MILAN — Diesel is introducing a new hero sneaker as part of an “intense repositioning” of the brand, which, according to chief executive officer Massimo Piombini, “touches all variables, with the goal to bring back the coolness of the label as it was perceived a few years ago.”
Called the Prototype — the name reflects a new beginning — the unisex sneaker is an innovative hew design by creative director Glenn Martens for spring 2022.
It is graphically striking with repeated rubber straps and asymmetric lacing. In addition to the bias-angled textured rubber strips and the off-center lace-ups, the sneaker features an industrial outsole tread and molded rubber overlays across its uppers.
The sneaker category has historically represented a strong business for Diesel, also “given it is complementary to the brand’s core denim products,” Piombini said. But the company has approached the division “in a more significant, more serious and structured way,” setting up a new business unit managed by a Puma and Adidas veteran. “He brought on a new and complete team in charge of product development, design and marketing, working with new suppliers and completely re-engineering the collection.”
While prices have been raised by 10 to 15 percent in line with the repositioning of the brand and increasing the quality of the materials, Piombini also believes Diesel’s sneakers are competitive as they retail at between 130 to 300 euros, with the Prototype retailing at 350 euros.
The sneaker was teased through Diesel’s spring 2022 video presented last June and Piombini said the whole collection has performed well, as sales orders were up 25 percent in volume and up 45 percent in value.
Diesel has also exclusively partnered with neuno.io — a start-up platform aiming to become the luxury NFT marketplace — to recreate the Prototype 3D design as an NFT.
The NFT Prototype will be introduced today, but it was gifted to all attendees of the annual NFT.NYC conference, held in New York in early November. The limited-edition Prototype NFT was created by digital fashion house The Fabricant.
The physical shoe will start to be available from next month at Diesel stores worldwide and through the brand’s e-commerce. Additional color options will drop in February.
Diesel has 150 monobrand stores, 150 concessions and 150 franchises globally. Online sales represent 30 percent of the business split between 15 percent direct and 15 percent indirect. “We are reviewing our online assets to be more rarefied and more qualified,” said Piombini, noting that more capsules will be delivered specifically conceived for the online channel.
Piombini has been reorganizing the company, including its retail and wholesale channels, since his arrival at the end of January last year from Balmain. Before Balmain, the executive spent more than a decade at Valentino as commercial director, and previously worked at other luxury brands, including Bally, Bulgari and Gucci.
Despite the negative impact of COVID-19, the pandemic “partly accelerated the restructuring. I always say we did four turnarounds at the same time, changing the organization, changing our business model; rebuilding the go-to-market process in line with the ambitions of our new projects; introducing a new managerial structure with new teams, and a design turnaround with Glenn Martens.”
The Paris-based Martens, who also is behind the Y/Project brand, is known for his reconstructed denim and avant-garde silhouettes and is tasked with overseeing style, communications and interior design at Diesel. In fact, the company is planning new showroom and store concepts, said Piombini, adding that Martens is working with Berlin-based architect Niklas Bildstein Zaar.
Martens was first tapped in 2018 as a guest designer of the experimental capsule series Diesel Red Tag, one year after the designer bagged the prestigious ANDAM fashion prize, of which Diesel parent OTB is a historical sponsor and mentor.
Diesel has not had a marquee talent at the helm since Nicola Formichetti exited in December 2017 after a four-year tenure as artistic director.
With Martens on board, Piombini believes Diesel has an advantage in offering denim, which has long been its core business. “It’s a new, more fashion-oriented way to do denim. Everyone is doing denim, but Diesel is special,” he said.
Piombini admitted the arena is “very competitive and packed,” but Diesel has “a more disruptive positioning” and innovative treatments, materials and fits.
With Martens, the ambition is to have “a different visibility,” and to “restart from denim to reposition the brand. Our inside mission is to be the most forward thinking denim brand on the planet, not the biggest or most important one,” contended Piombini.
He also underscored that Diesel is “restarting in a more efficient and flexible way,” adding that the company has “absorbed the sales decrease in 2020,” which “had no impact on the balance sheet.”
Diesel is a core business for OTB, accounting for more than 50 percent of sales last year. Founded by Renzo Rosso, OTB also includes Jil Sander, Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor & Rolf and a stake in Amiri, as well as production arms Staff International and Brave Kid.
The company is also working on a new website and its e-commerce was revamped earlier this month.
Piombini said the “Second Hand” products launched earlier this month, a project that is part of the brand’s sustainability strategy dubbed “For Responsible Living” unveiled last year with consultancy Eco-Age, were sold out. “Sustainability is fundamental for us, and an original value, not a marketing ploy,” he underscored.
New stores have recently opened in Turin and in Kyoto, which will help indicate the new retail course as it is key to identify the new consumer target in the next five to 10 years, Piombini said. “We had lost track of who we were talking to, we have to redefine the audience, where do they buy,” he observed.
“Historically, we are very strong in Europe and Japan, and we are rebuilding the U.S.,” he explained. In April last year, the company named Patrick Valeo the new Diesel North America CEO, succeeding Stefano Rosso.
Diesel also has a new CEO for Asia Pacific, Annie Ho.