We The Italians | Italian Lifestyle and Fashion: Tod's Craft. Diego Della Valle Does Italian Style to a T

Italian Lifestyle and Fashion: Tod's Craft. Diego Della Valle Does Italian Style to a T

Italian Lifestyle and Fashion: Tod's Craft. Diego Della Valle Does Italian Style to a T

  • WTI Magazine #94 Aug 19, 2017
  • 81

For Diego Della Valle, the 63-year-old billionaire owner of Italian luxury leather and apparel giant Tod's Group, style has always trumped fashion. Considering the success Tod's has had since its formation in 1978, Della Valle has a point.

Tod's has never been about being trendy or frivolous; the company has made a conscious decision to steer clear of prevailing fashion winds and stay on brand, marrying work and leisure, sport and elegance, quality and innovation. Tod's essence is polished, well-crafted, exclusive, and expensive. But there's nothing stuffy about It. After all, the company made its name with the now iconic custom-crafted Gommino driving shoe; the 133 rubber nibs embedded in its sole drew in the Agnellis of the world to start and then the Hollywood circuit. But well-heeled customers around the globe are attracted to the effortless, casual Italian lifestyle that a Tod's purchase represents.

In addition to the Tod's flagship brand, Tod's Group also includes Italian-based Hogan (famous for luxury sneakers), Fay (for apparel), and the French women's shoe label, Roger Vivier. The most recent addition to the mix is the legendary fashion house of Schiaparelli. The name had been dormant for almost 60 years until Della Valle revived the haute couture line in 2012.

Quantifying Della Valle

Tod's Group has produced impressive results. It ranks 42 out of 100 top brands in Deloitte's 2017 Global Powers of Luxury report. Tod's closest Italian fashion neighbors in the ranking are Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino, numbers 39 and 43, respectively. Ferragamo is number 33. Global sales in 2016 were in excess of $1 billion. The company has more than 270 stores worldwide and eight factories in Italy (six for shoes, two for leather goods) that produce all of its merchandise. The employee count is about 4,500. 

All that success has made Tod's a leader in the Italian economy. It has also given its founder the platform to become one of Italy's most dynamic businessmen. Della Valle sits on the boards of Ferrari, Maserati, and LVMH, the French fashion conglomerate that owns Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Loro Piana, among other labels. Della Valle is the 26th wealthiest person in Italy out of 41 contenders, courtesy of his success with Tod's and other investments. For example, in 2014 he sold his 15% stake in US department store, Saks Fifth Avenue, for a gain of about $136 million. Della Valle's net worth is $1.65 billion.

Della Valle and his younger brother Andrea own 61 percent of Tod's Group, which was listed on the Milan Stock Exchange in 2000. Diego is chairman and the highly public face of Tod's; Andrea (his net worth is $1.18 billion) is the management backbone. 

Success didn't happen overnight

But it did begin in the central eastern Marche region of Italy, an area that hugs the Adriatic Sea for about 100 miles and extends inland. Shoemaking is a tradition here, and it's the place where the Della Valle brothers' grandfather, Filippo, started the family shoe business in 1920. Dorino, Filippo's son, would eventually run the firm. By the 1950s, Dorino had begun producing custom shoes for the big American department stores. The business flourished. 

By 1975, Diego Della Valle had abandoned his law studies at the University of Bologna and joined the family business. Along the way, he had worked as an intern at an American department store and experienced high-end marketing in action. He came away knowing he wanted something new and different while keeping the heritage and tradition of the family business intact. His solution was to start Tod's. He chose the Anglicized name at random, or so the story goes, from a Boston telephone book. He wanted something short and catchy. The original name was J.P. Tod's -- eventually it was just Tod's. And then came the Gommino.

Della Valle's inspiration for the shoe is said to have come during a trip to New York when he spotted a taxi driver wearing makeshift rubber-soled shoes that worked well for driving. A light bulb went off for Della Valle -- a new Tod's product that joined function and elegance.

The Gommino ricocheted Tod's into the footwear stratosphere. The company continued to grow.

With all this, it's no surprise that Della Valle is comfortable in American shoes and is a fan of the culture. One of his idols is John F. Kennedy -- so much so that he bought The Marlin, Kennedy's 52- foot mahogany yacht, at a Christie's auction in 1998.

Italian social responsibility 

American connections aside, Della Valle is one of Italy's most ardent supporters of Made in Italy. He's a proponent of communicating the virtues of the Italian lifestyle and a defender of producing products in Italy versus in lower cost markets.  He uses his wealth and influence to support his beliefs.

He was the first Italian fashion mogul to have invested in saving Italy's monuments from ruin, committing 25 million euros in 2010 to the restoration of Rome's Colosseum. Italy doesn't have a tradition of private philanthropy, so with the drastic government budget cuts of the past decade, restoration of monuments was languishing and needed support. Detractors questioned Della Valle's motives but he was steadfast. His action, he said, came of his "pride of being Italian and doing things for the country" and having the financial means to make a difference. Italy's fashion moguls eventually followed Della Valle's lead: In Rome, Fendi restored the Trevi Fountain, Bulgari fixed the Spanish Steps, and Brioni refurbished the Babuino Fountain. Renzo Russo, Diesel's owner repaired the Rialto in Venice and Ferragamo restored a wing in the Uffizi in Florence.

There are more examples of Della Valle's Italian social responsibility in action. In 2002, he rescued the Fiorentina soccer team from collapse; in 2008 he invested to bring Rome's Cinecitta' back to his former glory (Cinecitta' is now in state hands again, but is resurgent); in August 2016, days after the 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit Central Italy, Della Valle pledged to build a factory in Arquata, one of the towns worst hit by the earthquake, and to train locals in Tod's craft. Della Valle also built a primary school in his hometown of Cassette d'Ete (Tod's is also headquartered there), a nursery for his workers' children, and refurbished the community center.

Della Valle put it this way in a recent interview in Corriere della Sera: "Italy overflows with excellence but we (Italians) are not always aware of its value." Della Valle is committed to changing the course, one step at a time.