Renzo Rosso: The visionary

Portrait of Renzo Rosso

Interview: Haris Stavridis // Portrait: Steve McCurry — Courtesy of Diesel

You have said that the concept of rebellion is different today than it was for your generation in the 60's. How do these time periods compare?

I would say that rebellion in the past was more real, it happened over important values: people were hungry and a real change was happening in society. Sometimes I have the feeling that today’s ‘rebellions’ are a bit more superficial. It is, however, rather unfair to compare two different periods of time; one has to live in the present. Another thing to add is that today, without doubt, every form of rebellion relies on countless communication channels, something we did not have way back then.

We are seeing brands like Abercrombie & Fitch having trouble maintaining their coolness. How do you keep up with what a younger audience wants? Is it something that has to do with you being able to understand the messages of our era, or do you rely on detailed trend reports?

I think we are very lucky because our company is made up of young people who are creating things for themselves, according to their own taste and in line with their age. This is an incredible competitive advantage! It is also the reason why I chose Nicola Formichetti as the artistic director of Diesel. It is always important to breathe the life of big cities and the places young people hang out at. Living with them—and like them—helps you understand a lot about their needs and wants. As for trend reports, by the time you get to read them, trends have already passed and the market is moving on to something else. Plus, very often these reports are written by people who understand very little about the lifestyle of the target groups they are analysing...

With e-commerce growing, how do you see physical retail spaces responding to this challenge? Do they need to focus more on creating concepts and offering a richer in-store experience?

Did you know that 80% of the people who buy in-store have collected all the information needed by first going online? A real store will never go out of fashion, it is where you can really experience the essence of a brand, this is something truly incomparable. It is therefore fundamental to merge these two things—the digital and the real life experience—in a smart, useful and effective way.

When it comes to innovation and trying out new things you are definitely on the front line (who can forget the Diesel holographic fashion show?). What cultural and technological trends do you find intriguing at the moment?

Organic food! I see a huge trend developing—a positive one—because it has to do with our health. We are what we eat, you know? This is the reason I recently invested in Italy’s biggest organic food producer and distributor, NaturaSi. Technology is great for speeding up change. For instance, these days we are involved heavily with 3D printing: it is incredible what you can do with it! You save time and you can produce anywhere in the world, just to give you an example.

Your brand has been known for its ingenious advertising campaigns as well. What kind of messages do you feel are relevant for your audience today? Have we reached a point where we've seen it and heard it all?

The real challenge I give to my people nowadays is the following: put soul in all of our communication channels, such as advertising and social media. In the past our signature was irony, but people today need something different and they also need to feel us close to them.

It seems that music has played an important part in your life. Could you tell us about this? How has it affected Diesel?

Music is part of my life all day long. I listen to it in the morning, when I drive to work, during the day in the office and in the evening at home. And it has always been part of our Diesel history, in our collections, our events—I still have the music of some of our shows and parties in my private playlists!

Could you tell us about your collaboration with Nicola Formichetti? What do you admire about him?

We work very well together, we appreciate and respect each other, and we are friends! What I like the most about him is the perfect fusion of his Italian creative roots and the Japanese attitude, dignity, and way of behaving.

How has he changed Diesel so far?

He is taking the brand back to its DNA without losing or diluting it. He spent a full year immersing himself in the history of Diesel, next to me, and now he is translating it and making it modern and relevant for today.

Speaking of creativity, what are the traits that make a designer good and what are the traits that make a designer successful?

A good designer can define new styles, silhouettes, and trends at the right time, not too early and not too late, always in a consistent way across everything he or she does. A successful designer has all of the above plus he/she has a unique style, leadership, and charisma in communication.

There are a lot of brands under the OTB umbrella. How do you follow their activities and do you find yourself having to intervene often?

The way I work with Diesel and with all the other brands of the group is very different. Diesel is the brand I created 36 years ago and I still feel I have a lot to give, even to someone like Nicola. On Martin Margiela, Marni, and Viktor&Rolf, I never offer any creative input. They have to be completely free and independent. I am there with the rest of the group to help (and create synergies) on areas like finance, HR, IT, legal, and so on. Of course, I also help on defining the strategic vision and development of each brand, but nothing creative. This is their uniqueness and it has to be preserved.

What are the challenges when a company gets as big as yours?

To remain cool and inspirational. To grow the business of every brand, obviously, but without affecting their soul: they have to continue to be a dream for each of their consumers.

Are people born entrepreneurs or is this something that can be taught?

You are born with it, education refines it and experience makes you develop it and grow.

If you were to go back in time, what would you would do differently?

I would probably do everything again. I am proud of my world.

How happy are you with Diesel's evolution as a lifestyle brand so far? Where do you see potential to expand?

I am very happy with where Diesel is going, it is a truly lifestyle brand. In particular these days I am very satisfied with the whole Home concept and everything that revolves around the art of living. Which takes the brand full circle since our motto has always been ‘For Successful Living’!


This interview has been translated and published in Marie Claire Hellas.

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