To hear Diego Della Valle tell it, the secret to a perfect Italian dinner is quite straightforward: “Make it exactly the way my mother did” he says with a laugh, “and all will be right.”
Family is, of course, at the heart of the 67-year-old’s luxury fashion house Tod’s. His grandfather, Filippo, was a shoemaker and Della Valle turned the family business into a billion-dollar brand, most well-known for its luxury handbags and its iconic Gommino driving shoe. The chic and casual design of the loafer, garlanded with 133 rubber pebbles, continues to win over celebrity customers, such as Jennifer Garner and Freida Pinto.
“The fashion world has an odd relation to food,” he says. “For most people, eating healthy is the end goal. Part of me envies that degree of commitment…while the other part is too busy enjoying good meals to have regrets.”
Traveling the world from his Milan home has given Della Valle a fondness for Japanese cuisine, as well as a soft spot for L’Ami Louis in Paris and its legendary roasted chicken. “Above all, I enjoy simplicity and excellence in food as in everything else. And I find those two things to be profoundly Italian.”
Italian excellence is the essence of everything Della Valle does, from revamping the high-end fashion label Schiaparelli (worn by proud Italian American Lady Gaga to President Biden’s inauguration) to financing the $75 million restoration of the Colosseum. The project, which started in 2013, is now in its final stages. “My taste has remained deeply Italian,” says Della Valle. Despite all his business travel, “I spend most of my time in my native region, Le Marche, and in Milan where we have our headquarters.”
Summer has a particularly Italian flavor, as Della Valle and his wife Barbara retreat to their beautiful property on the island of Capri, La Torre Materita.
When in Capri, their guests who are not summering on the island—a famed celebrity destination—are brought from the mainland on the Marlin, a fast commuter yacht that was owned by the Kennedy family for more than 20 years.
As the sun sets, the table is set outside, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and the host mixes his guests Negronis, finding a simple but sophisticated balance between the sweet and earthy vermouth, the dry and tangy gin and the star of the show, the bittersweet Campari. The drink, as it happens, is perfectly paired with Della Valle’s self-made motto, “DDD”—“Dovere, Dignità, Divertimento,” which translates to Duty, Dignity and Enjoyment.
It is indeed all merriment and joviality as people sip their drinks and nibble on arancini (fried rice balls) and olive all’ascolana (green olives stuffed with pork, a delicacy of Della Valle’s region of Le Marche). “Sharing a delicious meal together helps everybody to relax. That’s when great conversation happens,” says Della Valle. The evening continues with a nice plate of homemade pasta al pomodoro and then scaloppine—thinly sliced meat—served with perfectly roasted zucchini, pepperoncini and lettuce.
As for the wine, it has a special personal significance: “it is my own wine, from my vineyard in Tuscany. It is named Dorino, after my father. My brother and I thought it would be a nice tribute to him, as he knew wine really well. It’s Chianti, a pure Sangiovese, rich and beautiful. It will be available for sale in 2022, only for small orders.” A glass of Dorino pairs well with the evening’s sweet conclusion—a torta caprese, a chocolate almond cake that can also be enjoyed with coffee as a morning treat.
As guests have a glass of grappa or the lemon-based liqueur limoncello, the evenings occasionally end with impromptu singing. “We also enjoy karaoke nights,” says Della Valle, with a smile in his voice, “but for that, you need to have pizza.”
As a Neapolitan pizzaiolo serves margherita or Nutella pies fresh from the wood burning oven, people bellow Italian classics under the stars. Summer nights such as these are not easily forgotten. Like a perfectly made Gommino shoe, they carry the Della Valle stamp of excellence.