‘Big is arrogant today, it’s less cool,’ says Diesel founder Renzo Rosso, who first planted a pole in New York in 1996 for his covetable $100 jeans inside a huge industrial space on Lexington Avenue and later went on to conquer the fashion capital with a flagship store that sat like a gigantic cement beast on 5th Avenue.
The 5th avenue skyscraper has been shuttered – not because the Italian denim wear giant couldn’t afford it, but because Rosso no longer wishes to elbow-rub with the low-end brands that operate in monster-sized stores. Instead, two new boutiques – one in Columbus Circle and one on Madison Avenue – service New York’s uptown clientele in intimate, warm spaces that allow the brand to up the ante on its product and service.
‘Today you are either premium or you go cheap,’ says Rosso, who also controls high-end fashion labels Marni, Margiela, and Viktor & Rolf. ‘There is no space in the middle.’
Helping the Diesel founder turn his ship towards more refined waters is CEO Alessandro Bogliolo, a former executive at Bulgari, and creative director Nicola Formichetti, who Rosso recruited from Mugler in 2013 after a determined three year wooing process.
Formichetti, who rose to fame as a rule-breaking stylist for Lady Gaga and a digitally savvy influencer, has formally hit his stride at Diesel where he now oversees not only design, but communications and now store design.
‘I want to elevate Diesel but not in a snobby way,’ Formichetti says, lounging casually on a leather pouf in the new Madison Avenue store. ‘We want premium product in a high end presentation but we are still inclusive.’
For the new shop on Madison, he selected the Japanese architectural studio Wonderwall to create a series of spaces inspired by an apartment. Customers move from a foyer, to a living room and even a wine cellar inspired jean bar where over 70 styles are available to men and 50 for women. ‘He’s my favorite architect,’ Formichetti remarks of founder Masamichi Katayama. ‘I love what he did in Tokyo with the first Bathing Ape shops.’
The mood inside is tempered and dare we say, even a little bit off-duty classy. ‘But we still want to have a mystique,’ Formichetti adds. ‘Every day the world is changing. I want to be on the pulse. I was always a loner in fashion. Now, for the first time I have someone like Renzo teaching and protecting me. I’m learning the business side of things. It’s really exciting to see your clothes worn and to harness the power of advertising and social media. I can really use the machine.’
He’s not just using the machine – he’s also upturning it. In an unprecedented and scandalous move for the fashion industry, Formichetti liberally plastered this season’s Diesel ad campaign across porn websites, specifically PornHub. ‘It’s the 7th most visited website in the world,’ the designer marvels. ‘The amount of response, views and transactions we got was mind blowing. I went straight to Renzo with the idea and he said, “Fuck yeah!” He was the only one who got it. It was pretty insane.’
‘It’s no different than when we had David LaChapelle shoot two sailors kissing in the 1990s,’ Rosso adds, with the blasé hand wave of a 60-year-old man who has seen it all. ‘Back in the 1990s we were the first to advertise in gay magazines. We got hell for it back then just like we’re taking hell for what we’re doing now. People who are negative don’t understand how the world works. We are a mirror for what our modern society wants. We go where the people are.’
So even if the clothes are more expensive, better made and a bit more high end, Diesel still hasn’t lost its rebel heart. Formichetti has also added a magazine team to his staff, which now puts out Diesel’s own digital magazine. ‘Today brands need to be publishing their own content,’ he says. ‘The idea of doing a campaign twice a year is totally over. We have to communicate every day.’
‘I see now that we really have the best team,’ says Renzo with a satisfied grin. ‘Finally after 36 years, I can stop being so involved and get back to my real job. Which is being an entrepreneur.’