“Rubber is pliant, flexible and very tough, too, and it works well with leather,” says Della Valle. “So we combined the expensive and the industrial, and for the first part of the season my friends told me rubber was ‘100 per cent a mistake – nobody wants to buy that!’ And then they stopped saying that.” He pauses. “It was fantastically comfortable. Now everybody uses the rubber sole, including many English shoe companies I respect a lot.”
Thanks to this success the original 1940’s Casette d’Ete shoe factory in Montegranaro, an area in the Marche region famous for leather craft, is now a sleek complex of white modernism designed by Della Valle’s wife, Barbara, and employing about a thousand people. It is filled with artwork, including a sweeping Ron Arad staircase inspired by the shape of dragon’s mouth. Yet for all the contemporary grandeur there is still a sense of family. Andrea is on site to point out his late father’s black bike, which he would ride around the vast factory in his later life. Upstairs are his old work table and leather-cutting tools. At the centre of the building is a spotless lawn where employees’ children who spend their days in the company crèche can play. Diego’s and Andrea’s children attended in their turn.
All Tod’s products are made here. Work is done by hand or by hand-operated machine – a Gommino alone has 180 steps and up to 35 individual pieces of leather. In different rooms staff work on every stage of design and production, down to packing the finished shoes and boots into tissue and boxes. Further into the complex, a hangar-like warehouse is packed from floor to ceiling with shelves of leather. In a self-contained, climate-controlled (60 per cent humidity) room, the exotic skins present a slightly disturbing rainbow array of alligator, crocodile and lizard. In a “daylight” room special lighting shows what a leather will look like on the streets of Los Angeles, New York, London, Milan or Singapore at any time of the year.
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