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Renzo Rosso has found the person to transform the Diesel brand he founded 35 years ago for a new generation — Nicola Formichetti.
This story first appeared in the April 4, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Rosso’s Breganze, Italy-based OTB SpA will today disclose the appointment of Formichetti as Diesel’s first artistic director. His departure as Thierry Mugler’s creative director and the possibility of an imminent association with Diesel were first reported on WWD.com on Tuesday.
“I finally met somebody as crazy as I am,” Rosso proclaimed in a Skype interview after returning from a trip to Nepal. “I have replaced myself and can go on vacation.”
More seriously, Rosso, 57, noted that Formichetti, 35, will be responsible for “a total view of the Diesel brand — product, communications, marketing and interior design. I want him to do bigger things, different things. This is the right man to take the next step for a young company and a brand for people who are young of mind.”
While Formichetti intends to spend a good deal of his first year at Diesel familiarizing himself with its business, operations and customers, he shared that he’s keenly interested in expanding the brand into categories ranging from “high fashion and couture to streetwear and activewear.” Neither he nor his new boss would discuss the terms of any agreement reached, but Formichetti repeatedly referred to ideas to be implemented in the next “five, 10 years.”
The move follows the appointment last month of Stefano Rosso, Renzo’s son, as co-chief executive officer of OTB, previously called Only the Brave, and a growing determination on the Diesel founder’s part to focus more on the growing OTB, which controls Maison Martin Margiela, Viktor & Rolf and Staff International and late last year acquired a majority stake in Marni.
“I have to spend my time running the [OTB] group and really can’t go back,” Rosso said. “Nicola is here to develop Diesel, the most important part of the group.”
He didn’t discuss the future of the ceo position at Diesel, which was vacated by Daniela Riccardi on April 1.
For Formichetti, the appointment, which he had first broached with Rosso about a year and a half ago, represents an affiliation with a brand that was among the first to stir his interest in fashion as an 18-year-old student in London in the mid-Nineties.
“I didn’t have the money to buy in those days, but their stores were the place to be,” he told WWD during an interview in his studio in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. “They did great parties and shows and spoke to an audience that was into music and art. They did ads with guys kissing. It was very antifashion and very appealing to me.”
Rosso, he said, “is someone who really elevated denim and made people see it in another context, a fashion context, and not just the workwear that people saw with Levi’s and Lee.”
Although he’d long been observing the younger man’s work, Rosso sensed he might have found a kindred spirit when he walked into the Mugler pop-up shop that was open in New York’s TriBeCa for two weeks in September 2011. Designed to look like the inside of a bombed-out disco, it threw Rosso’s schedule into disarray.
“The presentation and every single item in the store were just unbelievable,” the Diesel founder said. “I spent four hours going through that store.”
Not that Formichetti was ever in danger of getting lost in the crowd during a career that’s taken an almost unending series of detours. The son of an Italian pilot father and Japanese flight attendant mother who today live in Japan, his move to London, ostensibly to study architecture, led to a job in a local boutique, which in turn landed him gigs as fashion director and then creative director of Dazed & Confused magazine and later work at Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion books. With a passion for styling that he says remains his strongest professional attachment, he also worked with Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen and brands including Nike, Umbro and H&M.
More famously, he has served as Lady Gaga’s stylist and de facto fashion director since 2009. Her recent recovery from hip surgery, he said, has given him “a chance to relax” despite ongoing commitments as creative fashion director for Uniqlo and the Nicopanda line of T-shirts, and the consummation of his arrangement with Diesel.
The peripatetic Formichetti is in almost constant contact with friends, colleagues and the public, with more than 209,000 Twitter followers, a steady stream of Tumblr fans and an iPhone that rarely rests and, on the day of word of his separation from Mugler, vibrated almost constantly.
As closely as he’s associated with celebrity, both through Gaga and styling work for Kim Kardashian and many others, he acknowledged a distaste for fame’s trappings, which he views as a distraction from more creative pursuits.
He described his hiatus from his work with Gaga as a respite after “four years of every day being insane. The Grammys, the meat dresses — styling is my passion and working with musicians and young talent are like a hobby to me. But the celebrity part? A tough part of it.”
Candid by nature but diplomatic as needed, he acknowledged a certain level of frustration dealing with “limited budgets” at Mugler and reconciling his vision with the brand’s heritage. He told WWD earlier this week that he was looking to do something “bigger” and “more global,” a prescription easily filled by OTB, which last year saw sales grow 10 percent to about 1.5 billion euros, or $1.9 billion at average exchange, more than $1 billion of which is attributed to Diesel.
His impact on Diesel’s product line won’t be realized until the fall 2014 season, but the effect on marketing will be nearly immediate as he works with his new colleagues on ad concepts set to debut in September.
Perhaps surprisingly for someone so closely associated with the digital world, Formichetti hopes to continue Diesel’s tradition of putting big ideas into print. And he’s critical of the growing practice — now driven somewhat underground — of brands paying for exposure in blogs. “This has got to stop,” he said. “Editors and bloggers should be writing about things that excite them.”
What path might he take to electrify Diesel’s target audience? “We’ve got a lot of crazy ideas,” he replied, “but we’re not ready to share them. Yet.”