Renzo Rosso for Diesel
Exclusive, Edgy and Risk-Taking, the Diesel Brand Expands
By Heather O'Brian
Photos below: Renzo Rosso for Diesel
Photos courtesy of Diesel
NEW YORK, Dec 15, 2001/ --- Renzo Rosso, Diesel's founder and chairman, is driving his management team crazy.
Or so he says. On a recent visit to Diesel headquarters in Molvena, Italy, alleged incidences of
borderline behavior among company managers could not be confirmed. But one thing was clear:
Rosso's team is very, very busy, trying to keep up with the new ideas their boss is constantly
"I tell them, you don't need to worry because you have someone who is going forward. If things go
forward, there is innovation," explains Rosso.
One of the latest innovations in the Diesel world is a decision to make every store unique,
extensively varying both the décor and the products that are available from one store to the next.
Only about 30 to 40 percent of the furnishings will be fixed, the rest made up of used rugs, lamps
and tables. Sounds nice, but how will it work? "This system requires a bit more creativity and a
little less manageriality," says Rosso. ("Manageriality" must be Italian for management.)
But the focus on creativity at Diesel doesn't appear to have hurt all those things managers love,
like sales growth. The company is closing 2001 with sales of roughly $500 million, up 35 percent
from last year.
Between clothing and accessories, the company has almost tripled its number of items per
collection, now turning out 2,500 different products for each. At the same time, however, the
company has drastically reduced the quantity of every item it produces. "It's a way to be less
global, more individual," Rosso explains. The initiative not only maintains an exclusive allure
for the Diesel label, but also makes it possible to offer different products in different stores.
In New York, this approach allows the group to have around a 60 percent difference in the items
sold at its Union Square and Lexington Avenue stores. According to the Diesel chief this "creates
the desire to go visit the other store for those who want to travel."
In October, the company opened a third New York outlet, a Diesel Denim Gallery in Soho. The
store's format, already tried in Osaka, presents jeans as a mixture of art and product.
Limited-edition items are available, once again engendering a sense of exclusiveness.
Diesel's Union Square store is only slightly older, inaugurated in September. Rosso says the
new outlet has been surprisingly busy in light of the current retail mood in New York.
The chairman himself was en route to New York on September 11 to attend a bash that evening in
honor of the flagship's opening, but his plane was diverted to Canada after the attacks. Like so
many other events associated with New York's fashion week, the Diesel event was quickly cancelled.
In the days following the tragedy, however, Union Square became a shrine to victims as hundreds
poured into the park to light candles and connect with fellow New Yorkers. The square has since
gone back to normal, but the Diesel store on its edge is still flourishing. "The store is always
full, which is strange given the reality New York is experiencing right now," says Rosso. "The city
asked us to keep it open later because it has become a sort of meeting point for young people."
New York isn't Diesel's only destination of choice for new stores though. The company plans to
create new potential meeting places for young people around the world, with a grand total of 27
store openings planned for the next year. Seven will be in the U.S.
Within Europe, the company plans strong growth in Germany, opening a dozen stores over the next
three years. Rosso also stresses that there is "a lot to do in Japan and the Far East, especially
in Shanghai, which is opening up."
Diesel's chairman is wary of growth simply for the sake of growth, though. He says he already
sells plenty of clothing in countries like Italy, Greece and the Netherlands, and is now focusing
on offering products like shoes and accessories in these markets. "Selling $50 million, $500
million, or $1 billion, I don't see that much of a difference. I'm more interested in the quality
of life and being a point of reference for young people."
He realizes that young people do grow up though, and last year set his sights on an age group
slightly higher than Diesel's 15-to-25 range. In April 2000, Rosso acquired Italian fashion
company Staff International. The group is now working to develop Staff International's
NewYorkIndustrie label. "We wanted to be present with the products that our customers wear
when they're 25," Rosso explains.
Another top item on Rosso's agenda is the launch of a home line; a separate business unit for
household products will hopefully be up and running in a year's time. "I don't want to do what
someone ahead of me has done, and come out with 20 different licenses," explains Rosso. "The house
that I would like to do would be made up of a lot of things, all different from each other.
We'll gather the items and you can choose what you want, but I wouldn't want to do a 'Diesel
Just in case the group doesn't already have enough going on, it might even expand its presence
in the hotel business. Rosso admits that he wouldn't mind opening hotels in Milan and New York.
In the mid-'90s, he inaugurated the Pelican Hotel in Miami, with rooms individually decorated to
mimic movie sets, and is currently at work on a second Miami hotel, The Carlyle.
Diesel's famously irreverent advertising campaigns will also continue to move forward. The latest,
"Stay Young," depicts models, supposedly born in the Victorian Age, and reveals their wacky
techniques for maintaining their youthful good looks. Originally dubbed "Save Yourself," the $15
million global campaign was tweaked in reaction to the new post-September 11 sensibility.
Rosso says that the company plans to go ahead with a simple, humorous and positive way of
presenting its products to its public. "We've never presented ourselves in an arrogant fashion.
We've never said: 'You have to wear this.'"
Diesel's models stay young in a variety ways. Some try reincarnation, others eat algae, there are
even those who drink urine. How does the 46-year-old Diesel chief maintain his youth? In part,
he credits his five children. "They've always kept me very young. And I think it has also been
important for the company." Rosso's oldest son, 24-year-old Andrea, even works for the company,
with Diesel's 55DSL label.
All in all, Diesel's staff is very young -- however they stay that way -- and very international.
The average Diesel employee is in her mid-20s, and about one-quarter of all headquarters staff
(and nearly 100 percent of its designers) are from outside Italy. "That's what I like; there are
no longer borders," Rosso says. On our recent visit to headquarters, many people were out of the
office, on a bi-annual design trip to come up with creative schemes for the next collection.
There is one thing that's 100 percent home-grown though, and that is Diesel's denim.
Rosso says that the company's staff is the first consumer of the Diesel brand. "We don't produce on
the basis of market research, but for ourselves." And that's not just talk. Rosso himself is decked
out in head-to-toe Diesel, as are seemingly all of his staff. He recognizes the accomplishments of
other designers though, particularly Issey Miyake. Why? Not surprisingly, this businessman who's
built an empire on his steady stream of fresh ideas, says: "He always succeeds in inventing something
Click on image to read the review and view the collection.