By  on September 27, 2005

MILAN — Fashion season is always busy, but Diego Della Valle's schedule for the next two weeks takes the rush to a whole new level.

Marked in bright red on the planner of the Tod's SpA chairman and chief executive officer are a slew of events, including the presentation of the brand's new logoed fabric, another potential cash cow; a book launch party for artist Michael Roberts that same week, and a new 10-piece clothing group designed by Derek Lam that will be presented in Paris.

Right after that, Della Valle will oversee Tod's first eyewear collection, made under license by Marcolin and poised to make its debut late next summer; the evolution of the company's fall lifestyle ad campaign, and a new-generation store concept.

Everything will kick off this week via an homage to the accessory that catapulted Della Valle to fame: the pebbled driving shoe. To that end, Tod's is turning the shoe into the company's logo print for bags, footwear, scarves, towels and small leathergoods.

The project came about on a whim, when Michael Roberts, the artist whose drawings are a staple at The New Yorker, met Della Valle for dinner and brought him a gift: a rendition of his signature collages featuring loafer-shaped cars winding up a pine-dotted mountain road.

"I loved the scene. It was fun and different, so we asked Roberts to develop more," said Della Valle, smiling.

One in particular, a moccasin-shaped speedboat tugging shapely female jet skiers, will become the company's logo for spring. It will be designed in shades of orange, blue and gold.

"We decided to develop a print out of it because we were looking for a modern way to enter the logoed world," said Della Valle. "It's a long process that we had been studying for two to three seasons, as lots of our competitors do most of their volumes with logos. We didn't really want a monogram because it's too banal and there are people who already do it incredibly well."

Della Valle expects the new logo to generate significant sales and become a parallel business to Tod's core accessories business. Tod's generated sales last year of $527.5 million.To mark the new relationship with the artist, Della Valle tonight will throw a party to celebrate Roberts' new book, "The Snippy World of New Yorker Fashion Artist Michael Roberts." For the occasion, all the rooms at PAC, Milan's contemporary art pavilion, will be wallpapered with variations on Roberts' sketches starring the driving shoes in different versions — as yellow cabs against a gray New York skyline, transformed into red box seats at La Scala or as a floral necklace on a Hawaiian woman. Diego's son, Emanuele Della Valle, put the drawings in motion with video clips.

Two days later, Della Valle will tone down the setting to present the company's spring collection, which he described as "full of color, and with footwear that melds erstwhile techniques with futuristic concepts."

To entice even the most seasoned Tod's customer, Della Valle has made a limited-edition loafer that he claimed is likely to become a collectors' item.

But Tod's is increasingly more than just shoes. In Paris, the company will make its first strides into clothing via a collection spearheaded by Derek Lam.

"For us, these pieces are cult items because we treat apparel like accessories," said Della Valle. "We aren't and don't care to be apparel manufacturers, but our clients wanted more clothes from us. We want our clients to know that they can walk into one of our stores and find apparel that you won't find on every street corner."

The clothes — which include a raincoat, a trenchcoat and a biker jacket — revert to Tod's signature urban sportif look, worked via vintage-looking hides and fabrics fused with contemporary accoutrements.

"Derek has a very fluid hand; there's nothing stuffy in his vision of deconstructed luxury," Della Valle said.

Much of Tod's success starts in-house. The 918,000-square-foot central compound at the company's futuristic headquarters in Ancona, Italy, houses stark office space, accented with pieces by Ron Arad and Hashimoto, plus an employee's kindergarten, a high-tech gym and free English lessons.

Slightly detached is the sprawling 173,000-square-foot factory, where every day workers push 1,000 pairs of shoes through 200 different processes before they are placed in the traditional pumpkin-colored boxes. The vamp of the loafer is still entirely hand-stitched. In addition to Tod's, the factory now makes all of Roger Vivier's shoes.An avid supporter of the Made in Italy brand, Della Valle doesn't believe in outsourcing to China, at least at the luxury level.

"Outsourcing depends on what and where. If a product is inexpensive, then it's fine, but if cutting labor costs means less quality, then that's not cool," he said.

For those struggling in the tug-of-war between high national labor costs and lower ones in emerging countries, Della Valle foresees a rosier future. "There's no doubt that this is a discouraging moment for many companies, especially because labor costs in Asian countries are amazingly low. That said, labor costs will increase quite quickly [in Asian countries], while here they are stable," said Della Valle.

Furthermore, he advises to view China and India from another perspective — that of many soon-to-be luxury goods consumers. "A new segment of consumer is being formed, a world of people that is getting richer, at times copying us, and that, month after month, is becoming the new middle class that wants to buy our products," Della Valle noted. "They will start to travel, visit our cities and will increasingly appreciate the quality and cultural component of our products. In a couple of years, things will be much better."

For Tod's, Asia is expected to lead its future growth. "Japan, China and India are generous markets, but not easy ones, so if you're there with a status symbol brand, that's fine. Otherwise it's tough because their domestic products are more convenient," he said.

Della Valle admitted his company is running a bit late when it comes to making inroads into China and India, but he expects to rapidly make up for the lost time. "We still have huge potential and we expect steady double-digit growth in the next years because we had the advantage of learning from our competitors," said Della Valle.

Tod's recently opened a store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and its second in Seoul, while Taipei, Taiwan, is slated for October.

The U.S., meanwhile, continues to be what Della Valle calls the most rigorous and competitive market in the world, mainly because it is quality savvy and price conscious with only a handful of high-end department stores that carry luxe brands. "You really have to have some very special products to succeed there," noted Della Valle.Tough or not, the new-generation store concept for the brand begins in New York. The concept was unveiled earlier this month when the renovated Madison Avenue store reopened. The store is the first in America to spotlight new product categories such as jewelry, hats, scarves, belts and outerwear.

Della Valle dubs the revised image as a "modern luxury temple that is friendly and unpretentious."

Constants in the new design are marble, wood, steel and leather, but each store will tinker with these elements in the name of individuality.

Tod's is revamping its image in other ways, too, including its ad campaign. Beginning this fall, the company dropped the still life campaigns it had done for years in favor of lifestyle images. Shot by Craig McDean in New York, they feature model Polina sitting on a black-and-white checkerboard floor, all decked out with fall's bags, boots, loafers and leather bangles.

"We didn't want a static campaign because we're doing many more products," said Della Valle. "We hope to tell a story and to create a strong atmosphere. Moving forward, the next ones will be like mini films in which a woman will feel part of the two to three images she sees. Ours is a product that makes you dream and ones that go beyond the season."

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