The first look on the runway said it all: A crisp cornflower blue shirt worn underneath an oversize blazer, paired with slouchy corduroy trousers and white sneakers—not a single loafer or leather piece in sight. For a house famed for exactly those two product categories, it was clearly the dawn of a new age. The man responsible for this paradigm shift at Tod’s is Walter Chiapponi, who showed his first collection for the House earlier this year in February for fall/winter 2020. It is Chiapponi’s first creative directorship, but he brings with him years of experience honed at heavyweight fashion names such as Miu Miu, Givenchy, Valentino and Gucci.
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Accordingly, his first order of business at the Italian house is to beef up its fashion offering. The studio team in charge of design after Alessandra Facchinetti’s departure in 2016 had mostly stuck to wardrobe staples and timeless essentials—chic, for sure, but not exactly groundbreaking. “I wanted to draw on the Italian lifestyle and elegance, but give it a contemporary twist and a touch of subtle boldness. A big part of my references came from the ’70s. My idea was to rediscover the classics, but imprinted with a gentle rebellion,” says Chiapponi on what he wanted to achieve with his debut collection. That gentle rebellion and subtle boldness came through in his slouchy suiting, the oversize outerwear, the slightly off-kilter colour combinations (like baby blue with chartreuse) and the hints of grunge he injected into the Milanese bourgeois look.
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Chiapponi might have given Tod’s a little shake-up, but he is also clear about what makes the brand tick. “Tod’s is an Italian lifestyle brand. Its main core values are elegance, quality and craftsmanship. At the heart of the fall/winter 2020 collection is the very idea of good taste, not as a rule or a limitation, but as a way of life—elegance as an attitude,” he explains. This idea of taste being the guiding force of everything in one’s life—from the way you eat to the way you tie on a headscarf—is one that seems to be innately, uniquely Italian. It is something Chiapponi is especially attuned to, being Italian himself. “I’ve always loved the culture of Italian buongusto (meaning ‘good taste’), especially in menswear. I love how Italian men really care about the little details, such as a haircut or a perfectly brushed shoe.”
For Chiapponi, Italian-ness is also integrated into the making of a product. “‘Made in Italy’ for me is the essence of traditional craftsmanship, the mastery of know-how and the highest quality—values that hold true for both Tod’s and myself. I find it very inspiring to be in contact with the artisans at work. It’s always interesting that through the exchange of opinions, we get to incredible results and the best solutions together.”
For fall/winter 2020, though there were significantly fewer all-leather looks in the collection compared to pre-Chiapponi years, the designer still worked with the artisans to play up the leather craft that is a Tod’s speciality. “I wanted to affirm Tod’s excellence in leather work and also interpret the brand icons in a feminine key. For accessories, that meant overemphasised stitching, exploring the signature matelassé texture further, and high chunky heels on shoes,” he says. He also showed an inventiveness with leather in the ready-to-wear—patchworking it into a skirt or a coat, or cutting it into a shapely bustier worn over a mannish white shirt. In the works are new interpretations of the brand’s bestselling Gommino loafers and the D-Bag made popular by Princess Diana.
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Taking on a new job at a big fashion house is a gamble in the best of times. Chiapponi has had to see his first collection drop right in the middle of a pandemic. In better times, response to such a confident, cleverly thought-out collection as Chiapponi’s debut would have easily been more robust. Understandably, fashion is not at the top of many people’s list of priorities right now, but Chiapponi remains undeterred. “Even under lockdown, we never stopped working,” he says. “Fashion still plays an important role. I felt the power of fashion when I walked around the streets of Milan, Tokyo or Los Angeles—the way creations of designers become a part of people’s lives. Fashion is culture. Every period has its signs and small revolutions in terms of what to wear and how to wear it—the proportions, the colours, the cuts, the fabrics.”
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In Chiapponi’s view, crises have always brought out the best of creativity. “Think about the years between the two World Wars, or the eccentricity of the shades and prints during the ’60s and ’70s. This is the role fashion has always had and will always have—it is a mirror of its time. And now, therefore, we need to create collections that are able to express the spirit of rebirth with allure and positivity.”