Published in T Qatar: The New York Times Style Magazine, July 2013
“Dignity, duty and pleasure” is the creed that the magnificent Diego Della Valle lives by. The president of leather accessories brand Tod’s speaks exclusively to T Emirates about all things Italian and what “the good life” really means.
By Priyanka Pradhan Photographs Courtesy: Tod’s
“A good plate of spaghetti, tomato and basil with a glass of chilled white wine” may sound very precise, but that’s how one of italy’s most intriguing billionaires describes his ideal evening.
For a man known as much for his flamboyant 52-foot cruiser ‘Marlin’ (a luxury yacht that once belonged to John f. Kennedy) as he is for pledging a whopping $33 million towards conservation of the Roman Colosseum, Diego della Valle is a surprisingly simple family man. Despite the exacting, almost military, discipline he’s known for, as well as his several homes and Ferraris, his helicopter and even a floating residence, he insists that his philosophy is very simple-just like the reason for selecting the name ‘Tod’s’.
In 1978, when he and his brother first created the brand, originally called ‘J.p.Tod’, the market was soon abuzz with the ubiquitous new ‘Gommino’ moccasins suddenly being seen on everyone from movie stars to royalty. “Who’s J.p tod?” people asked, and various stories floated about, including one that suggested della Valle had pulled the name at random from a Boston phone book. he smiles as he reveals the answer.
“I believe that all the stories you are talking about are the real ones! ‘Tod’s’ is a fantasy name, perfect for what i was looking at – an old english sound that can be easily pronounced the same way in many different languages.” As simple as that! At tod’s, he developed a strategy for a more laid-back and casual ‘American weekend’ style, rather than the uptight and formal ‘Sunday best’ dressing that was the norm in europe at the time.
In the 80’s he played a prominent role within the company, but it wasn’t until October 2000 that Diego della Valle became president and Ceo of Tod’s spA, the new group he founded. the surge in Tod’s coffers from 2000 to 2013 led to his being named in the Forbes Billionaires list (March 2013), boasting a personal net worth of QR5.64 billion, and emerging among the 20 richest people in Italy this year.
But it’s not just his wealth that has earned him fame and recognition in italy and beyond. Diego della Valle is heavily invested in the ‘Made in Italy’ pedigree, as he believes it’s more than just a label. it is this belief that led him to pledge a substantial portion of his wealth to the restoration of the iconic Roman Colosseum and to buy the legendary but ailing Italian fashion house Elsa Schiaparelli in order to breathe new life into it. Moreover, he rescued Italy’s Fiorentina soccer team from bankruptcy in 2002, and even launched a new high-speed train service for the public, called Italo, in collaboration with luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the chairman of Ferrari.
“I love my country and i am driven by support for ‘Made in Italy’. Therefore any time I have or I had in the past to contribute to supporting Italy’s image, credibility and its cultural image, it has been both a great honor and a duty for me. All these involvements, born from a civil conviction of participation, affirm the belief that investing in ‘Made in Italy’, its skills, traditions and culture, makes the country more competitive, to create more opportunities for people who work there and who love its history and traditions,” he says.
In italy, the tod’s factory still sees craftsmen making each product by hand, using up to 35 pieces of leather and more than 100 steps in the process. At a time when luxury houses are turning towards more cost, Tod’s motto is all about craftsmanship, quality and keeping to the commitment of “Made in Italy”.
In italy, the Tod’s factory still sees craftsmen making each product by hand, using up to 35 pieces of leather and more than 100 steps in the process. at a time when luxury houses are turning towards more cost-effective countries for their manufacturing, given the turbulent economic currents in Europe, Diego della Valle deliberately walks in another direction. He explains: “At the end of the day, I truly believe that it is exactly the other way round. ‘Made in Italy’ is what makes the difference nowadays. abroad, manufacturers based mainly in the informal economy don’t pay attention to quality at all. Tod’s is rooted in the highest quality of leathers and craftsmanship, and ‘made in Italy’ guarantees it full respect. our clients, loyal to our brand, want timeless luxurious products of the best quality. I believe this fully repays a more expensive production base in Italy.”
However, the cash cow for Tod’s is not his home country, Italy, but Asia and the Middle East, he says. “I would say the far east – China, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan are our major markets – but the Middle East is one of our top priorities. We consider the Arab clientele one of the most refined anywhere in the world, and we always try to work on special activities, as they love exclusivity. Consumers here have the power of money, but they are very refined at the same time, and they always look at special products created specifically for their region and customized for them. they appreciate high quality and their tastes are evidently influenced by their cultural reality,” he comments.
speaking of cultures, Diego della Valle is an avid traveler and has had the privilege of visiting most countries in the world in his private jet, which proudly bears his dictum ‘Dignita, dovere e divertimento.’
He says: “I am a globetrotter, but mainly for business. I travel for short periods of time and when I am abroad I am in constant meetings; I don’t have much spare time for sightseeing. and when I travel for vacations, there are two destinations that i deeply desire – Capri, my second home, and the Greek islands, Folegandros above all. my family and friends on my boat… and just sunshine!”
“As for the middle east, I love Dubai, which i know pretty well. I find it inspiring; it changes so quickly, and every time I come I always find new ideas to steal!” he adds
The soles of his own shoes may be well worn from his hectic travel schedule and decades of running the multimillion-lira company, but della Valle is not ready to retire just yet. He says: “To be frank with you, I have not thought about it yet. so far, I basically try to keep on going working as I am currently doing, but at the same time iIm trying to find some time to spend with my family and friends. I think it is really important spending some good time with the family while simultaneously working hard.”
He’s currently overseeing the business side of Tod’s while the creative side is handled by the recently appointed creative director, Alessandra Facchinetti. “But i always keep an eye on our products as well,” he says. “Alessandra is a very talented woman. Her passion for detail and her dedication to the research of materials and manufacturing allow a sophisticated luxury craftsmanship and make her perfect for Tod’s, which has always been very attentive to quality.”
Della Valle’s vision for Tod’s is grand but realistic, as are his ambitions for Italy. Whether it’s the renovation of a local school in his hometown in the Marche region or funding a Rome film studio, he believes in giving back to his country by sharing his largesse. This, combined with his razor-sharp business acumen, commitment and love for Italy, continues to paint a larger-than-life portrait of the patriotic billionaire. Something tells us that some buono spaghetti bolognese also has much to do with it.