An Italian Portrait: Tod’s Balances Preservation And Innovation To Stellar Effect

‘Made in Italy’ is not just about products, but about the belief and spirit of enterprise, charity and innovation

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Tod’s Double T bag comes with tassels for fall.

When guests entered the grounds of the Tod’s fall/winter 2016 show one wintry Milanese afternoon, they were surprised by the sight of an installation by performance artist-of-the-moment Vanessa Beecroft. Inspired by a Guy Bourdin nude, Beecroft had Karlie Kloss and other models pinned into strips of earth-toned leather by artisans, a tableau vivant homage to the draping process that takes place behind the scenes.

It was an act that was testament to the skills of the Tod’s craftsmen, which have been perfected over the company’s long history, and utilised season after season to work leather and fur in novel and unexpected ways. That same expertise made the brand’s ’70s-inflected fall/winter offerings so compelling. Saddlery details, biker-jacket style quilting and interweaving panels of different skins lent the clothes a sporty, nonchalant air, with the standout lace-up Hook boots perfectly straddling the boundary between urban and outdoor worlds. Fur-trimmed tartan outwear and tailoring in autumnal shades felt luxurious, yet contemporary with the cool, contemporary styling.

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A craftsman surveys the leather to ensure flawless quality.

The collection was a worthy follow-up to spring/summer 2016’s music-centric showing, where a Tod’s “band” of 15 personalities was formed to display the rock ‘n’ roll attitude of the clothes. Besides the likes of Lizzy Jagger, Chelsea Tyler and Mae Lapres, the other star of the initiative was the roomy Wave bag. The latter, seen on the arms of stylist Rachel Zoe and Nicole Kidman, came tasselled or trailing a dip-dyed raccoon tail this season, with some versions featuring the patchwork or chunky top-stitched details of the clothes; likewise the brand’s popular Double T bags and shoes, beloved by both Jessica Chastain and Jessica Alba.

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Tools of the trade—what goes into the making of Tod’s iconic Gommino shoe.

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A new signature, the Double T bars find their way onto footwear too.

MAN OF THE HOUR

Introduced in 2016, the Double T series looks set to become a signature of the brand, alongside the iconic pebble-bottomed Gommino moccasin. The true icon of the house, however, is its founder, Diego Della Valle. He is, in essence, an embodiment of the brand and its enterprising drive: In 1920, his father, Dorino, started a shoemaking business that eventually exported most of its Italian-made products to American retailers. When the younger Della Valle inherited the burgeoning business, he gave this fusion of Italian craftsmanship and a sporty American ease at Tod’s its momentum.

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Diego Della Valle visits the Tod’s factory.

In the ensuing decades, the brand has grown into a luxury group encompassing Tod’s, the fashion labels Hogan and Fay, as well as a successful license with accessories icon Roger Vivier. Della Valle has also been instrumental in the revival of the long-dormant couture house Schiaparelli, alongside muse and spokeswoman Farida Khelfa.

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Every season sees different interpretations of the Wave bag.

MONUMENTAL FEAT

On top of his impressive Tod’s group portfolio, Della Valle has also taken it upon himself to become a champion and guardian of all things “Made in Italy.” He has in the past lamented the failures of Italy’s government to protect key national heritage sites, as well as the lack of dynamism and regulation in the country’s private philanthropy sector.

Conscious of the fashion world’s debt to Italy’s rich cultural history, in 2011 Tod’s partnered with Rome’s Architectural Heritage Department to restore the city’s 2,000-year-old Colosseum, at an estimated cost of €25 million.

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The Colosseum looks impressive from all angles.

To date, over 140,000sqft of the Colosseum have been restored using cutting-edge processes, while ongoing digital mapping ensures a permanent record of the monument for both study and future restoration projects. Remarkably, the Colosseum has remained open to the public throughout the project, and to celebrate the completion of its first phase in July, a VIP-only concert with performances by La Scala’s Theatre Academy was held in the amphitheatre. The general public, too, has been able to appreciate the Colosseum in its renewed glory, in the form of an evening light show held on Wednesdays and Sundays from August through October. There is still, however, much work left to be done: The next stage of the restoration will focus on the Colosseum’s subterranean vaults and passageways, where beast and gladiator alike once awaited their fates.

The growing trend of brands sponsoring the preservation of historic monuments shows the altruistic side of fashion: Beyond the gleaming marble shop floors, there is warmth and heart. All in all, “Made in Italy” is not just about products, but about the belief and spirit of enterprise, charity and innovation—which is exactly as Diego Della Valle envisoned.

By Ryan Sng

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