Roda on Roda

Luca Roda: interviewed about his story and his style

To meet Luca Roda is to be transported into his world, a world made up of strong passions, memories that flow in different directions, moments that have contributed to his personal story and to that of his bonsai company, as he himself likes to define it… Face to face, late one afternoon in May, the only thing to do is let him talk.

What are the origins of the RODA brand?

I worked for several years with an old tie-maker. At first I was responsible for marketing but over time I found I was much more interested in fabrics and colour gradations than anything else. I was spending time in the best textile factories, I had learned to recognise the quality of silk and cotton at a touch, and it had become a passion. And, as often happens through an unlikely chain of events, at a certain point all this became my job: building a collection, analysing patterns, taking risks with tones, mixing, experimenting, often overdoing it, giving expression to my pioneering nature… Once I understood that this what what I did best, I decided that I should put my name on a product that carried such a profound expression of my own understanding of style. I think it was a rite of passage, a professional turning point but also a deeply personal one: knowing that I could forge my own path, through my own efforts, and above all rely on what had until then been simply a question of taste. I founded RODA in 1995. The only technology was a desk and a telephone. For all the rest there was travel, curiosity and the discovery of a world that introduced me to the most diverse situations. I think this has always been one of the most significant aspects of my work: having the chance to see different approaches to fashion which, despite its capacity for standardization, is one of the few things in the world that can still boast the virtue of subjectivity, albeit while respecting certain inescapable criteria of good taste and elegance.

How has the brand developed over the years: from ties only to a RODA collection?

The shift from ties to scarves and accessories in general, was fairly spontaneous. Certain things can’t be stopped, you let them happen before you’ve even thought about them. They’re inside you. That’s how it was when I decided I didn’t want to just finalize a style any more, I wanted to create one! Perhaps that’s why I prefer to call myself a “style creator” rather than a designer. My collections are deeply imbued with my idea of elegance, of non-standardization, as I often say, of rejecting the “same”, the mass-produced. Which is why I often base my research and experimentation on the concept of the “one-off”. Certain scarves painted with nuances that differ from one to the next, certain pieces of embroidery done by hand “the old-fashioned way”, certain garments washed and treated with techniques that produce different results on each one: this is what my brand is all about. I truly believe that anyone who wears RODA should be able to believe they have a garment that is unrepeatable, unlike any other.

How have things changed since then? How has the direction changed compared to the past?

Everything has changed. Our relationship with our distributors has changed, but above all the demand from our customers – or “our ambassadors” as I prefer to call them – has changed. Once it was “good retailers” who pointed the customer in the direction of a specific brand and maybe a certain style. Nowadays consumers know exactly what they want, and they make informed choices… More than once I’ve received emails from people congratulating me on a particular item from the collection which they saw published on a certain blog. Or I’ve received compliments on the choice of specific fabrics, or the elegance of certain details. Consumers are, rightly, more demanding and knowledgeable. Which is a very necessary touchstone for us, a useful benchmark, an opportunity to improve the way we analyse our market objectively, asking “what kind of man do we want to dress?” and, in most cases, it guides our choices. This is the driving force behind the construction of an e-commerce platform that will allow us to “talk” directly with our ambassadors, decoding their tastes and attitudes, measuring the strengths and weaknesses of our products through a channel that is direct, preferential and transparent. And I think this is the biggest change, certainly the most significant for our immediate future… Putting the end consumer at the centre of all our thoughts and actions.

How are RODA collections created?

They begin with an instinct, a scent that has stayed with me, a momentary sensation. Usually, the memory of a journey. I’m an inquisitive, watchful man. I’m captivated by everything that’s new and different. That’s what happens when I travel, I like to get to grips with things, just like when I used to touch the silk in the workshops. Travelling without experiencing anything is meaningless and worthless. Travelling to open up the soul, on the other hand, is what I do best. Then I go home and dig deep in search of a unifying theme, which is very often a colour or a certain fabric: it could be a fresh, delicate linen or a soft cashmere to combine with a piece of embroidery… I like RODA collections to say something about all this, to evoke a story, mingling, coming alive, expressing the desire to experiment, to find an impetus. Matching fabrics, aged prints, reworkings of some of our iconic garments, different every season, “loud” colours in the foreground… It’s as if I were trying to let my imagination run free, just like I do when I’m in a new place, always looking for a different point of view, free from pre-conceived ideas.

Describe the “RODA man”

Whoever wears RODA must know he is choosing a garment with a history, a history that unites style and functionality. I like to think that the man who wears our style is able to feel equally pristine and relaxed at eight in the morning as at nine at night, in any situation. The wearability of our clothes, the tone of our accessories, certain details like a handkerchief with “irreverent” colours, a fine-knit printed tie, everything that suggests that whoever wears RODA is making a style choice but also a personality choice, and usually one that is far from conventional.

How important is it to communicate?

Communication is fundamental, absolutely necessary, and a very delicate operation. In the fashion sector, communicating the brand, aiming it at the right target is a decisive choice, because it determines your future, how what you do will be perceived. Choosing where to convey a message, how strongly to express it, the tone to use, are the starting point for everything you want to build. A beautiful collection, inspired by a timeless narrative, but described the wrong way is obviously a collection that won’t take off, but will stall.

What about communicating on the web?

Communication via the web has a crucial role in all of this: it broadens your range, reaching unexplored territory. The social dimension of communication, sharing, interaction in real time, the here and now become assets available to everyone, the ability to convey a message and amplify it out of all proportion. We want to open ourselves up to this, be a part of this change, in a functional and transparent way, we need to shift our centre of gravity downstream. The web is a marvellous place, where communication no longer works in a single direction: from the company to the consumer. Very often the opposite happens. And you can’t stop interaction, or condition it. That’s why we’re aiming to revolutionize our presence on the web, become a part of it, take on suggestions, weigh up our options and sharpen our focus, so that our website becomes more open, richer in contributions and more varied in content. We’ve chosen this route because we believe that at this moment it’s right to establish first-person contact with the end consumer. That’s how a brand grows: by showing its face, putting out feelers and making mistakes.

What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion is art, the art of expressing a personal attitude in order to turn it into a resource shared by other people, to embody a time, a historic moment, an epoch-making change, a cultural shift. It’s an explosive force, if you think about certain changes in ways of dressing that have made history. I’m not obsessed by fashion, even though I’m part of this world. Obviously, I only wear RODA but in any case I love dressing in a way that’s original, sometimes unconventional, but with the desire to convey something important, namely that the best piece of clothing is one’s own free will, what one is or what one prefers to be. You can have the most sophisticated suit but if your way of wearing it doesn’t let any part of you show through, then you’ve made the wrong choice. Clothes don’t give you an identity, they provide a temporary pass, but you can only get by on charm for a few minutes, as somebody once said.

Where does talent come from?

Where does talent come from? You have it inside you, we all have it somewhere, if we just leave enough room for curiosity and the desire to get somewhere. You can be gifted, talented and full of ideas but if you’re afraid of declaring them then you’re still stuck in the starting block, without much chance of getting out either…. What some people call the “sacred fire” is really the driver of all our actions. I know that I wanted to somehow leave my mark, maybe I didn’t realise straight away that it would be with a fashion brand, but like I said before, life and circumstances have brought me here and I like to think that in some way it was all mapped out…

What have you always loved about your job? And still do?

Knowing that in those four letters printed on a label are my dreams, what I wanted to be when I decided I wasn’t going to spend my years staring at the lake – where I was born – believing that it all ended there.

Your motorbike accident many years ago… the birth of RODA and a family

That accident was my “shadow line”, as Conrad puts it. The abandonment of a way of life, essentially tied to a concept of absolute freedom, the rejection of rules, a life lived to the full, with no limits. The forced immobility, the fear, the waiting to recover. I took what was left of my Harley – I still have a piece in my office – and with the money from the insurance I bought that desk and that telephone which were the start of it all… I married Paola and started again from scratch, like being born again. Now I look back and think that in the end nothing happens by chance. I can say that I have a past that taught me a lot and a precious future that I can see every morning in the eyes of my children, Lucrezia, Allegra and Gregorio, a future that will inevitably make me feel that in the end I’ve been privileged. I’m someone who was given a chance and had the alacrity and the desire to take it.