Diego Della Valle
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Diego Della Valle

The man dubbed by The New Yorker as the ‘Italian Ralph Lauren,’ Diego Della Valle has been a familiar face at the Artemio Franchi soccer stadium in Campo di Marte since he and his younger brother, Andrea, bought the ACF Fiorentina football club in 2002, rescuing it from

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Thu 24 Oct 2013 12:00 AM

The man dubbed by The New Yorker as the ‘Italian Ralph Lauren,’ Diego Della Valle has been a familiar face at the Artemio Franchi soccer stadium in Campo di Marte since he and his younger brother, Andrea, bought the ACF Fiorentina football club in 2002, rescuing it from bankruptcy. How Fiorentina’s fans feel about him depends on whether the team is enjoying a winning streak and, more importantly, on how much he is willing to pay for the best players on the international market. After all, he’s not lacking in money; Forbes ranks Della Valle, who is the CEO of the Tod’s group of luxury leather goods and shoes, as the 20th richest man in Italy, with a net worth of 1.55 billion US dollars. (His brother, Andrea Della Valle, follows close behind in 22nd place.) His personal motto, ‘Dignity, duty and fun,’ is apt for a man who made a family business into a global powerhouse yet remains committed to his country.

 

However, Diego Della Valle was not born a billionaire. His grandfather Filippo opened a shoemaking business in the 1920s in Sant’Elpidio a Mare, in Le Marche, the same place where Diego was born on December 30, 1953. In the 1940s, his father, Dorino, expanded the company by supplying private-label shoes to high-end American stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks. Although his father’s dream was for him to become a lawyer, Della Valle dropped out of university.

 

After a brief period working in the United States, he joined the family business in 1975 and changed its name to the easily pronounceable J.P. Tod’s (later dropping the initials). With clear-sighted determination and a passion for the finest quality in his timelessly classic yet modern, strictly made-in-Italy wares, Della Valle rapidly put Tod’s on the global fashion map. Gommino loafers, with their 133 rubber pebbles embedded in each sole, were Tod’s first international success. In 1997, a line of handbags was added; ready-to-wear was introduced in 2006; lines of accessories and sunglasses followed.

 

Della Valle’s interests beyond ACF Fiorentina and Tod’s, which also owns the Hogan, Fay and Roger Vivier brands, include stakes in Marcolin eyewear, the RCS Media group, the Poltrona Frau furniture company, Piaggio motorcycles, Bialetti cookware, Ferrari cars and Cinecittà. Together with Andrea, he also owned one of the largest shareholdings in Saks, the Fifth Avenue retailing chain, which they sold to the Canadian Hudson’s Bay group in July 2013 for 362 million US dollars.

 

Although in the past he claimed to have no interest in politics, Della Valle recently entered the political fray. Whilst he was an early supporter of Silvio Berlusconi, in 2006 the two men had a highly public falling out over what Della Valle saw as a dramatic fall in Italy’s economic growth. He subsequently resigned from the board of directors of Confindustria, the powerful Italian employers’ association, and openly criticised the Berlusconi government’s fiscal policies.

 

On October 1, 2011, he placed a full-page editorial in several major national newspapers, entitled ‘Politici ora basta’ (Politicians, stop it now), in which he accused many within the Italian political class of having an ‘indecent and irresponsible’ attitude. With other entrepreneurs, among them Luca Cordero di Montezemolo and Marco Tronchetti Provera, he financially backed Mario Monti’s 2013 election campaign, but the outcome proved disappointing. Lately, he has expressed guarded encouragement for mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, of the Democratic Party, commenting ‘he may be one of the protagonists of [Italy’s] future political life.’

 

Made a Cavaliere del Lavoro in 1996, Della Valle is a youthful-looking, impeccably dressed man of average height and build, who wears round spectacles and has a good head of hair. He has been married three times and has two sons, one with his first wife and the other with his third wife—who happen to be sisters.

 

Professing to be a simple man with simple tastes, he has nonetheless enjoyed considerable material rewards for his efforts and business acumen. He owns several homes in Italy, a mansion in Paris, a holiday retreat on a rocky hillside on Capri, a fleet of Ferraris, a private jet and helicopter as well as a substantial collection of modern art. In 1998, Della Valle bought the Marlin, the mahogany-hulled yacht that once belonged to one of his heroes, John F. Kennedy, at a Christie’s auction, had it brought to Italy and fully restored and refitted.

 

Describing it as ‘a duty but also a pleasure’ to help preserve Italy’s cultural heritage, in 2010, Della Valle pledged 25 million euro to sponsor the restoration of the Colosseum in Rome. Although the project was delayed by legal wrangles over the bidding process, in early September 2013 the first scaffolding went up. If all goes to plan, the work should be finished by March 2016.

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