In Italy Della Valle has been visible for decades as a canny businessman whose instincts have kept Tod’s in steady expansion even through the global economic crisis and the consequent sag in the luxury goods market. He is also known as an emerging billionaire (he just made the Forbes richest list with a comparatively modest $1.3 billion) who relishes the perks of his wealth with public gusto. Della Valle’s toys include two megayachts; John F. Kennedy’s mahogany launch, the Marlin; a Gulfstream 2000 jet; a twin-engine Dauphin helicopter; an important modern art collection; residences in New York, Paris, Capri, Milan, and Le Marche; and ownership of the famous Tuscan football club ACF Fiorentina.
Only in the past five or six years, however, has he truly emerged as a public figure. It has been a troubled period for Italy, which, in the shadow of the global slowdown, has suffered from alarmingly stunted economic growth, as well as from a series of explosive political and sex scandals centered around Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (recently described by The Economist as “the man who screwed an entire country”). In this time Della Valle has made a name for himself as a feisty crusader against corruption and an aggressive spokesman for such solid values as patriotism, hard work, and respect for tradition. Bloggers refer to him as Don Diego Della Vega—after the daytime name of Zorro, who, one recalls, was also an active patriot—and he pops up frequently on popular talk shows, where he is notorious for going for the jugular in live confrontations with the highest officials in the land, including Berlusconi.
Della Valle has credibility because of his wealth, and also because his omnivorous interests outside of Tod’s touch so many spheres of Italian life. Besides supporting La Scala and the Colosseum, he has invested in Rome’s fabled Cinecittà, the Italian Hollywood, which in the Sixties was the birthplace of such classic films as Cleopatra and La Dolce Vita. He sits on the board of LVMH and in 2006 relaunched the historic French shoe label Roger Vivier—now made in Italy, with Bruno Frisoni as chief designer and Inès de la Fressange as muse. He also owns the legendary label Schiaparelli, which he plans to relaunch this year. In the world of motorsport, he is a board member of Ferrari—whose chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, is a longtime friend—and he has a stake in Piaggio, which makes Vespas. He also plans to put his stamp on mass transit: He and di Montezemolo intend to debut a high-speed train service that will compete with the shambolic government-owned Trenitalia. Della Valle has even taken on the print-media establishment as a highly vocal shareholder in RCS, owner of the historic Rizzoli publishing house and the legendary liberal newspaper Corriere Della Sera, and he constantly fans rumors that he intends to acquire a controlling interest.