MILAN — One could certainly say Glenn Martens knows denim inside out. And so does Diesel, whose denim category accounts for around 40 percent of the brand’s sales.
The Belgian designer and the Italian brand are taking their expertise to the next level by launching a major project called Diesel Library, a genderless collection that will be introduced for spring 2022 as part of the group’s “For Responsible Living” sustainability initiatives. The initiative will first tackle the denim category, but Martens said it will expand to all divisions of the brand. A preview of the collection will be seen during Martens’ first show for Diesel, a genderless virtual event on June 21 during Milan Fashion Week.
The library will offer a wide range of evergreen and longer-lasting denim items, from pants and jackets to tops and skirts to name a few, with 50 percent of the overall denim collection having a permanent shelf life.
Arriving at Diesel as creative director last October, the designer admitted he questioned himself and his actions working for a major group. “Diesel is everywhere around the world and it’s a very democratic brand, whatever the social status or the religion. When I joined, I asked myself what are we doing, such a massive company and so popular worldwide, producing so much denim,” related Martens in a video call from Paris, where he is based. The designer realized there was “a very different perception and way of being creative” for a brand such as Diesel. “It’s not simply about luxury and making pretty clothes, there are many more social [issues] beyond artistic growth and we have to go deeper. I feel a massive responsibility.”
Opening up about his youth, Martens candidly recalled how his parents divorced when he was only three years old. “As a single mother raising two boys, my mother worked as a full-time nurse and as a part-time cleaning lady. She was busy always working and she didn’t have the time to think about recycling. This is the reality of so many people worldwide,” Martens said. “You and I are privileged, working in a situation where it’s a privilege to be able to think about these [sustainability] issues.”
Diesel Library items will be made using low impact materials such as organic and recycled fibers; washes and treatments performed with innovative techniques that significantly reduce the use of water and chemicals and trims, such as leather patches that are chrome-free tanned; metal buttons that have no-galvanized treatments, and inner labels made with recycled materials. Cellulosic trims, including hangtags and patches, are realized in FSC-certified materials.
All these features will be traced and communicated through a QR code on the tag attached to each Diesel Library item, so that each garment will be equipped with a digital passport that guarantees customers access to a dedicated web page where they can learn more about the attributes of each specific item. “We want to make sure that denim is the cleanest possible and, as a second step, to divulge the message in a fun way, raising the awareness,” said Martens, imagining a customer “reading the tag on the bus going home. Transparency is part of sustainability and Diesel is a straightforward brand, in your face, while there is a lot of B.S. in the industry,” he said.
Martens realizes he, Diesel and founder Renzo Rosso can’t change the world by themselves, but he believes in the importance of conveying the message, each company doing their best to raise awareness on sustainability.
“Renzo is a very radical person in everything he does, he’s not going for the soft way,” said the designer laughing. “Sustainability was already embedded at Diesel and, with my arrival, we just put fuel in the machine.”
Martens pointed to Rosso’s social sustainability efforts, which date back to the ‘80s, with “his crazy ads talking about Black minorities, gay rights, in a straightforward, yet happy and fun way, but actually he was one of the first directly discussing and pointing out certain taboos that were global.”
Diesel Library marks a shift in how the company will produce its denim collections in the future. Everything will be created under this banner, moving away from the five-pocket delineation between women and men.
The collection will be available in selected Diesel stores worldwide and on diesel.com starting in November and will retail at between 180 and 400 euros.
Martens oversees style, communications and interior design for Diesel and he revealed he was working on a new store concept to accommodate Diesel Library.
Martens is behind the Y/Project brand, and is known for his reconstructed denim and avant-garde silhouettes. Rosso has had Martens on his radar for several years and tapped him in 2018 as a guest designer of its experimental capsule series Diesel Red Tag, one year after the designer secured the prestigious ANDAM fashion prize, of which OTB is a historical sponsor and mentor.
Diesel, which has not had a marquee talent at the helm since Nicola Formichetti exited in December 2017 after a four-year tenure as artistic director, has been going through a reorganization and repositioning of its retail and wholesale channels, and continues to be a core business for OTB, accounting for more than 50 percent of sales. Impacted by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the 12 months ended Dec. 31 OTB’s consolidated sales amounted to 1.31 billion euros, a 14.3 percent decrease compared with 2019, the year the company was back in the black. In addition to Diesel, OTB comprises Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor & Rolf, the newly acquired Jil Sander and a minority stake in Amiri, as well as production arms Staff International and Brave Kid.
Asked about the performance of the denim category during the pandemic, Martens said Diesel did “quite well. Denim is the most democratic, everybody can wear it and it gets better and more comfortable the longer you wear it. Everybody likes denim, it’s a user-friendly garment, and it offers comfort, which is important since we’ve lived on a sofa for the last year. But denim is also very eclectic.”
Martens said that one of Diesel’s “core” pieces is the JoggJeans, which combine the stretch and comfort of a sweat pant with the look of denim and resembles jersey. “It was developed a long time ago, and it is part of the library, and pushed to be sustainable. A whole range in the library has been included to be more connected to at-homewear, such as tracksuits, hoodies, bodies for ladies and leggings in denim,” he explained.
Library will be a carryover collection, with basic colors ranging from white and blue to indigo, gray and black.
“Rome wasn’t built in one day, this is only the beginning, and step by step, season after season, we’ll be attacking new categories.” The collection is already 80 percent sustainable, but Martens said there will be a small seasonal denim collection. “Of course coated denim is not fully sustainable, but its impact is smaller because of the smaller numbers, but we need to have an artistic expression and excitement as Diesel is not just basics.”
In the last 12 months, Diesel has launched its first upcycled collection — beginning with a limited-edition collection of 5,055 pieces created combining Diesel and 55DSL deadstock, archival pieces and prototypes; introduced a Respectful Denim collection, created using innovative techniques that significantly reduced the use of water and chemicals during the production process; launched a Green Label, and joined the Better Cotton Initiative, among others projects, including for example the elimination of single-use plastic from b-to-c packaging.
Together with Eco-Age, in January 2020 the company launched Diesel “For Responsible Living,” a commitment to taking action to ensure all materials will be low-climate impact by 2025.