When a 14-year-old Louis Vuitton embarked on the 400km walk from Anchay to Paris in the mid-19th century, with an apprenticeship at a small trunkmaker awaiting him at the other end, the idea that his name would one day denote the world's most valuable luxury brand would have been preposterous to him. Likewise, when Filippo Della Valle first flung open the doors of his small cobbler shop in a sleepy village in Le Marche, in central Italy, the notion that his little emporium would grow into the multinational giant we now call 'Tod's' would have had him wiping the tears of mirth from his stitching awl.
The 'humble beginnings' plot device, which has enriched human narrative since the dawn of storytelling, has a habit of finding real-life expression in the world of luxury commerce. The powerboat manufacturer Riva is another striking example of this. Riva came into being in 1842 when a kindly young carpenter, Pietro Riva, set about helping fishermen repair their boats on Italy's Lake Iseo (about 80km from Milan) in the wake of a sudden, violent storm. Today, still based on the shores of the same lake, its stock-in-trade is the most impeccably crafted performance powerboats that money - in abundance, of course - can buy.
But it was in the late '50s that Riva, in its modern form, came into being. The rise of the international jet set had seen an influx of high-society visitors to this highly prestigious region - all of whom, understandably, were feeling inclined to carry out their prolific amorous endeavours on the aquamarine waters of the nearby French Riviera. Noticing this, Pietro's great-grandson Carlo Riva, an engineer, spotted a lucrative niche in treating boating purely as a pleasure activity.
To this end, he effectively reinvented the speedboat, pioneering a graceful craft made of mahogany and cedar with a spacious, well-appointed interior and an engine that came to earn Rivas the reputation of being the 'Ferraris of the boat world'. His efforts steered the family business into lucrative waters. The boats generated their own romance and mystique (why would the irresistible image of Jackie O., Liz Taylor or Prince Rainier III soaking up the sunrays on Riva's rich-mahogany sundecks prompt anyone who's marketing sexy little wooden runabouts to start thinking outside the box?).