Diadora Made in Italy

Locally Sourced: A Look Back at Diadora History

Revisiting Diadora History

Diadora history is, in more than one way, similar to that of many successful brands. One young, ambitious human combines with just the right environment and circumstances. Of course, coincidence plays a huge role in all of this. But, even more significant is an unending search for quality.

Diadora’s origins lay on the foundation of never compromising on the high quality of the brand’s footwear. In fact, this bordered on actual stubbornness. That insistence early in its history is essentially what kept Diadora from becoming a huge name in Ski boot manufacturing. That’s right, we are but a slight industry development in the early years from knowing Diadora for apres-ski boots.

History is funny like that, and the story behind Diadora is no different. Of course, the modern reputation the brand holds is one of timeless silhouettes and stellar collaborations. The N9000 and V7000 are no slouches, capable of inspiring line-ups on their own. But, the ultimate significance of Diadora history is the fact that it was, and still is, a family company that still calls Italy home. Artisinal spirit and all, the brand’s homegrown roots are something it continues to take quite seriously.

“Capri” iteration of the V7000 ITALIA, via Hanon

Wartime

Diadora’s place in Italian history is that of a modern symbol of national pride. The regular “Italia” versions of some of their most notable models are always a welcome sight. Sporting higher quality and a focus on the materials, these sneakers represent an artisanal approach to footwear design that is indicative of the nation’s background.

Yet, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the early years of Diadora’s conquest are ones of turmoil and civil unrest. The social conditions within the country, how its citizens saw each other, nearly held the company from ever forming. So, as it turns out, our story begins with war.

When World War 1 engulfs Italy in its flames, the country sees its soldiers deploy and fight. More specifically, many cities in the country are seen as established bases. As it goes, a large number of soldiers were stationed in a small city nestled among the Trevigiani Hills. Here, in a town by the name of Caerano San Marco, a base of operations forms.

Thanks to the concentration of soldiers at this time, there is a constant need for supplies, mainly food and clothing. And, Coincidentally, Caerano also happens to be the birthplace of Diadora’s would-be founder, Marcello Danieli.

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Brand Beginnings

At the time, Danieli takes on the first, and perhaps the biggest, step in Diadora history. Having always been a creative young man, Danieli does not finish his schooling. In this small town, it was customary for young men to leave school in search of ways to support their families. For the intrepid Danieli, the choice was shoemaking.

After all, at this point in his life, he’s much too young to enlist in the army. He would, fortunately, have plenty of time to practice his chosen craft as the locally stationed soldiers needed an immense amount of mountain climbing boots. Thanks to this coincidence, Danieli has an opportunity to realize his intense focus on the small details of design. But, of course, there are complications.

Danieli’s skill in footwear production only grows as he does. In fact, while his hometown supplies soldiers, the young man quickly gains a reputation for his impressive craftsmanship. He develops a reputation wholly on his remarkable work. To put this into context, we’re talking about soldiers who are fighting and dying on the battlefront, noticing the quality of something as trivial as a boot.

A Victory Unites

To be sure, Danieli was impressive. But, his growth would take a backseat to the context of wartime. Italy manages to, more or less, survive two wars. In 1948, Italy is struggling with the reality of a post-war economy. In short, struggles abound. Unemployment is rife, poverty rising in unison with it. Consequently, the country is set upon by a wave of anger and frustration.

As it turns out, the North and South of Italy are beset with ideological differences that inspire violence and bloodshed. It was, frankly, not a great time to be a young man with a whole bunch of talent and creativity.

But, something wonderful happens to eventually bring the country together. Sport, as it often does, helps Italy forget the madness and violence that comes with unemployment. In 1948, the Tour De France sees its 35th year only get more brutal. However, the result would prove more important than the actual race. The winner that year is Gino Bartali, his second Tour De France win in ten years.

Gino Bartali’s first Tour De France win in 1938, via CNN

Timing is Everything

In a country that seemed divided right down the middle, this was a huge moment in Italian history. The cultural and ideological split between the North and South takes a backseat to the monumental national pride that comes with this win. Class-based struggles, fury over poverty, it all goes silent as an entire country comes together in a swell of pride. Now, the time is right for a certain talented shoemaker to make something of his craft.

The feeling of unity – and the resulting calming of tensions – in Italy becomes the perfect environment for business. It’s also a convenient time for more specific reasons. Danieli is still young, but boasts the experience of a master craftsman. Even after the war, his work is in high demand. As such, it only makes sense to kick off a venture of your own. Hence, a brand is born.

There is plenty of speculation when it comes to the Diadora meaning. The best explanation comes to us from the brand’s own origins, dating it back to Greek origins and a misspelled word. Regardless, the real emphasis of Diadora history is in the deep catalog of high-quality products the brand boasts.

S8000 “Capri” via Hanon

A Time to Spend on Quality

A cursory look at the brand’s retro offerings shows a very clear leaning. Diadora rarely spends time on the front pages of sneaker magazines or on footwear hype forums. It’s not a brand that boasts any high profile endorsements. There is no real Diadora hypebeast. But, the respect for quality is clear and apparent. From the older sports models to the retro pieces that have dropped in the last few years, there’s no question. Danieli’s brand might not ever lose its focus on the high standards of materials and design.

That is the sort of philosophy that drove Danieli, and his wife, to take Diadora to further heights. The 60s represent a time of economic boom for Italy. With wartime a distant memory and free elections now a standard, Italy’s future looks brighter in the 60s. As a result, the nation’s economy sees an upturn, pulling entire families out of the depths of poverty.

For Diadora, this meant that people would be better prepared to spend more money on things like footwear. After all, how an entire country’s economy is faring can be the deciding difference between shoes as a once-in-a-generation purchase or a more frequent purchase.

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Starting on Slopes

From its start, Danieli kicks off his venture by working on some mountain climbing boots. That’s right, one of the top names in retro runners was crushing the game via hiking shoes. In fact, were it not for a small but significant development in the industry, both mountain climbing and ski boots might have been a prominent part of the collection. But, ski boot manufacturing took on the heavy use of cheaper plastic. As time wears on, this technique becomes a standard.

Unfortunately, Danieli didn’t feel the same way as some other names in the ski-boot manufacturing sector. As soon as this plastic design detail was a norm, he moves on from the specialty. To be sure, this decision has nothing to do with his ability and skill. Rather, it has everything to do with the very idea of sacrificing quality for the sake of a bottom line.

From the “Make it Bright” campaign, the N9000, via Diadora

The move away from that particular sector really opens things up for the brand. The 70s are a time when Italy sees a remarkable rise in the youth sports movement. From football and basketball to tennis and running, it started to seem like Italy was facing a sporting renaissance. Consequently, the need for performance footwear becomes remarkable.

Long known for their artisanal and visual pieces, the Italian footwear market had no real performance presence at this time. After introducing walking trainers, there is a boom that comes in forms such as Diadora running shoes. Two of the areas in which the brand started to earn legendary status were tennis and football.

 

Big Names

In tennis, Diadora managed to snag the endorsement services of Bjorn Borg. Now, Borg, in a modern context, is considered one of the greatest to have ever played the sport on any surface. This makes Diadora’s sponsorship unique enough. But, it’s worth noting that this deal was made just before the very highest of the champion tennis player’s peak. It would solidify Diadora in the larger arena of tennis shoes.

The release of the Borg Elite – known now as the Diadora B. Elite – was one of the most significant moments in the western sports and culture. It signifies more than the prolific Grand Slam winner. The Borg Elite is the symbol of a tennis past that grappled with its own rigidity, even before the advent of Nike and Andre Agassi.

Vintage Borg Elite ad
Vintage Borg Elite ad

Family = Longevity

In business, companies are constantly taking on the challenge of survival. Often times, this requires a very critical amount of change and adjustment. This is no different in the performance footwear industry. Diadora, though witnessing their growth during a time of economic boom, had to find ways to prevent a downfall.

As you might have already guessed, they’re still here. There are many reasons for the brand’s longevity, beginning with their maintained focus on high-quality designs. But, there’s an even more central element. Diadora history has always been about family. The company starts as an enterprise between a husband and his wife. Eventually, Danieli’s sons would play a pivotal role in its further development. In fact, even the athletes the company endorses have always been an important voice in its history.

 

Borg never went very long without sending in some input about a sneaker design or concerns about an ad. Roberto Bettega, the legendary Juventus striker and Diadora signee, was another example. In the early days of Diadora football boots, Bettega’s input was treated as critical to every stage of development and design.

In the eyes of the Danieli family, footballers such as Bettega and Francesco Totti are the most integral part of the performance sneaker design process. After all, how would one know where the sweet spot of a striker-specific boot is without the help of an actual forward? It only makes sense.

Future as Bright as Past

What also makes sense is Diadora’s continued relevance within the larger sneaker community. The brand still holds a surprising chunk of the football boots market. But, perhaps more telling of the success behind Diadora history, and its staying power, is its roster of retro models and collaborations.

Primarily, the N9000 and V7000 seem to never miss. From iteration to iteration, the brand’s focus on high quality and technical brilliance does not waver. Collaborations with some of the bigger names in the sneaker game have shown us some indisputable proof of this.

The Borg Elite, now known as the B.Elite, via Diadora

Of course, there are several reasons one might worry about the company. But, they fall by the wayside when we go back to the brand’s historical presence. Born of talent, hard work and opportunity, this isn’t merely a footwear provider. This locally rooted name is the realization of a Diadora Italy. The name might have shown itself in prosperous times, but it remains through thick and thin.

While you’re at it, make sure to check out the ultimate list of the best Diadora collabs of 2017.