Cover story: Hogan’s head honcho Andrea Della Valle sets the pace
August 1, 2016
Hogan, Italian luxury label, and sneakers go together like two peas in the same pod. That much is obvious. The brand’s laid-back, easy-chic philosophy and innovative design translates so readily into contemporary lifestyles that its 30th anniversary has rolled around in no time, as spirited and stylised as the wings which adorn its name, an emblem of lightness and freedom.
Hogan has been in the vanguard of casual luxury since its launch in 1986, with a groundbreaking way of life combining quality and style, bold design and practicality. Increasingly, its latest products are seeking out ubiquitous yet elusive millennials.
“It’s still too young to feel that time goes by,” says Della Valle, who is also vice-president of Tod’s Group, somewhat elusively. Perhaps that’s not surprising. His luminous brother, the president of Tod’s Group, Diego Della Valle, once said: “Andrea is the one who does all the work, gets together with the managers, crunches the numbers. And I…go around talking.”
Hogan is born of the less-is-more philosophy, much of which might be explained by Andrea’s style. Ask Andrea Della Valle to explain Hogan in three words to someone unfamiliar with the brand, and he needs only two: Future Roots. His answer is the title of a collaborative book project Hogan launched with leading global architects. “Hogan products remain contemporary due to a perfect balance between heritage and innovation. The brand’s strength has always been to invest iconic products with a timeless value,” Della Valle goes on to explain.
To place that notion in a more practical and tangible context, I ask if Hogan could be launched in today’s market and succeed in the same way. “Of course,” Della Valle says. “When Hogan was set up, in the roaring 80s, the fashion world was changing and our brand was the first one to launch the concept of luxury sneakers, a concept so relevant in fashion today.”
In that regard he’s not wrong. A plethora of brands from haute couture to high street have saturated the market with all manner of more casual footwear since Karl Lagerfeld matched every Chanel couture look for its spring/summer 2014 collection with sneakers made with lace, tweed, sequins and metallic leather. Raf Simons followed suit at Dior, launching the Dior Fusion sneaker for his autumn/winter 2014 collection.
“Functional luxury: this is what Hogan has always been about,” says Della Valle, “a philosophy that blends aesthetic and versatility with quality, [which] knows how to be formal in town at the office, and casual chic over the weekend – in Hong Kong just like in Milan, London, Shanghai, New York.”
That much is evident in the brand’s latest collection, which comprises two styles of trainer: a derby and an ankle boot, in metallic leathers, calfskin, glossy patent leather and suede adorned with sequins, stones and micro-studs.
The Traditional 20.15 has been updated in pure white, black, metallic silver and gold and labelled with a tag saying Hogan Club Limited Edition. Its dazzle is sure to get you noticed.
It’s all a far cry from the original notion of the Hogan sneaker. In fact, according to former designer Simon Holloway, who designed for Jimmy Choo, Ralph Lauren and Narciso Rodriguez before his two-year stint for Hogan ended last November, the “original Hogan shoe was based on a cricket shoe from the 1930s, which is very English”. He says The Hogan Man has no rules, is willing to step out a little and is “somebody who plays with style rather than fashion”. Despite being all-Italian, the Della Valle brothers are both Anglophiles, and so parallels have been drawn between the brothers and Italy’s Ralph Lauren.
Andrea Della Valle was born in Sant’Elipidio a Mare in 1965. After completing his studies he went straight into Tod’s Group. Trained in the United States, he simultaneously coordinated the brand’s penetration of the US market by its wholesale division, as well as dealing with distribution in the retail division. His contribution to the opening of the first US flagship store was crucial. He went on to share with his brother supervision of the company’s day-to-day operations, from the design department to the product development department to all marketing and as he grew more independent the roles of the brothers at Tod’s Group became interchangeable.
As well as his duties at Hogan, Andrea Della Valle was also on the board of directors of the Altagamma Foundation – a 24-year-old body with a mission to increase the competitiveness of the high-end industry across the fashion, design, jewellery, food, hospitality, automotive, yacht and wellness sectors, thereby contributing to Italy’s economic growth. How much crossover exists between Hogan and Tod’s clientele or are they two very distinct animals with separate customers? “Let’s start from the brands,” Della Valle says. “Hogan and Tod’s: two animals with different personalities but with a mutual characteristic of great quality and heritage. Let’s move to their customers, men and women: all very distinct characters but with a mutual sense of aesthetic. They may cross over while looking for quality products, but they don’t come across in terms of attitude and lifestyle.”
Just as Hogan was quick out of the blocks with luxury sneakers in the 1980s, so it was with children’s wear. “We presented our first junior collection almost 20 years ago,” says Della Valle, who has three siblings. “It was a natural for Hogan. It’s true that this business segment has become quite profitable. In recent years we have witnessed a rise in the toddlers group sales. Hogan already has good distribution in top specialised retailers, as well as in our own boutiques globally.”
Purveyors of luxury have experienced volatile relationships over the past decade with the notion of expansion and product diversification. They extended, only to discover consumers less than receptive to brand dilution. Is there a temptation to shunt Hogan into residential design territory or furniture, á la Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta, hotels á la Tommy Hilfiger in Miami, or even into golf: bags, clubs and so on. Could American golfer Ben Hogan be the genesis of the brand’s name, even?
“We can’t go that far,” says Della Valle. “Moving on from its original field of business of footwear, Hogan has gradually gone through diverse levels, finally identifying the brand with a very specific lifestyle. For now, shoes, accessories and leather goods for modern city life remain at the heart of Hogan’s business strategy.”
Seemingly always up for the experimental, the brand did launch Hogan Club two years ago. It is a portfolio of young influencers and others who spread the Hogan doctrine, which has its own Instagram handle, #HoganClub, whereby users can take pictures “in a place representative of the #HoganClub mood” and post on Instagram.
“We wanted to create a community where people, rebel spirits – friends of the brand, consumers, digital influencers – could share their everyday lives and their own original take on Hogan’s unique and effortlessly-cool lifestyle,” Della Valle says. There’s even a Hogan Club Radio channel, though it’s all music-driven rather than hosted, from what this writer could discern.
The site also boasts a high-end artistic concept whereby Hogan invites director Bruno Miotto to film such notables as Larry and Laurent Bourgeois, better known as Les Twins, two internationally famous dancers and choreographers; and hat creator Nick Fouquet. The Hogan Rebel has become a brand in itself, a narrative Insta-diary with its own tagline, saying: The Rebel Journey: Dream, Believe and Create.
And how has globalisation and electronic commerce affected consumer tastes around Asian and Western cities? “Today the markets are certainly more competitive, if compared to 15 years ago, but it’s also true that luxury consumption has changed a lot,” Della Valle says. “Asia’s clientele has become very mature and quite selective. Brand’s roots and expertise are essential to breach the market, establish your authority and nurture consumer loyalty. I see this as a plus for a brand like Hogan.”
Away from the competition of retailing luxuries, sport is one of Della Valle’s passions, especially his beloved football. Tod’s Group bought the almost-bankrupt Fiorentina club in 2002. Della Valle is chairman of the club. Once on the subject of the game, he grows more vocal. Does he think Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo is the world’s best player? “I would say Cristiano Ronaldo, despite statistics of performances and score records,” Della Valle says.
“In fact, Messi achieved more at a younger age in his career than Ronaldo. But in my opinion, Cristiano is a more complete athlete.”
Della Valle’s choice of his favourite goal of all time would pain any English fan to hear. “Maradona: he was the protagonist of the most memorable goal in football history so far,” he says. “In 1986, at the FIFA World Cup, Argentina versus England, Maradona dribbled [past] five England players and goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Extraordinary.”
But Della Valle quickly returns to home turf. “If I talk about my team, then Giuseppe Rossi’s goals in a match a few years ago. Italian League: we were losing 2-0 against Juventus and Giuseppe made a hat-trick, which reversed the result. That has remained in the history of Florence.”
And made a mini-hero of Della Valle, too. “Andrea is popular and well-respected in Florence, as he takes his role as president of the Fiorentina football team seriously and supporters and the city like that,” says Deirdre Pirro, author and columnist for The Florentine.
Hogan works with an interesting team, which is known for constantly changing its roster of designers, not unlike a football club manager looking to make the best signings. Most notable was the brand’s collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld, which began to great acclaim in 2010 and continued for four years.
How was Della Valle’s experience of collaborating with Lagerfeld? “Karl is an outstanding talent,” Della Valle says. “He is a tireless worker, a master of discipline. His creative genius was just perfect to re-interpret Hogan’s iconic masterpieces such as the interactive sneaker.”
Who does Della Valle consider his legend? “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Muhammad Ali and my father – a man with great values, sense of duty and love for his family.” Leadership, sport and family make a triptych that defines not just Della Valle and his brother, but Tod’s Group in its entirety. In another life, one of them might be running against Donald Trump. Andrea Della Valle was delighted to discover by chance in New York one of the Kennedy dynasty, John F. Kennedy Junior, wearing a pair of Hogans.
Della Valle is also big on Rome, where Tod’s Group famously contributed to the US$25 million restoration of the Colosseum. “Rome is like an open-air museum,” Della Valle says, “a city that constantly surprises you. Whenever you go you can find hidden corners, besides the number of beautiful and glorious basilicas and historical buildings, local markets, trattorias and so on. Very few know about the Vatican Gardens, which are heavenly surprising.”
Tod’s Group is known for its philanthropy. It has also bestowed more than US$7 million on Milan’s La Scala opera house. “We are very proud of the many philanthropic projects we have invested in in recent years,” Della Valle says. “But what matters most to me, and has always been considered by our company as one of our number one priorities, is the attention we dedicate to our employees’ well-being: welfare initiatives with the aim to enhance their quality of life and that of their households. ‘Our employees represent our human capital,’ is what my father always taught my brother, Diego, and I.”
Hogan and Tod’s, along with Roger Vivier, which Tod’s Group also owns, share the same stunning shoe-making facility, a two-storey white marble palazzo in Casette D’Ete in the Marche region, which contains more than 200 workstations. Many employees are the sons or daughters of those that worked for the late father of the Della Valle brothers, Dorino.
So traditionally Italian is Hogan and Tod’s that I ask Andrea Della Valle who would be his company’s ultimate poster-boy. “Leonardo da Vinci,” he says matter-of-factly, “for his feverishly inventive imagination and talent: an Italian reference for all time.”
In applying his feverishly inventive imagination and talent, the artist is much like Della Valle in undertaking his mission for Hogan.