Renzo Rosso’s last visit to Delhi was in the scorching heat of May. One sweltering afternoon during the course of that trip, he was leaning on one
of the legendary white columns of Connaught Place, listening intently to Darshan Mehta, CEO of Reliance Brands, who was pointing out some possible retail locations for the soonto-be-launched Diesel brand in India. One of the prospective sites happened to be across the road from where Rosso and Mehta were standing, beyond Palika Bazaar.
Suddenly, before the slim, salt-andpepper-haired Mehta could take stock of what was happening, Rosso jumped a railing and darted across the road, paying scant notice to the traffic swarming in all directions. The purpose behind this sprint was easily explained: Rosso wanted a closer inspection of the space Mehta had pointed out. What, however, impressed Mehta was the fact that the founder-president of one of the world’s most iconic fashion brands could dispense with the niceties of an air-conditioned car — choosing, instead , to launch himself into the heat and dust of Delhi’s streets in quest of a perfect retail location for his store.
It’s mere coincidence that this act of bravery — for only the stout-hearted have it in them to set foot on the busy streets of Connaught Place — was executed by the founder & president of a company named Only The Brave, which owns Diesel. But for Rosso, walking the streets is commonplace. For he believes the streets of the cities he visits give him an opportunity to observe the way the youth of the country dress, how they move, how they listen to their music, what their body language and mannerisms are —all of which serve as inspiration for the Diesel style.
Diesel’s entry into India may have got delayed a bit with the wheels coming off the 51:49 joint venture that Diesel S.p.A had struck with Arvind Mills last year. But Rosso is obviously pleased with the speed with which Diesel International has been able to forge a second 51:49 JV in India, this time with Reliance Brands Limited.
A self-confessed Indophile — he’s named his youngest daughter India — Rosso maintains that his faith in the Indian youth’s creativity and their ability to transform things are what he sees as bringing growth to Diesel. “Diesel is a unique brand with a unique relationship with its consumers who are very loyal — a fact we never take for granted . It is a brand which attracts 50,000 footfalls every day globally. It’s a very friendly and social brand, and its advantage is that is not arrogant,” says Rosso, as he smiles warmly and doffs his hat (yes he wears a hat, and actually doffs it) from his headquarters in Molvena, Italy. Such is his enthusiasm that even the frequent glitches that mar the video conference fail to put him out of countenance.
Passion, irreverence and originality are the hallmarks of Rosso, and have taken him a long way. The son of an Italian peasant, Rosso studied
textiles, and then in 1978, co-founded the Genius Group, a design company that created a number of niche fashion brands which include Replay, Katharine Hamnett and, what was then a low-budget affair, Diesel. After eight years of average growth for the brand — by which point Diesel had a turnover of just Euro 3 million — Rosso bought out his partners’ stake in the brand.
Explaining why he cherrypicked Diesel from a bunch of equals, Rosso says: “Because it was my baby, I was the founder and it reflected my way of clothing.” Since that fateful day in 1985, Rosso has built the brand into one of the most influential casualwear fashion companies of recent decades. Last year, Diesel’s notched up sales of a little over Euro 1 billion — and contributed to the bulk of Only The Brave’s over Euro 1.3 billion 2007 turnover.
That the 53-year-old truly believes in the name of his holding company — Only The Brave — is obvious. Rosso believes there is no space for those who tread the middle path. So, from a single New York store which he opened opposite Levi’s flagship store to the 300 monobrand stores (200 of which are company-owned , the rest in partnership with local distributors) across 80 countries with over 5,000 points of sale, Rosso has lived by his company’s motto.
Diesel, in fact, did the unthinkable when after entering the US, it began giving iconic American jeans brand Levi’s a run for its money in the ‘couture jeans’ sector. Diesel rapidly became uber cool among American consumers, and in conjunction with its advertising acquired a hip, edgy image that young consumers found irresistible.
Diesel’s success in the US is extremely close to Rosso’s heart as it’s the country where he acquired a fair chunk of his education. “I love the US. I grew up in a culture where the US was like a big planet — it was best place to live, it was all about big music... And we came and offered a totally different product. We arrived with a treatment which said, if you try one pair of Diesel, you will never go back to any other pair. It was a product which was different from what was available in the market, which is why we gained more respect ,” Rosso says, explaining Diesel’s ability of making American consumers shell out $100 and more for a pair of jeans.
An important part of Rosso’s strategy has been to get his consumers to be part of the Diesel lifestyle. Whether it is the music played across all
Diesel stores, or the kind of art, live music events or fashion , Rosso believes the trick lies in supporting fresh talent from across art disciplines and using that talent to co-build his company. “Diesel’s focus is youth and we have new talent and new blood coming in every six months.
We constantly need to pay attention to the young, we tailor our communication accordingly. It’s a big reason why consumers are in love with Diesel. They feel part of our lifestyle,” he explains, snapping his fingers , almost as if in an effort to translate the energy that the young bring into a brand.
Rosso is just back in Italy after celebrating 30 years of Diesel in the form of the biggest international party the world has ever seen. Diesel xXx (titled Triple X) partied across 18 cities around the globe, beginning in Tokyo, successively moving to Beijing , Dubai, Athens, Amsterdam , Milan, Zurich, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen , Barcelona, Oslo, Helsinki, London and Sao Paulo. The grand finale took place in New York City on Pier 3 on the Brooklyn waterfront overlooking the Manhattan skyline. “I cried seeing how many fans we have around the world,” says Rosso, who telecast the entire event live on the Diesel website.
Amazingly enough, for a brand that’s expanding rapidly across the globe, globalisation in its purest marketing sense — extending a brand’s appeal across geographies by achieving homogeneity of form and function — does not appeal to Rosso. So while he sees the merits of globalisation , he lays equal emphasis on the need to heed to the different trends, movies, music and history of every country. “We need to re-adapt and reinvent to the ethical niche. The world would otherwise be very boring and flat,” he says.
Fiercely passionate about his brand — he has been quoted as famously saying, ‘Diesel is not my company, it’s my life’ — the India entry of Diesel may be one of the last initiatives for the brand that Rosso has personally overseen. Rosso has expressed his intent to shift his focus entirely on running Only The Brave, and develop brand in the portfolio like Martin Margiela and Sophia Kolosalaki. India, for Rosso too, might just have been that final frontier...
6 months ago