FEET FIRST

Tod’s DIEGO DELLA VALLE tells STEPHEN SHORT lux­ury brands must change and em­brace the dig­i­tal uni­verse

#Legend - - INTERVIEW -

FOR MOST OF the 20th cen­tury, fash­ion held the cul­ture in its clutches. Fash­ion was the barom­e­ter of all that was hap­pen­ing, of what had been and what would be­come. Some­time around 2005, the ivory-tower of taste be­gan to erode. The dig­i­tal world spawned a vis­ual and com­mu­ni­ca­tion rev­o­lu­tion, and in­spired a shift in power. As the pace of change in the dig­i­tal world ac­cel­er­ated, it seemed that es­tab­lished and lux­ury brands be­came even more re­sis­tant to change. Once a flock, fash­ion con­sumers were sud­denly ac­ti­vated and had their own voice.

On their own so­cial me­dia plat­forms, in­di­vid­ual con­sumers be­came em­pow­ered, full-on, flat-out pub­lic­ity ma­chines. Where once the brands had led, the new trope saw in­di­vid­ual con­sumers use their blogs and In­sta­gram to dic­tate the aes­thetic de­bate.

The “it girls” of the 1990s – Kate Moss and Chloë Se­vi­gny, for example – have up­graded to dig-IT-al girls Alexa Chung, Kiko Mizuhara and Chiari Fer­ragni. Are they fol­low­ers? No. It is technology that now drives fash­ion, not the lux­ury con­glom­er­ates who have be­come the flock. It is the brands that want the dig­i­tal in­flu­encers and their fol­low­ers.

“I think it is a com­pletely big­ger world and it is not re­lated to my vil­lage any­more,”

“Two years ago we changed the busi­ness model in terms of for­mat of the store. Twenty years ago, for me and my com­peti­tors, one of the most im­por­tant points was to try to have the same store, for­mat, win­dow, with the same prod­ucts. Now you need to give peo­ple a good ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause they don’t need to go to the shops any­more” DIEGO DELLA VALLE

says the softly-spo­ken Diego Della Valle,

Tod’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive.

We met the leader of one of the brands work­ing to make sense of the new en­vi­ron­ment on a re­cent trip to Hong Kong. We speak in the co­cooned sur­rounds of The Lobby at

The Penin­sula Hong Hong, Della Valle in an inim­itably spiffy scarf and shirt. Around us is an old-world lux­ury mise en scène pop­u­lated by new-world shop­pers-cum-celebri­ties, re­lent­lessly snap­ping self­ies and pick­ing through “merch hauls”.

It’s an ob­vi­ous jux­ta­po­si­tion. “It’s not only for us but for you too, in the me­dia, be­cause we fol­low you, right? Our lead­ers are now our cus­tomers,” says Della Valle.

How does Tod’s – the god of the driv­ing moc­casin, the Gom­mino – cope with the con­sumer shift into dig­i­tal over­drive? Della Valle is prag­matic. “We need to trans­form and we have to un­der­stand the mar­ket,” he says.

His house is not alone. The lux­ury brands are seem­ingly un­ready for the im­pact of the dig­i­tal re­al­ity. The way for­ward is be­ing cog­i­tated and de­lib­er­ated end­lessly, each brand dis­com­bob­u­lated by the mar­ket’s re­con­dite ma­noeu­vrerings.

One week be­fore Della Valle’s ar­rival in Hong Kong, Marc Ja­cobs had said he no longer un­der­stood the fash­ion in­dus­try. Five days later, Tom Ford echoed that sen­ti­ment.

“I have no idea where we’re going,” Ford said. It was a supris­ing rev­e­la­tion from a man who at one time, and for the longest time, felt like the most di­rected de­signer in fash­ion. It’s no small irony that both Ford and Ja­cobs ac­knowl­edge the example set by Karl Lager­feld as a fash­ion pi­o­neer.

Della Valle be­lieves a ma­jor point of en­try for the Tod’s em­pire – what he calls “one of the big points” – is the mo­ment a con­sumer walks into the store. More per­ti­nently, how to get them through the door. “We try to do many things. You need to do some­thing to give a good ex­pe­ri­ence when peo­ple go the shops be­cause they don’t need to go to the shops any­more.”

Della Valle pauses for thought and a smile crosses his face. “Be­fore when we would come to Hong Kong, the pub­li­cist would tell you all about the men­tal­ity of the peo­ple, what they wanted, and we would give her the good food and she would give us ser­vice at the ta­ble, that was our stores. Now we have to sit down and dis­cuss the most pop­u­lar peo­ple, in­flu­encers, and we have to find the right peo­ple to at­tach to. That is the way for­ward for many com­pa­nies.”

Hence Chiara Fer­ragni. Tod’s se­lected the in­ter­na­tional fash­ion blog­ger, busi­ness­woman and sub­ject of a #leg­end cover story in July to col­lab­o­rate on a cap­sule col­lec­tion by cus­tomis­ing or reimag­in­ing her ver­sion of the iconic Dou­ble T Gom­mino and the Gom­mino clutch. In a sub­tle twist on the tra­di­tional fare, Fer­ragni brought a pret­ti­fied pal­ette of pas­tel per­sua­sion to the fore. There was pow­der pink for the bag and sandy beige for the shoes. The #chiar­alovestods col­lec­tion was in stores and at Tod’s on­line. Just as im­por­tant was the trip she made to Capri to shoot the film to ac­com­pany the col­lec­tion. “The most im­por­tant blog­ger in the world came to Italy for two weeks, to make a film en­cap­su­lat­ing our Ital­ian dreams,” Della Valle says.

It shows her ad­ven­tur­ous es­capades in short ex­tracts. The Woman, The Con­vert­ible and The Sea show Fer­ragni liv­ing la dolce vita. It all ap­pears as au­then­tic as her pic­tureper­fect Gom­mi­nos, lov­ingly cap­tured askance the bow of a speed­boat in pris­tine sun­light.

Fer­ragni posted the en­deav­our to her blog, the­blon­de­salad.com and her fol­low­ers, all 12 mil­lion, no doubt swooned at the Ital­ian pic­ture-per­fect­ness of it and du­ti­fully fol­lowed the fairy tale to the near­est avail­able on­line store. Who wouldn’t? In to­day’s mi­lieu, these mini-mo­tion cam­paigns are the new print ad­ver­tise­ments.

Tod’s is a 39-year-old com­pany but is ver­sa­tile enough to re­spond to the mar­ket.

“We com­pletely changed about one or two years ago the busi­ness model in terms of for­mat of the store,” says Della Valle. “Twenty years ago, for me and my com­peti­tors, one of the most im­por­tant ‘points’ was to try to have the same store, same for­mat, same win­dow with the same prod­uct at the same time, in all stores around the world.”

Such think­ing is now dé­modé. Tod’s has changed its mo­dus operandi com­pletely and the em­pha­sis is on sur­prise. “We want to do

dif­fer­ent flag­ships, with sep­a­rate ar­chi­tects, with a dif­fer­ent mood,” Della Valle says. “We started this project in Lon­don, Bond Street, and in Mi­ami. Now, I think we need to move a lit­tle more.”

The de­sign of the Lon­don and Mi­ami bou­tiques in­cludes the idea of a more flex­i­ble space that might func­tion as a gallery, be­come a home to one-off events or house cap­sule col­lec­tions. They are the test beds for new ideas and con­cepts.

“The best part of the store is the pop-up store,” Della Valle says. “We need to start do­ing more, as they are more ac­tive. We pro­mote dif­fer­ent projects month by month. We can have ideas on­site, with the same prod­uct de­sign as we have for e-com­merce. That’s our new strategy, so we don’t lose cus­tomers in-store.”

The un­der­ly­ing theme is “for as long as stores are nec­es­sary”. “Maybe in the fu­ture we don’t need hun­dreds and hun­dreds of stores around the world,” Della Valle says. “It’s eas­ier for peo­ple to buy on­line.”

Della Valle says Tod’s re­mains an old, high-qual­ity Ital­ian com­pany with an in­cred­i­ble brand story. “If we trans­form our big roots with a charm­ing story we are in a good po­si­tion. We need new ideas, new con­tent, to have peo­ple fol­low us. Be­fore we start that dis­cus­sion, we al­ways re­mem­ber who we are. It’s 70 per cent in one di­rec­tion, 30 per cent in an­other.”

From the Gom­mino to the restora­tion of Rome’s Colos­seum and on­line, Tod’s is driv­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of re­tail and fol­low­ing it.

Fash­ion blog­ger Chiara Fer­ragni col­lab­o­rated with Tod’s on the iconic Dou­ble T Gom­mino and the Gom­mino clutch

Top: reimag­in­ing the Gom­mino moc­casin Above: Tod’s head­quar­ters in Sant’El­pidio a Mare is dot­ted with eye-catch­ing art

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