BEIJING — Shanghai’s rainstorms paid no regard to whether Diesel had planned its “Hate Couture” party. On Thursday evening, the downpour continued as a capsule collection designed by South Korean actor Yoo Ahn-in was shown on a grassy outdoor runway, feting the launch of the Diesel store on Tmall.
A fleet of clear umbrellas were at the ready at the venue for the night, the historic Taiyuan Villa. Coiffed hair and carefully styled outfits on guests turned soggy, but smiles and laughs also erupted in the front row. If anything, the night — which was all about reclaiming negativity and turning it into something positive, per their recent campaign — worked a little bit better because of it.
“Sitting in the rain and enjoying the show despite the difficult conditions. I’m not sure that it could have been the same in the western world,” said Giovanni Pungetti, greater China chief executive officer of OTB Group, which owns Diesel and the likes of Marni and Maison Martin Margiela.
“With other brands, they would have maybe a different reaction,” he added, but the Italian label has always had a bit of grittiness about it, a bit of rebel — “a wet rock and roll.”
While some have termed the company’s “Diesel Is Dead” an antibullying campaign, and subsequently criticized Nicki Minaj as one of its faces, pointing to her altercation with Cardi B at New York Fashion Week plus other examples of her Twitter shade as proof, Pungetti said it was never meant to be perceived as such. Its design, which takes real hurled insults like “slut,” “poser,” “thot” and other unprintables and transforms them into fashion, is more to encourage people to express their authentic selves, he said.
Turning hate on its head is a tact that seems to be enjoying a fair amount of popularity lately, although the recent Revolve and Lena Dunham collaboration had the opposite effect, forcing the brand to pull the collection and apologize for what seemed tantamount to fat-shaming.
Nevertheless, “it’s absolutely not [an anti-bullying campaign],” Pungetti said. “It’s not the Diesel way to do things. I can understand that someone could interpret it like this. For the moment, [the criticism is] no real issue.”
Their pick of Yoo, as the special guest on Thursday and co-collaborator, was not exactly vanilla, either. The actor is known for his frequent social media spats, especially rare in a country with powerful entertainment companies that manage stars with an iron grip, and this year hinted he thinks the #MeToo movement amounts to a witch hunt.
The goal in courting these somewhat controversial figures is relevance — Pungetti described it as his “first goal.”
“Meaning that the people, the consumer will love us and buy us not because we spend a lot of money on ambassadors putting billboards everywhere but because we are saying something to them,” he said.
The launch on Tmall follows a stand-alone Chinese site launched about six months ago, and the hope is that it’ll reach a 10 to 20 percent share of the business. Diesel has 30 physical stores across China, including Hong Kong.
Overall, OTB Group is still in its early stages when it comes to China, Pungetti said, declining to share specific numbers. The day after the party, sister brand Marni announced it was lowering its China prices by 5 to 10 percent, in line with a drop in government tariffs. Diesel had a similar move a year ago, but for time being, Margiela is not sold directly in the country.
In the backdrop to all of this, U.S. and China relations have ratcheted up, but the Shanghai-based Pungetti said the company is not feeling the heat, at least not yet.
“Honestly, we feel that there is a kind of uncertainty in this moment but [it’s] not arriving to a warning level,” he said.
Soon, the group will gear up for Singles’ Day, the frenetic Alibaba shopping festival, which Pungetti remarked, “It will be our first double 11 for both brands Marni and Diesel. It will be a great experience — to experience it as a player and not only as a viewer.”