Founded by Renzo Rosso in 1978
‘Land of the Stupid, Home of the Brave’ this statement is currently circulating the world as part of fashion company Diesel’s advertising campaign. An unconventional statement for some, but for others it identifies with a post-modern anti-fashion position which this global company offers.
The man that started the eccentric label is Renzo Rosso. Born in 1955 near Padua in north-east Italy, Rosso grew up in a country serious about style. He attended his local technical college where he studied textiles and manufacturing in 1970. The following year Rosso produced his first garment, a pair of low-waisted bell bottom trousers. The trousers proved popular with his friends.
From an introduction from his peers, Rosso was offered a job working for Adriano Goldschmied in his company Moltex. An Italian casual clothing pioneer, Goldschmied saw the potential in Rosso and together they founded Diesel in 1978 as a casual clothing brand.
Rosso realised that the sartorial excellence of Italian clothing lacked an element of fun. Together Rosso and Goldschmied infused traditional Italian craftsmanship with American casual style. The result was casual wear that took away the Italian restrictions, but exploited its sartorial style.
Diesel’s first men’s collection was produced in 1979. Two years later the company started to export clothing outside Italy. With the business continuing to grow, the Diesel Kids line launched in 1984.
Although the business had been developing successfully, the Diesel phenomenon didn’t begin until 1985 when Rosso parted from Goldschmied and took over complete control.
Rosso went about completely revolutionising the company’s approach to design. Hiring open-minded new designers, he found people with similar design aesthetics to his own and together they ignored the season’s trends and movements within the industry. Instead they were influenced by their own personalities and designed what reflected them as people.
Offering the designers’ stylistic freedoms resulted in innovative and fresh designs. Commercially the approach was incredibly successful and competitors tried to follow Rosso’s idea.
With the company expanding, Diesel launched a female line in 1989. The following year the company started to prepare for its first international advertising campaign. In 1991 Diesel launched its ‘Successful Living’ advert.
This campaign marked the start of Diesel’s effective communication methods with the public. Adopting the premise of not separating the company’s philosophy from its message, the concept was to create something different, something with humour. Diesel now produces adverts which are almost as good as their clothing.
By 1992 Diesel was winning international awards for their advertising campaigns. In 1993 Wilbert Das, an employee since 1988 was appointed as Creative Director.
The 55-DSL sports line was created in 1994. The previous year Rosso was taught how to snowboard by his sons, which led to him taking his entire staff on weekend snowboarding expeditions.
In 1995, celebrating his fortieth birthday, Rosso published the book ‘FoRty’, about himself, his friends and his company.
The company kept on growing opening flagship stores in New York and London in 1996. The year was also marked by Diesel’s first catwalk show held in New York.
Diesel published a handbook in 1996 entitled ‘Essential Words and Phrases for Travellers and Tourists’. The book provided translations including; ‘Please remove the fetid carcass from the bedroom’ and ‘Excuse me, you are treading on my hand.’ Another book followed named ‘Fight Me: Diplomacy is a Kick in the Face’ described as a ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Defence’.
Both books were actually clothing catalogues for the company, but it highlighted Diesel’s sense of humour.
Diesel launched their online website in 1998. With an extensive online presence the website offers the whole ‘Diesel World’; it’s not used just as place to buy clothes.
Intimate and beachwear brands were added to Diesel’s portfolio in 2007. The same year Diesel Black Gold was launched. The year also led to the company and L’Oreal collaborating in creating a fragrance, Fuel for Life. Diesel collaborated with Adidas in 2008 launching Adidas Originals Denim by Diesel.
Diesel highlighted their innovative approach to marketing in 2008. A partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe enabled Diesel to sell their designs in Sony’s Playstation virtual world, ‘Home.’
The company continued to grow in 2008 with the launch of Only the Brave Foundation. It was created to help disadvantaged young people. Originally starting in north-east Italy, the charity has now expanded into Africa.
Wilbert Das left Diesel in 2009 and was replaced the following year by Bruno Collin founder of French fashion WAD Magazine.
Renzo Rosso once stated; ‘We started out just selling jeans and now we’re selling a way of life’. The causal wear brand that started in 1978 has grown into an international label. Youthful, but not ageist, Diesel communicates a sense of victory against fashion. The company still loves and understands the important of fashion, but in the ‘Diesel Way.’
Not being constricted by commercial demands, the company’s style isn’t confined within geographic borders but instead embraces all different cultures into the designs. Both men and women get to be identified as sex objects.
Known for its provocative messages, Diesel is a company that understands the fashion industry and is able to exploit its seriousness with humour.
In 2012, Diesel founder Rosso made his debut on Forbes’ list of billionaires. In 2015, the company organised an exhibition called Welcome to Diesel World in Shanghai, which showcased its history alongside the debut of its collection. Additionally, another exhibition was held in Tel Aviv to commemorate Diesel’s twentieth year in Israel.
In the spring of 2013, Rosso appointed Nicola Formichetti as Diesel’s Artistic Director. Formichetti, known for his work with Lady Gaga and Mugler, received a positive response from the fashion industry and the media. In an interview with V magazine, Rosso expressed his excitement about finding someone as eccentric as himself and explained that Formichetti would be responsible for overseeing various aspects of the Diesel brand, including product, communications, marketing, and interior design. One of Formichetti’s early projects involved launching an innovative crowd-funded advertising campaign called #Reboot, featuring a diverse range of creative individuals instead of traditional models.
In October 2020, Belgian designer Glenn Martens was appointed as Diesel’s artistic director. The Diesel Fall/Winter 2022 Ready-to-Wear fashion show, designed by Martens and held in Milan on 23 February 2022, received mostly positive reviews. The show was described as “magical and fantastic” with ambitious and otherworldly vibes, while reviewers also appreciated the collection’s inspirations spanning several decades. However, there were some challenges as one model wearing high-heeled boots repeatedly tripped and had to be assisted off the runway by a member of the technical crew.