a plush leather couch inside Tod's Hong Kong showroom. Her piercing green eyes lined with kohl, the tall, slim, dark- haired designer is a vision of Italian elegance. Clearly, brand owner Diego Della Valle chooses his personnel well.

Tod's has made a name for itself with its impeccable Italian craftsmanship, with factories based in the Italian region of Marche, birthplace of Della Valle. Its sleek designs, supple leathers and quiet elegance so favoured by the tastefully fashionable has spawned generations obsessed with the ultra-comfy gommino moccasins or new products such as the sophisticated Sella bag.

With Della Valle donating €5.2 million (HK$54.5 million) to renovate the famous La Scala theatre in Milan and then €25 million to the renovation of the Roman Coliseum in recent years, it seems that this strategy is doing rather well.

Business in Asia has been booming. The luxurious men's Sartorial Touch Collection was launched last year, offering bespoke detailing. And a year ago the appointment of Facchinetti as creative director of womenswear came as another boost for the label in today's competitive world of luxurious high fashion.

Although Tod's was a favourite of the late Princess Diana (she adored the gommino flats and her favourite shopper was renamed the D-Bag after her death), the brand's identity didn't bank on femininity. This all changed with Facchinetti, who Della Valle argues "really embodies the Italian woman and the Italian lifestyle of Tod's".

Her first collection for Tod's was also the label's first catwalk show at Milan fashion week (last September) and its debut into a full women's ready-to-wear wardrobe. The move marked a significant turning point for the label. Reviews of the spring-summer 2014 line were resoundingly positive, with fashion editors applauding the beauty, simplicity and technical innovation of Facchinetti's charming separates and fresh, modern sandals. A palette of pure crisp whites, powder pinks, baby blues and a dash of deep maroon was perfect for spring - a new feminine direction for Tod's.

"It's luxury but really wearable," she says. "That takes into account the way we [women] move, the way we work. So it's kind of real at the end of the day."

Her focus on style with comfort, function and form, is central to the label. Laser-cut thin splices of leather were layered for colourblockeffects and cut perforated on dresses, skirts and tops. Shirts tucked in, and easy elegant flat shoes will remain a staple of the women's line, she says.

The idea of "being timeless" is intrinsic to the company and remains true in Facchinetti's ready-to-wear. There will be always some focus products like shirts, tailored jackets, cool skirts that are trans-seasonal and can be worn in different ways. The Tod's woman way of dressing might even be "a little masculine in approach, even if the pieces are very feminine". The idea is to have some consistency with a twist, rather than to change the entire aesthetic each season.

For spring, those graphic lines and bold circular shapes were inspired by Italian interior designers such as Giovanni Ponti and Lucio Fontana. That graphic influence paired with a soft femininity is something she wants to continue in coming collections. It's no surprise then, to discover that Facchinetti originally studied art and architecture at university, and was into sculpture before turning to fashion school.

"I wasn't entirely convinced it was the right thing at the time. But at one point, in terms of shapes and the language of the body, I preferred to move into fashion."

Those other passions obviously still influence Facchinetti's design: "When I design, I think about other things that in the end lead into fashion. The fashion moment is really that last part of the process… I never lose the initial reference."

By being innovative with materials in her debut, Facchinetti succeeded in the almost impossible: a desirable and wearable spring summer collection rooted in leather.

"That was the biggest challenge for me," she says. "The focus is on leather because it's Tod's, but on the other side I love cotton, which is natural, fresh and modern. And I tried to get the same feeling into leather. Making it super supple or silky looking - it is more wearable for everyday. That was the difficult part but it was right to make a big statement for Tod's first show."

But the process of expressing the Tod's woman did not start with clothing per se. The brand is very much about a lifestyle, rather than specific products, and since Facchinetti's passions and education lie deep in art, design and sculpture, the first thing she thought about was to "create a home" at the company.

It's easy to see that the partnership between Facchinetti and Tod's is very much a collaboration rather than just a new designer being inserted into a brand. Since Della Valle and Facchinetti met up in early 2013 to discuss the move, being Italian, they both say, was very important to their synergy.

Having previously worked in the studios of Italian powerhouses Versace, Gucci and an ill-fated stint at Valentino before this latest role, Facchinetti also understands Italian fashion inside out.

"In the end, that was important for him [Della Valle] to have someone that understood the culture of the country and the company," she says.

"'Made in Italy' is still the most global phrase in fashion," Facchinetti says. "Not only because we have many brands but because we can deliver the best quality. There is a real reason why it's part of our culture, a mix of emotions, cultural sensibility and not just a fashion idea. It's very unique."