ROME — With the stunning rings and stone piers of the Colosseum at sunset as a backdrop, Tod’s chairman and chief executive officer Diego Della Valle presented the restoration plan for the monument, which is quickly becoming the first step of a larger venture he has dubbed “Project Italia.”

This story first appeared in the June 24, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I am convinced that soon we will be able to talk about Pompeii, Venice and Florence,” said Della Valle, referring to other Italian sites in need of funds. Unfazed by the paparazzi frenzy and TV crews angling for interviews, the soft-spoken executive was flanked by high-profile politicians, including the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, and the minister of culture, Giancarlo Galan. Alemanno said Della Valle will help restore the image of the Colosseum, whose inadequate state had become a “nightmare” for him.

Della Valle, who in December offered to sponsor works on the Colosseum through a donation of 25 million euros, or $36.5 million, was described as a new enlightened patron of the arts and culture throughout the event, which took place Wednesday evening. The entrepreneur once again reiterated that Tod’s is not seeking a commercial return through the sponsorship and that no company advertising will be visible on the monument during the works.

“When the mayor approached me with the project, it only took me a day to decide, and we agreed to take on the task as long as Tod’s would be the only sponsor,” said Della Valle. “This monument belongs to Italy and the world, and we could never tolerate writings and ads that could deface it.”

No advertising seems to be necessary, as it is undeniable that the power of the Colosseum, one of Italy’s most recognizable landmarks, which counts 5 million visitors a year, has further propelled the Tod’s name around the world.

“ ‘Patron’ is a word that does not belong to my vocabulary or my world, and I didn’t really expect this much attention, but the Colosseum is showing its might,” Della Valle said on the sidelines of the conference. “This visibility allows [us] to communicate and convince others to do the same, which will help Italy’s reputation, tourism as a consequence and finally the economy. The global economy is not at its best, with unstable markets and jobs at risk. It is our duty to show that we as entrepreneurs are accountable for, and that, if our companies are being successful, we should engage with these issues and give back, without asking for anything in return,” he explained.

Della Valle also said that this sponsorship is perfectly in line with Tod’s “mission.” The luxury goods company his father founded stands for made in Italy production and quality, he said. “Made in Italy includes culture, and this monument represents culture at its highest level. This is good for the country, because we should continue to be absolute leaders in tourism and culture,” he noted.

When asked why he did not consider making an anonymous donation, Della Valle ruled out such an option because Tod’s is a public company listed on the Milan Stock Exchange. “And this is not charity. It must be an example for others to follow, these ventures must be communicated,” he responded.

“This initiative reflects the desire to protect and promote Italian culture, a fundamental resource for companies working in Italy and abroad, and strengthens our country’s image and credibility worldwide,” said Della Valle, adding that he has been urging a group of “friends and entrepreneurs” to take on the restoration of Pompeii and that, “if necessary,” he would be willing to invest in that project, too. “Wouldn’t it be better to see a group of Neapolitans take action before American or Japanese investors? I believe in this and will spend time on it,” he said.

Della Valle, who has grown the family company to a $1.13 billion business with personal investments that range from Saks Inc. and furniture producer Poltrona Frau to film studio Cinecittà and eyewear maker Marcolin, has increasingly caught the media’s attention for his cultural projects. Earlier this month, Tod’s became a member of the Teatro alla Scala Foundation and is set to donate 5.2 million euros, or $7.6 million, to the famed Milan theater, to be paid over a maximum of four years, beginning Jan. 1. Last fall, Della Valle agreed to contribute to support La Scala’s productions for a year and help promote its values globally, also linking the Tod’s brand with the theater through the production of a short film called “An Italian Dream,” which has been traveling around the world.

The restoration on the Colosseum, which will begin at the end of September and last between 24 and 36 months, will increase the space that can be visited by 25 percent. Covering 140,400 square feet, the monument is the biggest amphitheater built under the Roman Empire and dates back to around 72 A.D. It will remain open throughout the works. A video of renderings showed how layers of dust and pollution deposited over the years will be conservatively removed, bringing luster back to the stone.

Tod’s will not be responsible for assigning the works or for the selection of the contractors, but will create a nonprofit foundation, Friends of the Colosseum, for the duration of 15 years. A new service center will be built outside the monument to bring the existing ticket office and bookshop to a space separate from the Colosseum, with the addition of a cafe.

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