Basking in a genteel lineage that stretches back over 100 years, Tod’s is a very discreet brand. It was founded in the early 1900s by Filippo Della Valle, and is now run by his grandson, Diego, who has transformed the business into a multimillion dollar empire. Unconcerned with seasonal trends, Tod’s prides itself on offering a more considered, slower-paced alternative, crafted with care.
It is a sign of the brand’s unconventional approach that its creative director of menswear is, in fact, an architect. “I trained as an architect, and in my mind, the approach to design is the same, whatever the project. It is an opportunity to speak about space, because with or without a body, leather goods and clothes still occupy space,” Andrea Incontri tells me when we meet in Dubai.
“It is all lifestyle; there is no separation between this sofa, this chair, a dress, the cushions, your shoes… it is all connected. We need to bring in something new – it can’t only be fashion, fashion, fashion. That can be boring, so it’s important to add things. We live in many worlds, so we must draw them together. I am curious. My big obsession is details. Always details,” he says.
Incontri completely rejects the fast-fashion model – an attitude that he admits probably stems from his training. For him, luxury and longevity should coexist. "Maybe because I was an architect, and my imprinting is different to a fashion designer, but if I buy clothes for a lot of money – if I invest in luxury – I want to use it for more than one season. I want to use it for the rest of my life. You don't change the chairs in your house every season. You buy six and you have them for a long time. It should be the same with your wardrobe and your shoes. This is how I see luxury."
While most brands at fashion weeks organise big-budget runway shows, jam-packed with multiple looks – racing from sports luxe to suiting in under four minutes, Tod's prefers a less-is-more approach – one that is decidedly un-Italian. In lieu of all the fanfare, Tod's offers a small presentation featuring a handful of exquisitely dressed men, sitting around on chairs, looking as if they just stepped off a film set. Louche, elegant and understated, it is a skilful lesson in dressing with style. "We don't make many things, because we believe in a wardrobe that is focused, with perhaps just five beautiful jackets. Instead, every season we have a new idea for the finish of the leather and this season, spring/summer 2018, the focus is denim," Incontri explains.
This might sound like a decidedly lowbrow material for a brand famed for its quality, but Incontri infuses this workman's fabric with a new sense of sophistication. "Denim is like Coca-Cola; it is global. It's the most important fabric in the world, I think. It's democratic, for rich and poor, and for men and women. It is so versatile. It can be super-chic or it can be a uniform, or very modern and contemporary. For this project, we decided to be less about the blue denim and instead use colours, but still make it timeless. We wanted to combine denim with Tod's because I like this idea of these two things together. Opposites. Luxury is not for everyone, but denim is for everybody. I tried to create a new way of looking at denim."
This being Tod’s, however, thinking about opposites also required a reimagining of the material at the heart of the house: leather. In the hands of Incontri and the artisans in the Tod’s factory in the Marche Hills near Ancona in Italy, the two materials have been melded into something entirely new. For the spring/summer 2018 collection, buttery leather has been overprinted to make it look like denim, and then hand-distressed to create a lived-in feel. Pale blue denim is stonewashed until it is baby soft and then crafted into immaculately cut suits. Shirts are made with denim so lightweight it fits like a second skin, while jackets receive a waterproofing treatment that does not compromise the softness of the fabric, but causes rain to run off in crazy rivulets. This is quality at its zenith.
Yet (and this is the clever bit), Incontri has managed to skilfully craft a youthful, forward-looking collection that still retains the brand’s storied DNA. The leather denim jacket could just as easily be worn by a young man on a moped as by a CEO boarding a plane. “The Tod’s customer can be a young man, or an old man, it’s not important. For us it is about the attitude, the style. He has travelled a lot, he is cultured and he knows what he wants.”
The backbone of the Tod's brand is shoes – and one shoe in particular. The Gommino, a supple moccasin with a distinctive studded sole, has been consistently in demand since its launch in the 1970s. Each shoe is entirely handmade, using 100 different steps and with 133 rubber studs pressed through its sole. It is also an early example of mixing classic materials with high-tech fabrics, something that clearly fascinates both Incontri and Tod's.
"Remember the time when the sneaker became a luxury item? At first it seemed so strange, but now everyone has it. They changed the [mindset] of the customer. I think this challenge for Tod's started with the Gommino, because it's an industrial product mixed with artisan work. We are the ones who started this. And I think this is a good formula for the future, to mix industrial materials – like rubber perhaps – with leather, with fabric. It creates a good dynamic," Incontri says.
And what innovations can we expect from the ready-to-wear division? “For clothes, I think it’s important to look at waterproofing, maybe mixing leather with lycra – there are so many things. This is about redefining the work. An artisan is an artisan, whatever the material. Experience and skill, this is what Tod’s is about. Today, the material might be leather and rubber, tomorrow it might be something else. It’s like ingredients with food; its mixing ingredients to create the most beautiful dish.
"I only know how to approach a project this way. I love it when I don't know how to do something. It's important to take the time to get it right, working closely with the artisans in the factories. It's not about just making something new; no, it's about creating something beautiful that will last for a lifetime," he concludes.