From Caravaggio to the Cinecittà, the Italian arts form a truly distinctive brand across the globe, recognised for its beauty, excellence and style.  ‘I think Italians have a different perception from what the rest of the world sees,’ comments the dancer Roberto Bolle, folded up onto a sofa at the La Scala in Milan in between rehearsals.

Today at Milan Fashion Week it was announced that he has become an ambassador for Tod’s, the luxury maker of shoes and accessories led by the benevolent Diego Della Valle, himself a passionate patron of Italian culture. Yet the national attitude to Italy’s colossal cultural status can sometimes prove surprisingly modest. Bolle says: ‘We export so many wonderful things and there’s a really positive feeling all over the world about our culture, our arts and fashion – but Italian people don’t always believe in it.’

Still from Tod’s S/S 2018 campaign video

Bolle has given his life to ballet. At the age of seven, he began his studies in the Piedmont region of Italy and, at 12, he entered the prestigious La Scala ballet school. A turning point came when, three years later, his talent was spotted by the legendary Rudolf Nureyev, who cast him in a production of Death in Venice.

At 20, Bolle was promoted to principal dancer at La Scala following an appearance in Romeo and Juliet. Today he is an internationally respected principal at both the American Ballet Theatre and the La Scala. Living between New York and Milan presents some curious contrasts – these two worlds come together in Tod’s S/S 2018 campaign directed by Fabien Baron.

Bolle appears in a cinematic tableau eating pasta, frolicking at the beach and snapping photographs with Kendall Jenner within the grounds of a Malibu mansion. He says, 'There is a difference when you are working with photography because on stage we’re athletes as well as actors, yet the performance is still all about the character.’

Right now he is playing the quixotic Armand in The Lady of the Camellias, a ballet adapted from the 1848 novel by French writer Alexandre Dumas. ‘With every performance we’re telling a story for the people who come to see us. You have to do your steps and perform, but that all comes secondary to the emotion of the role you are playing,’ he says. With Jenner, he decided to let go and improvise. ‘We had to forget about the camera and just play between us.’ The campaign evokes a fresh, youthful mood.

Bolle’s first appearance on fashion’s glossy stage came a decade ago when he revisited the role of Romeo in a lavish Shakespearean editorial lensed by Annie Leibovitz for American Vogue. Since then he’s been photographed in countless editions of style titles around the world, including a series of quirky pictures in which he is poised wearing the suits of the season for the cult men’s magazine Fantastic Man. His relationship with Tod’s began in 2016 when he was a guest of the brand at The Colosseum in Rome, at a gala celebrating the first phase of its restoration funded by the Tod’s Group.

When protecting and promoting Italian culture, Della Valle’s words are backed up by action. Only last month, Italy's Prime Minister inaugurated a new factory built by Tod’s in the quake-devastated central Italian town of Arquata del Tronto. ‘No one else did anything; Diego was the first to act and that’s what I like about the brand,’ Bolle says. ‘It’s not just beautiful product, it’s what’s behind it. We’re both committed to doing something beautiful for our country.’