- Photography by Mr Azim Haidaryan
- Styling by Ms Sophie Hardcastle, Market Editor, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Chris Elvidge, Senior Copywriter, MR PORTER
For proof that traditional Italian craftsmanship is not just surviving but flourishing, you need look no further than Casette d'Ete, a village in the Marche province of central Italy. Here, a stone's throw from the turquoise waters of the Adriatic, lie the palatial marble and glass headquarters of Tod's - a brand that, perhaps more than any other, demonstrates the enduring global appeal of the words, Made in Italy. At its helm is the brand's chairman and founder, Mr Diego Della Valle, a man who has built his company around the belief that those three little words are about something more than mere provenance. To him, they represent il piccolo sogno - "the little dream", a slice of the Italian way of life.
Mr Della Valle spotted a market for well-made shoes that marry easy informality with a sense of old-world elegance
A third generation marchigiano shoemaker, Mr Della Valle followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Filippo, who originally set up a small cobbling business in Casette d'Ete in the early part of the 20th century. His father, Dorino, expanded the family-run enterprise into an international company supplying a number of high-end US department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. It was while accompanying his father on a sales trip to New York in the 1970s that a young Mr Della Valle happened upon the idea that was to make his fortune. Witnessing the enthusiasm with which affluent Americans were adopting a more casual way of dress - a style that President John F Kennedy, among others, had helped to introduce during the previous decade - he spotted a market for well-made shoes that marry this easy informality with a sense of old-world elegance.
Returning to Italy with his prototype, a pair of moccasins he'd spotted in a New York shop window, he began work on what would become the cornerstone of the Tod's brand, the Gommino - named after the 133 rubber "pebbles", or gommini, embedded in the sole. Marketed under the name J P Tod's (the initials were dropped a short time later), this supremely comfortable suede driving shoe soon found favour with influential style icons such as the Fiat chairman Mr Gianni Agnelli, a man who embodied the casual Italian flair that Mr Della Valle was seeking to capture.
More than 35 years after it was first developed the now iconic Gommino driving shoe remains largely unchanged, reflecting a remarkable consistency of vision
This, in many ways, was the proof of concept that he had been searching for, and Mr Della Valle has been selling his piccolo sogno to an increasingly global audience ever since. More than 35 years after it was first developed the now iconic Gommino driving shoe remains largely unchanged, reflecting a remarkable consistency of vision. His commitment to Italian craftsmanship, meanwhile, and to those three words that have proven so central to the identity of the brand, is perhaps no better illustrated than by the location of the Tod's headquarters - a mere five-minute drive from where his grandfather first plied his trade two generations ago.
The brand is available on MR PORTER for the first time this season, with the classic Gommino loafer accompanied by a range of bags and accessories. MR PORTER visited Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan, a striking house built in the 1930s by the renowned Milanese architect Mr Piero Portaluppi, and a regular venue for Tod's presentations, to shoot the collection. To see more click through the gallery, above, or watch our video shot at the location.