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NEW YORK — The Diesel empire reached another milestone on Tuesday morning with the opening here of the fourth Diesel Planet store, its largest outpost in the world.
This story first appeared in the February 18, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The three story, 20,000-square-foot flagship located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 54th Street is a crown jewel for Renzo Rosso and the company he founded in 1978, and one he believes will shine even brighter in the near future.
“I have big expectations,” said Rosso after a walk-through of the store on Monday afternoon, where hundreds of workers and new store staffers generated a hivelike atmosphere as they scurried about finishing construction, decorating and merchandising. “I’m just giving them the last instruction because I am never satisfied, always looking for perfection.”
Despite his critical examination of the store’s final details, Rosso did little to hide his excitement at the store’s opening the next morning and the opportunity it represents for the company.
“Of course I’m very happy to be on Fifth Avenue, very happy that in this particular moment in this [financial] crisis that we are able to invest so much money to open a store here,” said Rosso. “It makes me proud and happy, and I think we can [present] the reality of the brand and the company.”
Rosso’s bucking-the-tide attitude in opening the store mirrors that of another famous Italian, Giorgio Armani, who on the same day was unveiling his 43,000-square-foot megaflagship Armani/5th only two blocks away.
The new Planet store brings the entirety of the Diesel and Diesel Black Gold collections under one roof, giving a heavily international shopping demographic the opportunity to see the company’s full assortment of bags, footwear, watches, jewelry, sunglasses, fragrances and, above all, denim.
Diesel Planet Fifth Avenue is the only store in the company’s network to have more than 500 styles of denim and sizable denim areas on each floor. Customers will be able to customize their denim purchases with names and initials using a laser-etching technology. Special mirrors on each floor are equipped with a time-delayed camera that allows customers to get a view of their backsides without having to crane their necks over their shoulders. The attention to denim is among Rosso’s favorite aspects of the store and one he gets emotional, nearly reverential, in describing.
“It’s always denim for me,” he said. “I was born with denim, I’m a denim man and I wear it every single day of my life. This is the first store that we have denim in every floor. This is the real know-how of the company.”
Rosso believes the store will be a tool to not only showcase the solid footing of the brand as it is today, but where the brand is headed. In fact, Rosso said he was “a little bit upset” that the store would be opening without product from some of Diesel’s latest areas of expansion. His enthusiasm for motorcycles helps explain Diesel’s move into helmets. The company’s previously announced expansion into home textiles will also find a place in the store. A new area of expansion that hasn’t been discussed before is Diesel’s move into home goods such as furniture and lamps.
“Our image is much more modern and fresh for the new young consumer…we wanted to show our lifestyle,” said Rosso. “It can be an incredible store. I promise you this can be incredible in six months when we have all the new areas that we touch in here.”
The Fifth Avenue store joins three other Diesel Planet locations in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Milan that have opened since last year. Rosso kicked off 2009 with the January opening of the Milan Diesel Planet store, which was until Tuesday the brand’s largest store in the world. Rosso has declined to divulge how much he is investing on the retail expansion, but the Diesel Planet stores in particular are being placed in the world’s highest profile shopping districts. He’s also got his sights set on putting Diesel Planet stores in Mumbai and Moscow. This at a time when global economies are struggling and brands and retailers have been cutting orders by 20 to 30 percent.
Rosso said Diesel isn’t immune to the situation and said he checks the numbers on the company’s global operations frequently. The financial situation weighs on his nerves, but so far has not wreaked the kind of havoc on Diesel’s results that other brands are seeing. According to Rosso, Diesel closed last year with its business up 3 percent and so far this year, the company is slightly ahead of budget.
“That makes me so happy you cannot imagine,” he said. “It means that we are OK, have the right product and maybe we are the right brand for the future market.”
He’s also counting on the difficult environment to clear out the clutter of other brands vying for consumers’ attention.
The power of the brand’s draw, and that of Fifth Avenue’s foot traffic, was shown repeatedly on Monday afternoon. Shifts of store personnel had to stop their prep work to contend with an unending stream of shoppers tugging at the door in an effort to get in. As workers were let in, shoppers trailed them into the store and had to be chased after. Even the handwritten sign posted on the door telling people the store would open the next day did nothing to dissuade some shoppers. One woman stood outside for several minutes pleading through the crack in the glass doors to be allowed inside.
It was a pleasing sight for Rosso.
“This is one of the reasons we decided to cut the budget for a big party here,” he said. “There’s so many people from all over the world coming through, you don’t need to do a big party. We saved the money to invest back into the brand.”
Shoppers aren’t alone in their eagerness to engage in the Diesel lifestyle. When Diesel put out the call for salespeople to staff the store, more than 5,000 people submitted resumes within 60 days. The pool was winnowed to 2,000 for phone interviews and culled again to 800 for group interviews. Only 107 were eventually employed.
The Fifth Avenue location also marks the culmination of Rosso’s experience doing business in America, a market he readily admits crafted his future in the industry.
“America is an incredible market, it’s where I learned how to retail and marketing,” said Rosso. “America, for me, is the best country in the world because it’s where I got my education.”
As much as the store represents Diesel reaching new levels in America, Rosso prefers to look beyond the present.
“In this particular moment we’re looking for how to find the right way to be an important brand for the future,” he said.