This Thursday Eva, my colleague at work, mentioned going to get an interview and photoshoot for the magazine with the owner of Tod's. After we put the glass back in the windowpanes whence they'd fallen upon hearing my unearthly screech, she decided to take me along, which is how I ended up in the Tata Suite of the Taj Mahal Hotel this Friday evening meeting with Diego della Valle. For those reading this a hundred years from now without the benefit of an encyclopaedia, the Taj Mahal Hotel is an architectural and cultural landmark of Bombay built over a century ago next to the Gateway of India; Jamsetji Tata was the founder of the Tata company and is widely considered the father of modern Indian industry; Tod's is a luxury brand whose signature driving shoes, or gommini, have been the cornerstone of its international designer leather label; Diego della Valle is the Italian businessman who owns Tod's and also the Italian football club Fiorentina, which he bought in 2002 along with his younger brother Andrea della Valle.
For my part I am glad to report that he seemed happy to observe an unlikely candidate for Fiorentina fandom interrupting his sojourn in Bombay. He is a man of charm and polish, as you might expect, and his English is excellent. He is candid about buying a football team to speak to young people, especially young men. "What did you see in that club you bought in 2002?" I asked; at the time, of course, Fiorentina was a club with everything to recommend it except actual functionality. He said to me, "Well, what do you see in them now?" I said I thought they played very good football. He talked then of how a football club reached out to young men, an explanation that combined the finer points of branding with a kindly and conservative didacticism. It is valid for the della Valles to talk about negotiating values and - well, even morals, really, with a crowd whose peaceful and romantic enthusiasm has been encouraged in part by the brothers' ultimatums that they will take their cash and leave at the first hint of bad behaviour. There is a demonstrable point here about the interaction of several institutions - the controlling interest of a business, the emotional and moral investment of a family, the power of a crowd, and, although it rarely comes up in conversations specific to Fiorentina now, the function of the state apparatus in the form of laws and law enforcement - in creating a good environment for the club. There is an immediate short-term benefit to corporate involvement in football, well-documented in the Premier League as well as in Italy - I'm thinking of accounts of the crackdown on racism and anti-Semitism in the San Siro in the late eighties after Berlusconi took over Milan - and talking to DDV has brought the point home again*.
I enthused further about the culture of the stadium, and how I gathered it was setting standards nationally. He said yes, UEFA were fans, as was Michel Platini. At this point I exhibited extreme callowness by laughing and saying I thought this was funny because Platini used to be a Juventus player. He also laughed and said it was cool [not his exact words] because the two clubs were friends now. I said OKAYYYY THEN, but softly, in my brain.
My favourite moment in the whole thing came at this point, when Eva interjected and asked him if he had any one dream buy for the team [we had just been talking about fancy shoes, the theme carried over]. He said 'no, I think we have what we need,' in a manner that left the imagination to supply the flourish of the cigar and the saucy smoke ring at the end of the sentence. That was cool.
Asking for an autograph would have been the wrong thing to do, since I was tagging along to a professional meeting, but I hope I shan't regret not taking one. Somewhere in the known universe a digital photograph of us exists; until it wings its way into my inbox, however, I can offer no tangible proof of our meeting. Eva's interview with him, very much a focus on his life's work with Tod's and a freewheeling conversation on style, luxury and economics, should probably be out in December - I'll post a link when it's done.
I wore my Viola jersey with a black pencil skirt and yellow ballet pumps. I am learning that one of the upsides of representing a fashion magazine is that you are forced to think about academic questions of costume and style at a level deeper than 'Can I go another week without washing these jeans?'
* Is there an applicable/sustainable 'Fiorentina model' here? I don't think so - the club, the city and the della Valles are in a fairly unique position. But I think it is a great example of how several cogs in the wheel have been pulled into working well together, and at least in the short term, the club has avoided the most visible problems that accompany a vibrant fan culture and sensible economics. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the success of the football team itself. Long may that continue.