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WWD Milestones issue 06/01/2009

Diesel chief Renzo Rosso has definitely overcome his lifelong dislike for perfumes — which he openly admitted to only three years ago. “I always thought that nature and our skin give us a scent, and that a fragrance would alter it,” Rosso says during an interview in April at the company’s sprawling Milan headquarters.

This story first appeared in the June 1, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Rosso credits the late Patricia Turck-Paquelier, international brand president of the L’Oréal Prestige & Collection International division, who died in January, and her “open mind” for first establishing a connection between the two companies. Setting up a team exclusively dedicated to Diesel helped win over Rosso, and he has been growing a global fragrance business for his company — with best-selling scents distributed in more than 19,000 doors in 51 countries — with L’Oréal ever since.

Rosso — head of the $1.94 billion Only the Brave Srl empire, which owns the Diesel brand — was actively involved in the creation of the scents and said that to personally test them was “the only way to understand” if they would work. Now, he says, he wears his fragrances every day. “So many people tell me they like them, so I am myself a testimonial.”

More practically, Rosso, a shrewd marketing wiz, was well aware that “to diversify was a natural and obligatory step to channel Diesel’s lifestyle and enhance the brand.” As with his other licenses, though, Rosso did not want to compromise on what Diesel stands for, and says that, while “L’Oréal is the best company in the world,” he admits he was “afraid” of the new venture, given L’Oréal’s multinational scale. Diesel, founded by Rosso in 1978, formerly had a fragrance license with Germany’s Marbert Holdings that ended in 2004.

In summer 2007, Rosso swept into the market in his typical unconventional way.  He put in motion a viral Internet marketing campaign to spark interest in the new fragrances, Fuel for Life for Her and Fuel for Life for Him, and reached 50 independent blog sites. As a teaser, L’Oréal created an anti–marketing campaign: a fake activist organization on the Internet urged viewers to join a movement opposing legalization of what was referred to as Fuel for Life. The signed-up members were later redirected to the Diesel Web site, which morphed into an e-commerce proposition. It was estimated at the time that L’Oréal spent nearly $20 million in the U.S. alone for ads and promotion.

L’Oréal and Diesel translated the idea of jeans into packaging. For Fuel for Life, slender oval-shaped flacons are “dressed” in covers as diverse as a fishnet ivory stocking or a tan canvas slipjacket, with a side zip, stitching and leather tab. For the launch, 20,000 additional bottles were allocated for customization on Diesel’s Web site, and customers could order from 8,000 possible combinations of pouch fabric and color, flacon caps and logos.

Last fall, Diesel launched a women’s flanker, Fuel for Life Unlimited.

Diesel’s first solo men’s fragrance, Only the Brave, was presented in January. The scent is bottled in a flacon shaped like a clenched fist, sporting a silver Diesel ring on the third and fourth fingers. The hand was inspired by Rosso’s own — particularly his RR finger tattoos.

Diesel did not provide sales for its fragrance business under the 10-year license, but, upon the launch of Fuel for Life, Rosso said the company aimed to build this business to represent 35 percent of the company’s volume.

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