Diesel’s Rosso Looks to Fresh Approaches

Diesel will be available at 50 Macy’s doors this spring, and plans for a new ceo and creative director are under way.

Renzo Rosso

MILAN — Change is gaining momentum at Diesel.

This story first appeared in the November 25, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Starting with the spring season, chairman Renzo Rosso said Diesel will be available at 50 Macy’s doors — returning to the retailer after a four-year absence. A new chief executive officer and a new creative director could be selected in the next few weeks, and for the first time the premium denim and streetwear company will exhibit at the international trade show Bread & Butter in Berlin in January, where it will unveil a shop-in-shop concept planned to roll out globally next year. In addition, there will be to a runway show of the brand’s fall men’s and women’s collections on Jan. 20.

“We think this will be a good window for us,” Rosso told WWD.

“This is our first creative project applied to multibrand distribution,” he said of the shop-in-shop concept. It will be “warm, understated and rock” — resembling a stage.

After the exit last week of Steve Birkhold as ceo of Diesel USA to become ceo of Devanlay U.S. Inc., the licensee for Lacoste apparel, Rosso said the company’s U.S. branch “is very solid” and reiterated his commitment to that market.

Conceding it was “a tough moment” in the U.S. because of the recession, Rosso said Diesel has grown almost 2 percent this year in the country, adding he expected double-digit gains in 2010. Diesel will continue investing in the U.S. and has earmarked an increase in Diesel’s communication budget for the U.S. of 7 to 10 percent next year.

Rosso said investments made in 2009, such as the opening of Diesel’s 20,000-square-foot flagship on New York’s Fifth Avenue, doubling the brand’s space in Miami and the relocation of stores in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., will help support growth next year. Sales in the U.S. totaled 200 million euros, or $298.3 million at current exchange, in 2009 and accounted for about 15 percent of the brand’s total revenues.

“I grew up with the American dream, and I will continue to believe in the U.S.,” Rosso said.

In an interview with WWD in late October, Birkhold said denim sales were down in the single digits this year, and fashion apparel shrank in the double digits. These declines were partly offset by strength in the footwear, accessories and underwear businesses, which offer a lower price point entry to the Diesel brand. Diesel has emphasized expanding its offerings in lower price ranges, with some jeans selling for $110.

Outlining the strategy behind Diesel’s partnership with Macy’s, Rosso said: “They presented us with a premium floor project, where we will be on display alongside brands in line with our positioning, from Armani Jeans and True Religion to Hugo Boss and Seven, and we decided this was a good business opportunity that would fit us.”

He underscored that Diesel will select pieces from the brand’s collection for Macy’s and that it is not designing a specific line for the store. Retail prices will be $150 and up. “This project neither replaces nor does it damage our relationship with other stores,” Rosso said.

The company’s relations with Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, among others, are continuing, and Diesel selects a different product offer for each store, Rosso said. He confessed to a soft spot for independent points of sale, having himself started his business as an independent store. “They are suffering more, but I like how they are free to experiment,” he said.

In the U.S., Diesel operates 46 stores, including Diesel KID, 55DSL and outlets. The brand is also available at 2,550 points of sale in the U.S.

Rosso said the changes underway mark a “new chapter” for his company, saying he felt a “new energy” and will intensify his efforts on the Diesel brand. Rosso said he has been busy building manufacturing arm Staff International over the past few years and parent company Only The Brave, which also controls Diesel. Staff International produces collections for Martin Margiela, Sophia Kokosalaki, Dsquared, Viktor & Rolf, Marc Jacobs Men and Vivienne Westwood.

Selection of a new Diesel ceo will free Marina Tosin, longtime ceo of Diesel and Only The Brave, to focus on the parent company.

A creative director is expected to soon join the Molvena, Italy-based company. Rosso said he had “personally been traveling around the world over the past two years searching for new, fresh creativity” for that position. Wilbert Das, the creative director at Diesel, has left the company after more than two decades, confirming a WWD report in March.