As the fashion flock moves to Milan for the fall/winter 2011 collections, Tod's chairman Diego Della Valle, fondly called the Italian Ralph Lauren, talks about his life-long pursuit of Italian excellence, the reason why he bought shares at Saks and his part in keeping the Kennedy legacy alive.
Blue Carreon: Did you always set out to be in the fashion industry? What were your ambitions when you were a boy?
Diego della Valle: Not really. I worked in the family business, which was my father's shoe making company that he had inherited from his father, and that led me to become interested in what could be achieved by a great Italian brand. That became my ambition as a young man. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a footballer and racing driver, like all kids. And to tell you the truth, I have always felt that Tod's is not really about fashion. It is more about providing effortless chic and a timeless style that is resistant to changing trends. Tod's is essentially a luxury goods company with a mandate that focuses on the notion of eternal style.
BC: If you didn't have Tod's Group, what do you think you will be doing today?
DDV: I'm sure I would be developing a brand of some sort. My other private business interests include shares in a newspaper, a football club and several other firms, including the famous Italian scooter manufacturer, Vespa. In each case, I am attracted to the story of an Italian brand.
BC: Did you ever think that Tod's would be this big when you started the company?
DDV: I hoped it might be, but I didn't really know what could be achieved. Initially, I wanted to create a new type of shoe that combined the relaxed, casual spirit of America, with the manufacturing skill and heritage of Made in Italy. I was more concerned with making a great new type of product than specific financial goals.
BC: What has been the best decision you have made for the company? What has been the worst, if any?
DDV: The best has been to stick to a very particular philosophy, which has always been, and will always be, to pursue refined, understated luxury, impeccable taste and excellent quality - an aesthetic delivered through our products being Made in Italy; and not to expand thoughtlessly into areas in which we are not experts. The worst is for me and my financial director to know and for others to guess at.
BC: Tod's is doing a lot of charity work, why is this so important to you?
DDV: Because it is only right that those of us who have been successful give something back to people who are less fortunate than ourselves. In Italy, the idea of the family is very strong and there is something of this principle in the model of social responsibility. We are all, in a way, one big family.
BC: What's the best thing that's been said about you? The worst?
DDV: The best thing is that I am a good Italian - in other words, that I am promoting certain cultural values that my country holds dear, like heritage, quality, craftsmanship, pride in our work and the like. The worst, recently, was that I was considering entering Italian politics!
BC: How would you like to be remembered by?
DDV: I hope I will be remembered as a good father and a fair employer. And a good host, of course!
BC: What are the fashion houses you admire?
DDV: Chanel and Hermes, as like Tod's, they produce beautiful products that stand outside the arena of the merely fashionable.
BC: What's your take on the Hermes-LVMH debacle?
DDV: As a board member of LVMH you will understand that I cannot comment.
BC: What do you intend to do with your stake at Saks?
DDV: I intend to enjoy it! I bought into Saks as a personal investment because when I was a young man and went to America for the first time, it seemed to me that Saks was like a cathedral of retail. I never dreamt that I could one day be a part of it. And now I am. Saks has a great management team and promises good potential.
BC: You live an incredibly good life with beautiful homes, a yacht, private jet etc., would you say that you "have it all?"
DDV: I am not complacent. You can always do better and do more. In the end, it is this desire to keep developing and to keep learning that drives me.
BC: You're known to collect art and vintage cars, what's your most prized possession?
DDV: Marlin, a yacht that used to belong to John F Kennedy. I bought it at auction years ago and it still gives me enormous pleasure.
BC: What are your guilty pleasures?
DDV: Collecting art. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do. Especially as I buy only what I like - so that might mean a piece by a complete unknown, or something by a famous name. For me this is pure fun.
BC: What are you most grateful for?
DDV: My good health and that of my family.