Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Shoemaker That Walks but Never Runs

Something wasn’t right about the black sport shoes that Diego Della Valle wore on a recent stroll around the sleek campus and factory that form the heart of the Tod’s luxury shoe empire here.

“I don’t like the way they feel,” declares Mr. Della Valle, the chairman of Tod’s, stopping mid-stride to study his feet more closely. “It’s the part around the toes,” he says. “It needs to be rounder.”

Mr. Della Valle does things the old-fashioned way: by instinct. To find out if a new style of shoes will work in the marketplace, he doesn’t need focus groups or poll testing — he wears them. After a few days, if they’re not to his liking, he renders his verdict: “These won’t go into production.”

Despite running Tod’s like a traditional, Old World family business, Mr. Della Valle has turned it into a successful multinational, multibillion-dollar company, whose buttery leather moccasins adorn the feet of Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, Gwyneth Paltrow and thousands of other loyalists around the world.

Around his sweeping white office, there are no computers and no iPhones; Mr. Della Valle, 56, feels more comfortable clinging to an outdated Motorola cellphone. Above him looms the painted silhouette of President John F. Kennedy, one of his idols.

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