D1 Milano's founder Dario Spallone speaks to MOJEH MEN about his inspiration behind starting watch company, his childhood, and the brand's mission.
MOJEH MEN: Define the D1 Milano gentleman. Who do you envision wearing your designs?
Dario Spallone: I would not define it as the D1 Milano gentleman but rather the D1 Milano Style. This de-contextualizes the gender, as we offer a wide selection of collections that apply to all genders and ages. What is so unique and links all of these collections together is the Style. Someone who would wear D1 Milano is cool, who plays by the rules but has some unique detail that they like to look at that makes them stand out. We say people who wear our watches wear their attitudes, this is a watch that gives you social recognition even if it doesn’t cost 10,000 dollars, it’s not about the price. This is a watch that you can wear every day and don’t feel it but at the same time it makes you proud because it differentiates you, it shows that you care about details, about trends about style.
MM: Define D1 Milano’s design aesthetic.
DS: We are inspired by the 1970’s Italian Lifestyle, our design aesthetic is defined by clear lines, simple lines, because we want to focus more on the materials, on the finishing’s and on the small details to differentiate ourselves from everyone else. Our aesthetics is purely Italian, small details that define you. We don’t scream with bold designs that can be appreciated from far away, you have to know our history and you have to have some knowledge to actually appreciate the subtle features that makes us so special. It’s not a product for everyone.
MM: Tell us about the special limited-edition model (500 pieces) you have coming out. What was the inspiration, and why now?
DS: As I said details are what makes us special, this is why our new Khaleeji Limited Edition required a thorough R&D for us. We developed a special Pantone of Green for our dial inspired by the Arabic Tradition which took more than 3 months to get right. An important colour not only for Khaleejis but for us Italians, proof that both the cultures can mix in a synergic and beautiful way. We wanted a product that stood out as Italian but that was inspired by the Arabic Roots of the Khaleeji world which is very dear to us. Sometimes brands lose their identities to make products that appeal to local markets, this is a big NO for us. We work on local editions only if we believe we can find a beautiful compromise between two very strong cultures.
MM: What are the challenges of your job?
DS: The hardest part, especially as the brand continues to grow, is maintaining a strong alignment structure throughout the company. People think brands are made by products, but I sincerely believe brands are made of people, and the only thing that can actually destroy a good company is poor alignment between team members. We as a team are responsible for this success, it is not an individual accomplishment. This is why my goal is to constantly align our team members to our vision as a brand but as well to our short-term organisational procedures. Sometimes it is hard as you have a lot of stakeholders involved with different points of views (team, clients, distributors, retailers, agencies…etc). However, what I try to pass on to my team is that you gain that social touch of putting yourself in another person’s shoes it’s always easier to find a compromise to go further.
MM: What has been your career highlight to date?
DS: Every day is a highlight, obviously some days are darker than others, but seeing that a project who only a handful of people believed in 2013 is now recognised by many people and growing rapidly is a testament to all the hard we have put in over the years. Nobody owns this success, it’s a team effort and the fact that everybody feels it their own is the biggest career highlight for me.
MM: Why are timepieces timeless? And why, in the 21st Century, do they continue to beware and seen as a social status symbol?
DS: Accessories in general such as rings, bracelets, earrings are unnecessary from a functional view, and as technology evolves even things such as watches lose their function. But wrist watches have always been a trend rather than a functional innovation, they were first introduced in the British Army during the World War and when soldiers came back they started becoming fashionable as wearable accessories, for what they represented not for what they were. Luxury watchmaking represents craftsmanship, new brands such as us represent trends, watches represent a message you want to convey. Again, most of the things we buy or wear, are bought either because you need it or because you want to convey a message about yourself to people who don’t know you. And I firmly believe watches lie on the latter.
MM: What inspired you to launch D1 Milano?
DS: D1 Milano started as a university dream, I joined hands with a few close friends and my sister and introduced them to my idea of a watch brand that would be accessible, recognisable and cool at the same time. With the course of the years the brand evolved to become an established brand which is now present in 18 countries globally. D1 Milano’s inspiration lies in the cultural affinity we share within the team. It is not a brand that draws its inspiration from my view or from any one individual view in particular, but it takes its inspirations from the synergy of all the team members involved.
MM: What are the highlights of your job?
DS: My job allows me to work on something that is bigger than me or anyone in the team. That energy I derive by creating something and building it up, and making it grow is the main driver behind my job and my passion.
MM: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the watch industry today?
DS: I started the business as a hobby with a group of friends and am now heading a structured organisation composed of top management. Shifting mentality constantly from something that is so disorganised and unstructured to something that is more protocoled, hierarchal, and efficient can prove to be quite challenging. People usually think that it is the market that destroys a startup, I personally believe the market, or the product is the easiest thing to get right. What is hard is continuing to build and constantly change without ruining the core. Building a hierarchical structure without damaging the relationships or the psychological morale has been the most challenging experience for me till date.
MM: What was the first watch you ever owned? Tell us about the story behind it?
DS: The first watch I ever remember owning, when I was younger I wore watches such as Swatch or Toy Watches which were made for kids under 10 years old, was as a gift from my father at age 13. It was a leather black Calvin Klein Watch and I still remember it was when the Calvin Klein ‘the one’ perfume was quite the trend and all of my classmates were using it.
I was still quite unaware of the concept of branding at the time but looking back at it now I loved that watch so much not for what it looked like, but for what it represented. Obviously, the style was in line with my taste but more importantly than that was the name. The name represented something for me, it represented who I wanted to be.
D1 Milano, too, represents a lifestyle, a character, a social status. You appreciate the design, the history and the details but more importantly, you buy it for what it says about you, not for what you want to say about it.