Andrea Della Valle loves to talk: architecture, the European economy, Champions League, Karl Lagerfeld, the Asian consumer; conversation with Della Valle is more extensive than one expects from the billionaire owner of one the world's top fashion groups.
Della Valle is the vice-chairman of Tod's Group and younger brother of the more ubiquitous Diego, the chairman and chief executive of the family company. Despite his lower profile, Andrea wields as much influence within the company and has direct control over subsidiary Hogan.
The youthful offshoot of the Tod's Group, Hogan has existed for longer than people realise. "Hogan is the youngest brand in our group but we established it in 1986, so you can say 26 years is not so young," says Della Valle adding that Hogan was created at a turning point in fashion. "Hogan began when tastes were changing and people were moving away from clothes that were not so formal: Hogan caught the right moment."
Dressed in black, and wearing casual sneakers, Della Valle encapsulates the Hogan male and is at pains to explain that his company pioneered the casual-formal dialectic popular in the early '90s which has since been copied by others. "We were the first brand to have formal clothes with sneakers. Casual-formal, it was something completely new."
Della Valle is in Hong Kong to oversee Hogan's expansion plans with new stores planned for Shanghai and Beijing this year and concedes that Hogan is still relatively unknown in Asia.
"We arrived a lot later than other brands in Asia. It was a choice to arrive much later than Tod's. We wanted to establish Tod's, which we have, and now Hogan is ready to grow in Asia."
Though Della Valle spends time talking plans for Hogan, the impression is that Hogan, and even Tod's for that matter, are vehicles for him to indulge his other passions. One of those is his hometown football team Fiorentina, which has made the Della Valle name as likely to be heard in the bars and cafes of Italy as it is on the catwalks of Milan. The other passion for Della Valle, from a fashion perspective, is working with people he admires, most notably Karl Lagerfeld. Hogan by Karl Lagerfeld is a capsule collection in its fourth release with autumn-winter 2012 and has been wildly successful, although Della Valle saw the project as a chance to work with a fashion maverick than a financial venture. Della Valle's eyes light up when he talks of collaborating with Lagerfeld; " I was surprised by how modern Karl is. He has so many ideas, yet he has great discipline. He goes into all the details without forgetting the DNA of the brand."
Della Valle then veers to his other heroes, architects, whom he calls "geniuses of the world". His love for architects and their profession led him to create the Hogan Future Roots project (see breakout story) comprising 56 portraits of prominent designers and architects including Zaha Hadid, Karim Rashid and Jean Nouvel. For Della Valle, architects are "people that make dreams come true. They have to think about how people interact with their space and I try to put that philosophy in our products. Whether handbags or shoes, our products are designed to be used by different people at different times of day."
Della Valle thinks Roots is a perfect fusion of Hogan's philosophy as it reflects his views about architecture. He is inspired by the words of American architect Richard Meier that feature in the book: "Luxury is the accumulation of stuff, but real luxury is the ability to have the bare essentials."
His love of architecture isn't just confined to the modern. Della Valle and his brother are key players in restoring some of Italy's most iconic structures. Tod's Group helped fund work on Rome's decaying Coliseum and plans to save Pompeii, Venice and Florence in what it calls Project Italia. Despite criticism that the brothers were to use the Coliseum as a giant billboard and hoped to privatise Italy's monuments, Della Valle says the project was about love of country.
"We had no hesitation when they asked. We were only involved in the early stages and funding of the restoration but now the experts are taking over. We did it for Italy." As with everything Della Valle does, passion lies at the core.
Andrea Della Valle's day job might be steering one of the world's largest fashion groups but his real passion and tortured love is for his hometown football club Fiorentina. "This last season was a disaster! Everything went wrong," he says with a sense of misery. It's a familiar feeling for followers of sports teams who come to expect suffering.
Fiorentina play in the top Italian league Serie A, but lack the financial might and following of the more illustrious Milan clubs and Juventus of Turin. And this season the club encountered player and coach problems that led to criticism of the Della Valle family from the fans. "Unfortunately sometimes the fans forget who puts the money and passion into the club. It's funny, but when you win it's the coach and the players who are responsible, but when you lose it's the owners fault, but that's football."
Della Valle admits he persuaded the family to save Fiorentina from bankruptcy in 2002. "In the summer, you miss the match days, but my wife gets angry as she doesn't see me on weekends. And football is work. I'm still working on the weekends." However, despite the criticism and poor performance his family won't be giving up on Fiorentina. "It's like fashion, every season is tough, but if you don't have the passion, you can't go on."
Diego Della Valle’s aspirational Future Roots volume was first presented as a photographic project for Hogan at the Triennale di Milano during design week in April. It comprises 56 portraits of internationally renowned designers and architects from Patricia Urquiola and Karim Rashid, to Jean Nouvel and Tadao Ando, all people whom Della Valle says “make dreams come true”. The luminaries – all wearing Hogan shoes – were shot in their working environments but given a tender intimacy by eminent Italian photographer Ornella Sancassani. “Without relinquishing the best of yesterday, it modernises, transforms, reinterprets, projecting it into innovative images, structures and products that remain contemporary due to a perfect balance between past and future.” To underline its commitment to building a better future, the Tod’s Group, of which Hogan is a subsidiary, in collaboration with Save the Children, has pledged to support a charity benefitting Japan, sharing a portion of the proceeds from book sales. “A world where innovation and research move forward while remaining faithful to their roots, by enriching but never by distorting that reality is the idea behind the project,” says Della Valle.
Some of the designers and architects featured in Future Roots include (clockwise from top) Paolo Navone, Nacho Carbonell, Fernando and Humberto Campana, and Karim Rashid.