2012 February 22
From The Daily Milan! Tod's on Top
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(MILAN) It’s difficult to not have met Tod’s, whether or not you drive in their shoes. The Italian brand got its name just over three decades ago, but the Della Valle family has been cobbling since the 1920s. Diego Della Valle, the dashing grandson of founder Filippo, made his family’s modest craft into a brand to be reckoned with during the 1970s, under the Tod’s name—no, there isn’t a Tod Della Valle, and yes, the origin of the brand’s moniker is far more amusing than anything eponymous could ever be. In the past decade, the label has supplemented its beloved moccasins with serious chic.
BY CHRISTOPHER TENNANT
First up! Have You Met Marco?
After 12 years with Tod’s U.S., North American maestro Marco Giacometti is headed back to the home country to lead the charge into e-commerce. Before he said his goodbyes and packed his exquisitely-crafted luggage, we caught up with him to talk driving loafers, Derek Lam, and the inimitable Della Valle—the pebbled soul of Italian luxury.
How long have you been in New York?
I have a long love story—it’s 12 years that I’m with the company, and I've been in New York for four. And the love story will continue when I move back to Italy for another big challenge.
Where did this love story start?
At the corporate office. I used to work very, very closely with the owner, Mr. Della Valle, and I learned a lot from him. When you work close with the owner, with the visionary, the person who created all this, it’s a big plus. It helps you understand the brand and the DNA and where it all comes from. I’m from a little town called Ancona. The place where Tod’s is from, Casette d’Ete, is a little town nearby.
What did you learn from Della Valle?
Every time it’s something new. You talk to him and there’s always a point where he teaches you something. After you have a meeting, something remains with you. When you walk through the boutiques, you notice something new. He touches the product like he’s touching something he owns. Every time I spend time with him I understand more how it was possible to make this. Why it happened. People say, hey, it’s easy, you put up money to make shoes, you put money into marketing—but it doesn’t happen like that. It happened because there is a passion, it happened because there is a man who had a vision and he translated that vision by maintaining some principles that are really strong.
What are those principles?
The ‘Made in Italy’ is the most important. It’s the basis for everything else. A lot of people think Tod’s is a heritage brand that’s been around for a hundred years.
It’s true. We like to say we’re a brand that has iconic pieces. The driving shoe was the first shoe that we launched. That shoe was fantastic 30 years ago, and it’s fantastic still today. What has changed? Maybe some colors and materials. Everything has evolved from that shoe, but with a twist, more recently with the help of Derek Lam. At the same time, we also have the part of the collection that can make you smile, that can make you happy, that can make you think the brand is evolving and is following what is happening outside without being fashion. We are not a fashion company. We are a company that is committed on principle to durability and quality and craftsmanship. I think that these days especially, that’s what people are looking for. Something that you can trust and don’t throw away. It doesn’t get old, and it doesn’t get discounted because it’s no longer in fashion.
Has your target customer also evolved?
It’s the customer that is looking for a tradition, for quality, and for an understated luxury product.
I think of her as older, rich, and preppy—am I wrong?
We love that customer. We don’t want to lose her, certainly. But as I said before, the collection has really, really changed and evolved. You have your iconic shoes but also your pumps. I can have a young girl that comes in and she’s 18 and she comes in because she wants the driving shoes. But I also have the fashion lady that wants another pair of shoes for the day. Maybe she doesn’t wear them in the evening, but that’s why I have Roger Vivier. Maybe she’s in Miami or Los Angeles or the Hamptons and wants to be comfortable. The age can be the wealthy lady that still loves Tod’s, but it’s also the young lady who’s just discovered Tod’s.
Let’s talk about the pebble sole. A few years ago, when everyone started knocking off your driving shoes, no one could get the pebble quite right. Now, everyone’s got pebble soles. Does that worry you?
If it’s a fake or a counterfeit, for sure we fight, but in our case the driving shoe is our number one shoe and business is growing extremely well in America. The men’s business is rocking. We can have our rubber sole shoe that can be worn to the office but can also be worn on the weekend. The market has evolved. Today more than ever men are looking for something to distinguish themselves. You go around and even if you have a suit maybe you can wear a sneaker. Before, it was just for the weekend.
Which is why Hogan made sense.
Yes, it’s a sophisticated sneaker. Even Hogan is evolving in another direction and expanding the range of the product. Tod’s, which has a longer history than Hogan, has already covered everything. It’s inspired by the way of living in Italy, which is becoming more of a worldwide way of living.
It’s true. The men’s blogosphere absolutely fetishizes Italian guys...
Like our ad says, it’s an Italian moment.
They throw it around on the menswear blogs all the time—think it has to do with looking effortless.
[laughs] You mean spezzato! Because spazzatura means garbage, which I don’t think is what they mean. Yes, spezzato. That means you can wear a jacket with a pair of jeans. The Agnelli style. Spezzato not spazzatura!
Let’s talk about Derek…
He renewed his relationship with us last year. He’s brought that touch of fashion into the collection. When you see his own pieces you see he has a taste that is very similar to Tod’s. His love of details is outstanding. In everything he does you see the Derek touch and also the Tod’s DNA. It’s fashion, but it’s not a fashion that shouts.
A personal question: Do you replace the pebble soles?
Mine are all messed up. I can tell you this: All of our shoes are made following a specific sequence. Before getting out of the factory they go through a very, very deep quality control process. You cannot change the pebbles, though, no. It’s impossible. It’s one piece of leather and the pebbles are fit into the hole. You can buy another pair of shoes!
It’s quite a feat convincing men to pay that much for a loafer!
It’s true, but what I’m telling you is that it’s also tough to find a man that buys just one pair! You buy one and then you buy another one, and you rotate in.
They sort of play into our fundamental laziness, no?
It’s the easiest shoe to wear. And the men’s area of our business is really, really fantastic. With the ladies, the business is growing faster than we could ever predict. In most of our sizes we are sold out in our boutique. There are just a few people that can say they make quality men’s shoes. In women’s, it’s bigger.
I’m not involved in that area, but I speak to my spezzato colleagues and when you see the numbers you see how phenomenal the growth is. They want the quality. They love the ‘Made in Italy.’ They love the design and the details.
What’s next for you?
I’m going back to Italy to launch our online business. We’re starting with Tod’s, and it’s going to be a very important opportunity. We have a very selective distribution and we are not everywhere so the web is vital. I’m in charge of the e-commerce part. We’re building the structure and starting with America in 2012. The experience in America—the dynamism and the fact that everything goes so fast and everybody’s on their iPhone—is the reason we decided to launch there first, then Europe, then Asia. I’m so happy to be a part of it.
The Designer Dishes!
In 2006, Derek Lam tied the knot with Tod’s as the brand’s debut creative director, after a few previous, casual capsule-line encounters. Lam hasn’t left behind his namesake RTW offerings for the Tod’s gig, of course, but he’s rejiggered the brand’s classic touches for a new generation with the Signature Collection. Lam looks back on his five fabulous years in the driver’s seat.
Did you wear Tod’s before you came over?
The driving loafer, definitely. In terms of the men’s and women’s it’s the universal product from Tod’s. You can never have too many pairs.
It’s an iconic brand with its own identity. Did you feel you had to restrain yourself, or was it a good match from the start?
It’s a brand that obviously was very successful even before I came aboard. But the reason they asked me was to kind of bring some modern elements to the collection, whether it’s with colors or silhouettes, so it really feels like there’s a specific point of view coming from Tod’s—as opposed to before when it was kind of just driven by a few items. I think now, in the five years that I’ve been here, even though it retains its classical perspective, it’s still relevant in sort of a modern style. That’s the key to our success.
Do you speak Italian?
No, but they all speak English. It’s the universal language.
Your parents are in the manufacturing side of the business, so you come from a fashion background. What’s the difference between Italy and Asia?
In Italy, there’s a much more unbroken historical culture around developing luxury goods. In Asia, it’s relatively new. But more and more you find everyone in the world is getting more sophisticated about quality and the notion of luxury, so there’s less division between Asia and Europe. It’s just about finding people who are excited about doing luxury. What’s unique with Europe is that there is a culture that has permeated from generation to generation. The specific hand that comes from the culture and that kind of eye, and that kind of—for lack of a better word—DNA that’s passed down through the generations, makes it feel very unique compared to other places in the world.
Are you and Diego getting along?
It’s a working relationship. Diego comes from a product background as well, so he has a very strong sense of what he needs the product to look like and how it can be developed. That’s wonderful because I’m talking to someone who knows the business and the qualities that need to go into the product, which is essential when you’re trying to develop something special. It’s constantly a balancing act. There’s the reality that fashion is a business…
Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!
[laughs] Well, I think it’s important for everyone to realize because at the end of the day as designers we’re looking for an audience to validate our work. And they validate it when they go into a store and buy it. It’s not just for critical feedback. It’s actual dollars being spent. If you’re able to balance that with trying to promote a new point of view or challenge the customer, that’s always great.
What do you think when you hear that a buzzy brand such as Vena Cava is going on hiatus?
I think the whole industry—especially independent designers and even me, perhaps—is still facing major challenges. You have to reexamine the assumptions you had even two years ago. It’s a challenge!
Is it comforting to be a part of conglomerate like Tod’s? It’s like the best of both worlds.
Yeah, I mean I don’t know if categorically that always works for everybody, but the situation I have with Tod’s and the people I have the opportunity to work with have made it very satisfying. But I think that’s actually more the rarity than the norm.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every season.
Well, we do. We hope we’re always offering something new for the client. We’re not just reissuing the driving loafer, but the changes are perhaps more subtle than a full-on runway collection you might have at another brand. But our reach is also more concentrated in terms of our own retail stores and the strength of our marketing. At the end of the day the focus is on the product, which sort of speaks for itself, as opposed to creating a lot of brand awareness with irrelevance. For us, if something doesn’t sell, we’re not interested.
You don’t need to create some sparkly bauble to get attention and push perfume.
At the end of the day it’s about an aesthetic. Something that’s quality, modern, but very functional. We try to create products that you want to reach for, without being matronly. We’re always trying to find that balance where it’s interesting but it’s also indispensable.
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