Diadora was a titan in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Dominating in sports like tennis and soccer, athletes like Björn Borg and Roberto Baggio helped turn the Italian sportswear company into a household name across the globe. But if the only Diadora sneakers you've heard about lately are coming out of collabs with the likes of Ronnie Fieg and Patta, we'd understand. Instead of going toe-to-toe with brands such as Nike and adidas, the company turned its focus inward, back on its home turf. It's a decision that's helped to refine the unique "X-factor" that makes Diadora standout from the others: The brand's roots in Italian craftsmanship. As the upscale Diadora Heritage line gains its footing at home in Italy—with its sights set abroad—it's clear that the line embodies the best of the past, present, and future.
"Diadora was the Italian dream in sports," Diadora president, chairman, and CEO Enrico Moretti Polegato said at Pitti Uomo, the trade fair taking place in Florence, Italy. "Our mission, since we took the company over in 2010, was to make Diadora the Italian dream of sports once again."
With 2014's unofficial Diadora reawakening hitting stores via the '90s runner, the N.9000, the Italian sportswear company realized that sometimes you have to go back if you want to move forward. In the case of Diadora Heritage, moving backwards simply translates to focusing on the "essence of Diadora."
"Our values are sport, our authenticity—with our 67 years of history—and our Italian craftsmanship," Polegato says. Those values are the main reasons behind the Heritage line's emphasis on shifting as much production as possible to the brand's own factories in Cearano di San Marco in Italy. Naturally by shifting more aspects of production back home, the Italian company produces far less than if it had all of its wares constructed abroad, thus creating a smaller amount of product. Long story short, Diadora's own authenticity and exclusivity are built right into the sneaker—especially if it's made in Italy.
"Made it Italy" may conjure up images of lambswool sweaters and leather luggage, but for Diadora, it's a way of life. "We have the aim of bringing back to Italy 10 percent of our total production in the next five years. This is not a marketing project," Polegato says. "This is a real production project, but not in a modern sense. We are working with the original machines—the machinery dating back to the '80s or the '90s."
By using the older methods, Polegato hopes that the Heritage line becomes not just an beacon of quality found in sneaker boutiques in the Netherlands, U.K., USA, and Japan, but also a check on oversaturation in the footwear market. "We don't need our Diadora, Cearano di San Marco-'Made in Italy' production to create huge numbers [of product]. We want the shoes to have that artisanal, craftsmanship flavor that only old machines can give."
It's that artisanal quality that has helped longtime fans of Diadora, like actor Matthew Goode, to jump at the chance to come and support the brand at Pitti Uomo 89. It's not just that Goode embodies the ideal qualities of the Diadora Heritage line (being "classy and European"), his own relationship with the Italian label stretches back to his early childhood. "My heritage with Diadora is that me and my brother used to wear matching, identical high top Diadora trainers—even back we were five and six," Goode says. "We didn’t just like our trainers, we fucking loved them."
Thanks to the classic comfort and style of classic Diadora shoes, Goode finds himself drawn to back to the brand. "[Diadora's] not like other labels," he says. "There are so many tastes within the brand, and that’s a difficult thing to do—to deal with trends and what people do and don’t want."
With Diadora Heritage's year-long mission to "make it bright," that's a challenge the label plans on tackling head-on. "With ‘make it bright,’ we mean making things in an extraordinary way, while the others do it in an ordinary way," Polegato says. "Putting these new materials...dressing the shoes with apparel materials...for us, on shoes, is ‘bright.’"
For a man like Goode (who admits that he "doesn’t like to be too flamboyant with his clothing") he can still ramp up his style with a Heritage-line sneaker—focusing, like Diadora, on the subtle details. "It’s the mixture of fabrics—they do suedes, they do leathers—[Diadora’s sneakers] are quite stylish." Those aren't just empty words, either. As a Heritage-line shoe, the Equipe lives up to this description, coming in things like a subtle stonewashed gray or in orange-and-brown pixilated camouflage.
What impresses Goode the most, however, is the archive: Diadora's storied stockpile of shoe designs that have stuck in the hearts of fans for decades. "They can look back to their museum of shoes and go, ‘Well, people dug these in the '80s, why wouldn’t they now?' Now, it’s like we’re all looking back going. This was a pretty amazing time for fashion. We just needed to coordinate things a little bit differently."
Retro fans like Goode can reminisce about Diadora's first wave of international success, but the same strategy's truly driving Diadora Heritage forward. "Diadora has the heritage of sports shoe design in our area, where the modern concept of the sports shoe was born," Polegato says. "It’s the possibility of melding Italian style with sports technologies. That’s a thing only Italians can do."