10/25/2010 09:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

My Italian Dream in Beijing

Here I am in Beijing again and just like each time I come here, I am struck once again by how fast things are changing in China. I remember this country when it was full of bicycles. Each year I have seen it transform into the modern powerhouse it is today.

But what's intriguing is how China balances the old and the new. Here in Beijing you have the marvels of the recent Olympics -- the Bird's Nest stadium and the Aquatic Centre -- but you also, of course, have the spectacular fifteenth century Forbidden City, and the wonderful Temple of Heaven, also from that time.

This balance seems very familiar to me. It is very Italian, and it is what Tod's is built on: the combination between tradition and innovation, between the craftsmanship developed by my father and grandfather in the leather-working region of Le Marche, and the desire to move forward and develop new designs, new products for a modern way of life.

The blend of tradition and modernity is also the central idea behind our recent collaboration with La Scala, the famous theatre in Milan that is the spiritual home of opera and ballet in Italy. I was looking for a way of expressing what I feel about my homeland, and what lies behind my life's work with Tod's. How could I express to people (especially those abroad, and especially those not in the West, like the Chinese) my deep sense of what it is that makes Tod's different? This peculiarly Italian quality that has its roots in culture, artisan skills, passion, quality of objects and quality of life. Italians have a real love of the best things in life - la dolce vita - and these things are done with care and attention and real love.


Sure Tod's makes shoes and bags. But we make them using leather, which is a living substance to me. And behind each shoe and bag, which in itself may be attractive and useful and comfortable to carry and wear, there is this Italian spirit, this Italian dream. How do you explain that? How do you bring it to life, so that when someone buys a Tod's loafer, they understand that they are buying so much more than a shoe? Because great design and high quality is important, but it is not what life is about. It has become crucial to me to show people that we understand this.

The answer came when I remembered the feeling I had forty years ago when I first walked into La Scala in Milan. I was very young, and it was incredibly impressive. All the red velvet, the gold, the circular tiers of balconies. When the lights went down there was a real atmosphere. It was like a dream.

So I started to think about La Scala, and about how it is a crucible for Italian culture, a symbol of the beauty of Italy, of the Italian dream.

But then came the challenge. How do you begin to bring together a luxury fashion company that makes shoes and bags worn by Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson with a cultural legend dating back to 1778?

In the end the solution was surprisingly simple. Through talking to each other we realised that we shared similar aspirations - we are both passionately Italian and committed to keeping alive skills and traditions that lie at the heart of our culture, and that make the notion of "Made in Italy" so unique. The common ground was there in the attention to detail, quality and hand-made artistry of the La Scala workshops, which reminded me of my own factory and craftsmen in Le Marche.

I then enlisted the help of the talented director, Matthias Zentner, to imagine how we could capture this shared spirit of human endeavour on film. Matthias worked with La Scala's young choreographer, Gianluca Schiavoni, to create a work entitled An Italian Dream, in which 13 dancers perform in the theatre to interpret the multiple stages that go into making a Tod's leather piece.

This film premiered in Milan in September during fashion week and was very well received. It surprised many because it was not an advertisement, but a genuinely creative work. That was the arrangement we had with La Scala, who have never collaborated with any brand in this way before: together we would express our shared vision of "Made in Italy" in a conceptual way.

On Friday, we premiered An Italian Dream in Beijing at the 798 art district at a former power factory. We converted the interior of an enormous circular water tank into a little piece of Milan, projecting images of the ornate balconies of La Scala onto the metal walls and hanging an enormous red velvet curtain from floor to ceiling, framing a stage. We invited a great Chinese crowd from all over the country, including many A list stars, and a few of our friends from the US and Europe like Academy Award-winning actress Marisa Tomei and model and DJ Alice Dellal, and after showing the film, they were treated to a surprise: a new dance, a pas de deux, created specially for the evening by choreographer Gianluca Schiavoni and performed by principal ballerina Sabrina Brazzo and Marco Messina from La Scala.


I must confess that I was very moved by the event. Of course China is an important new market for Tod's, and of course we need to succeed commercially. But I believe the way to do that is not to aim to deliver results in the short term by thoughtless expansion, but instead to explain to the Chinese people what our brand is really about.

Indeed this is what I want to do not just in China, but all around the world. Tod's customers - whatever their nationality - want the very best things in life. Through this collaboration with La Scala, I feel I finally have a vehicle for expressing the true essence of what we do. This is a realization of my Italian dream.