ONE TO WATCH Dario Spallone founded his start-up while still at university. Three years on, his edgy timepieces have found favour with celebrities
s a management student at Milan’s Bocconi University, Dario Spallone wrote his thesis on the marketing of a new watch brand. But he did not stop there. At the age of 20, he put his theory into practice when he set up his watch company D1 Milano with his sister Alessia and his two close friends, Alessandro Pedersoli and Mattia Bodini. Three years on, the business has already garnered a steady following. Its trendy timepieces, which cost an average $170, are more fashion statement than heirlooms. The brand distinguishes itself with the use of inventive materials such as thermochromic paints, marble dials and soft touch polycarbon straps. Last year, D1 launched the world’s first thermochromic watch, a limited edition piece that changes colour based on the temperature of the wearer. “We did one year of research,” says Spallone. “I am really into the trend of infusing technology with fashion right now.” Last year Forbes named Spallone “one of the most promising young Italian fashion entrepreneurs”. This year the magazine ranked D1 among “the top 10 start-ups redefining Italian fashion”. This type of recognition has been greater validation for the entrepreneur than profits, he says. “I do not care about the monetary results as much as seeing the brand I co-founded being duly acknowledged.” The brand has also generated a fair amount of celebrity interest, ranging from the likes of actor Tyrese Gibson and DJ Diplo to Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. “We don’t call them celebrities but friends as they are not sponsored by the brand,” says Spallone.
JULY / AUGUST 2016
“I am just good at organising, paying attention to detail and I like working with people. I think that is what being an entrepreneur is” With all this success, Spallone now returns to Bocconi University to lecture students and budding entrepreneurs like himself. “I always tell [the students] the hardest part in the beginning is giving yourself structure. Even when there was nothing to do and we had no clients, I forced my partners and myself to be in the office. Sometimes we would just stare at a blank computer screen. This is not a hobby. It is a constant battle with yourself,” he says. Spallone adds the brand is “growing double digits everywhere”. Italy, France and the UK are the main markets in Europe while east Asia has been gaining traction, with two flagship stores in Japan. In the Middle East, D1 has just opened a flagship store in Bahrain’s Al Aali shopping mall and is currently stocked in Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdales in Dubai. At just 23, Spallone’s passion and business know-how make him sound like a seasoned chief executive but he still remains humble: “I am an entrepreneur and not a creator. I know how to manage things and people. I tell people, I wish I could be an employee but I am not good at anything. I am just good at organising, paying attention to detail and I like working with people. I think that is what being an entrepreneur is.”