By  on October 25, 2010

BEIJING — Diego Della Valle has formally introduced the iconic Italian opera house La Scala to China — in a gas tank.

The Tod’s SpA’s chairman and chief executive officer threw an exclusive cocktail and dinner party followed by a special pas de deux performed by the theater’s prima ballerina, Sabrina Brazzo, and lead dancer, Marco Messina, in a massive gas storage tank turned amphitheater located in 798, an art district occupying the grounds of decommissioned military factory buildings in Beijing.

The event, held in a venue called Tank 751, marked Tod’s new partnership with La Scala whereby the brand will support the theater’s productions for a year and help promote its values worldwide. “An Italian Dream,” a short film featuring La Scala ballet dancers interpreting the steps it takes to make a Tod’s shoe, also premiered in China. The video, available on the brand’s Web site, made its debut in Milan in September.

Earlier this week, Tod’s marked the partnership at the brand’s boutique in Tokyo. Other celebrations are planned in Russia and the Middle East.

“This is an event to say hello to our Chinese friends and to try to explain what is behind Tod’s,” Della Valle said while surrounded by local celebrities during an after party featuring music from the DJ Max Chipchase. “We try to do that with La Scala because La Scala represents Italian culture and style of life.”

The Tod’s chairman declined to comment on a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission released Thursday that said Della Valle had upped his investment in Saks Inc. from 11.1 percent to 19.1 percent, making him the retailer’s biggest shareholder over Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, who owns around 16 percent.

The SEC filing indicated Della Valle is considering greater engagement with Saks and possibly a position on the board.

“It is not possible to say anything because it is a work in process, a venture,” he said. “Everything is price sensitive. It is not possible to say anything at the moment.”

Della Valle was willing to briefly discuss China, where the brand has more than 20 stores.

“What we try to do and what we want to do is remain only in the real exclusive part of the business,” he said. “We don’t want to change our DNA, to work only for our high level customers. We want to develop for only high level and exclusive markets.”

Many members of China’s increasingly high level and exclusive markets attended Friday’s party. Around 200 guests arrived in cool, smoggy weather to a red carpet entrance to the tank, illuminated on the outside with red and white lights and decorated on the inside with sweeping velvet red curtains and silhouettes of ballet dancers projected onto walls, touches intended to replicate the atmosphere of La Scala in Milan.

After an opening cocktail party, guests moved behind a semicircular stage and the red velvet curtains to a space filled with tables covered with red rose centerpieces and white and gold dinnerware accented with metallic chargers for dinner.

The menu featured a first course of buffalo mozzarella and tomato with basil pesto followed by roasted celeriac served with a wild mushroom truffle ragout and chocolate cake with mascarpone ice cream for dessert.

The film’s premiere and ballet performance followed dinner.

Carina Lau, an actress from Hong Kong, and Alice Dellal, daughter of Brazilian model Andrea Dellal, were among the VIPs. Marisa Tomei also attended. It was the Oscar-winning actress’ first trip to China.

“It [China] has obviously opened up so much in the last few years,” Tomei said. “It is a very accessible place, and I think it has its good sides and its downsides. You have to search a little more for the old China. Now it is very cosmopolitan. It is very fashionable. Everyone has been really lovely. This is a really accessible, lovely city.”

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