From wicker bags to footwear: the past has been intertwined with the future for over 60 years
The most beautiful stories often arise from an intuition, a spark that becomes an idea, an experiment that becomes a product, artisanal know-how that has been handed down over the years. These are the ingredients of Rodo, the Marche-based company that owes its name to its founder Romualdo Dori who, in 1956, realised that wicker baskets for shopping at the market or carrying clothes could become refined accessories. Thus, he began to create his first rattan bags by hand and to make them more elaborate he applied 24 carat brass seals to them. From Lastra a Signa, where he had started at the family company that made straw bags, he moved to the Marche and, in 1961, he opened his first factory in Mogliano, a place renowned for its excellence in weaving, which would become the brand’s hallmark. Once again, the territory, with its artisan traditions and the skilled hands of local workers, contributed to the success of a brand. The brand first went abroad as early as 1967, when Romualdo Dori took a two-day trip to go to New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue and returned with an order for 32,000 bags. In the seventies, the production of leather bags began and a workshop was created that made metal accessories. These are the years in which Romualdo’s children, Gianni, and Maurizio, who inherited their passion for work and creativity from their father, also began to diversify the production of bags. “In 1975, I had returned from France” – says Gianni Dori – “where we were selling our inside-out kid-skin bags to Charles Jourdan and there was a need to match our shoes to them as well. At first we started buying them in, but we soon felt the need to produce them ourselves following our own standards of quality, uniqueness and style”.
And it was precisely with the production of footwear in 1975, first in Florence in a small shoe factory and then in the Mogliano factory, that Rodo began to grow and diversify its markets. “Until 1965” – explains Gianni Dori – “our father worked 90% with the American market. From then on, our exports were divided equally between the USA, Italy, Europe, and Asia and over time we have made our way into the most beautiful department store windows in international capitals and those of the best Italian shops. Our strength is precisely that of having always operated in many markets”. “The crisis years 2008-2012 affected all companies” – he continues – “and the Rodo brand also suffered, but since then the company has changed a lot and in 2018 we tripled our spaces and divided the leather goods from the shoe factory, creating two autonomous units. Today, we also work for some top luxury brands and, despite of the pause imposed by the pandemic, in 2022 we exceeded our turnover compared to pre-covid levels”. Rodo has, thus, been characterised over time by a niche production, present in 170 top stores across the world – building strong relationships with many of them. An example of this is the rapport with Lane Crawford of Hong Kong, where the commercial relationship has continued for over 40 years.
Rodo bags and shoes are the synthesis of quality, modernity, and craftsmanship – even if the product is machine-made. It seems a contradiction in terms, but in reality the expression of new trends in contemporary fashion always comes from an artisan approach to raw material and the production process. “We believe that artisan knowledge is constituted of knowledge of the trade and mastery of the gesture: manual skills are at the service of the idea, the form, the creative proposal” – explains Dori. “Industrial craftsmanship is achieved when a mass production process is inspired and organised starting from the sequence of the craftsman’s gestures and when some phases, such as that of leather cutting, are still done manually. Above all, we define ourselves as luxury craftsmen because we don’t produce thousands of pieces, but small collections”. Many Rodo objects are small works of art, embellished with hand-applied jewel details that have also conquered celebs’ hearts, from Nicole Kidman to Jessica Alba, from Jennifer Lopez to Penelope Cruz: you often see them at social occasions with a bag studded with crystals and a pair of glam sandals by Rodo.
The third generation has just entered the company: Maurizio’s daughter Martina who has been working with her father for over ten years and has been involved in the creative development of bags; Gianni’s sons Giorgio and Lorenzo, not yet thirty years old and engaged in the footwear and commercial areas, respectively. In the future of the company there is retail development through the opening of several single-brand stores. After the closure of the store in Milan following the sale and renovation of the building in Corso Matteotti, a new opening in the city of Milan is planned for next year, to continue onwards to other international capitals – a project interrupted only by the pandemic. “Flagship stores” – says Dori – “are essential to amplify the visibility of the brand. We understood this when in 2007 we opened one at La Rinascente, which confirmed the importance of our high positioning and pushed customers to look for our products in other department stores abroad”. Nowadays, the Rodo brand is split equally between shoes and bags, even if the weight varies according to the season: for example, in the summer footwear takes over.
Flavia Colli Franzone