Everyone has to start somewhere. For example, Barneys New York founder Barney Pressman funded his first store in 1923 with the $500 he raised by pawning his wife’s engagement ring. In this column, we talk with the fashion industry’s luminaries about how they got their businesses off the ground. In other words: the Big Bang, or how it all began.
This week, we shine our light on the ever-elegant Diego Della Valle, the driving force behind iconic Italian leather goods brand Tod’s. A connoisseur of comfort and style, Mr. Della Valle adheres to the simple philosophy that attire should be both effortless and luxurious, first proving this theory with the classic driving moccasin that he introduced in the 1970s. With 133 rubber pebbles on the sole, the iconic hand-sewn Gommini shoe quickly gained a devoted following among Italy’s elite, solidifying Tod’s reputation as a purveyor of modern Italian elegance.
But despite its global growth, Tod’s is still guided by the core values of quality and craftsmanship set forth by Mr. Della Valle’s grandfather, who sold handmade sandals in the rural region of Le Marche in the 1940s. Below, Mr. Della Valle takes us back to the beginning and reminds us why tradition never goes out of style.
Barneys New York: Did you always imagine taking over the family business?
Diego Della Valle: Making shoes has been a huge part of my family for generations, and has always interested me. When I joined my father’s business in 1975 after studying law in Bologna, I wanted to continue this tradition and stay true to the quality and craftsmanship.
BNY: What was the first major change you inspired when you joined the company?
DDV: When I started working, my father simply worked in the factory and didn’t have a real office. As I started to travel around the country to meet other businessmen, I realized that everyone received me in these large, beautiful offices. When I went back to the factory, I immediately created an office, but it was really small and without windows!
BNY: When you were first starting out, how did you honor tradition while steering the company in a more modern direction?
DDV: I had this dream of expanding my family’s business bringing in contemporary ideas and traveling around the world to make our product known. My early days were incredibly busy, but luckily, I never had to make many great sacrifices. I now know that the only thing I have to sacrifice to obtain more quality, is time.
BNY: Who were your biggest supporters in the early days?
DDV: My entire family, but most of all, I have to thank my father for teaching me everything I know, and my brother for always being by my side.
BNY: Did your family have any words of wisdom for you?
DDV: The best advice that I’ve ever received is from my mother. She always said, “do whatever you want in your life, but with dignity and without harm to others.” And I always stay true to our family’s motto: “dignità, dovere e divertimento” (dignity, duty and entertainment).
BNY: When was the moment you knew you “arrived”?
DDV: I’m very satisfied with my professional life, but I think that you never really “arrive.” You always have to think of others and pay back some of that luck you’ve received throughout your life.