By  on June 5, 2006

MOLVENA, Italy — Renzo Rosso, a motorcycle enthusiast with a crown of unruly curly hair and tattooed fingers bearing his initials, looks a bit out of place in a country home perched atop his own sprawling vineyard.

But Rosso, dispensing his wisdom at a rustic lodge a few minutes down the road from Diesel’s corporate headquarters in the northeastern corner of the country, has always been a man of contrasts. He said he wishes his $1.4 billion business were smaller and had more of a niche allure. He wants to reach out to younger customers, but at the same time, keep serving more mature clients who have grown up with the brand since its inception 28 years ago. And as much as he shuns the idea of financial targets, he wants to double the size of Diesel’s U.S. business in the next five years.

“Today, in fashion, it’s better to be considered a cool and individual and fresh company than a really big brand,” Rosso said over a lunch of vegetable risotto and his vineyard’s Pinot Nero.

To that end, Diesel has more than halved its wholesale accounts around the world to boost its exclusive cachet. Now it’s rolling out pricier apparel by boosting the size of the Diesel Denim Gallery collection with embroidered sweaters, distressed leather jackets and other non-denim pieces.

“We felt obligated to move forward with this strategy because all our consumers that were born with us…have a different social and economical position, a different age, and they feel the need to have a higher-quality product,” Rosso said. The line is produced by his high-end manufacturing company, Staff International. Staff also produces for Maison Martin Margiela, a house in which Rosso owns a majority stake, as well as licensed lines Dsquared and Vivienne Westwood.

Diesel launched Denim Gallery in 2001, but this fall it has expanded the collection’s scope beyond denim to comprise 25 women’s and 25 men’s apparel pieces. Diesel Denim Gallery is sold in Diesel stores in New York, Tokyo and Osaka, in a few of the company’s concept stores in Europe and in a handful of specialty shops, including H. Lorenzo in Los Angeles, Harvey Nichols in London and 10 Corso Como in Milan.

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