Diesel’s comeback reignites ambitions to build an Italian fashion empire

12th May 2022, 6:28 pm

OTB founder Renzo Rosso says he’s eyeing bigger acquisitions and an IPO within 3 years in a bid to create an Italian alternative to fashion’s big French groups. 



The Italian group’s flagship label Diesel is back in the fashion conversation amid a revamp by creative director Glenn Martens, who has overhauled its product offer and brought back the cheeky, transgressive marketing sensibility of the brand’s late ‘90s heyday.

“It needs to be something big or else it doesn’t make sense,” Rosso said in an interview at the Diesel showroom in Milan. “The banks are supporting me. They’re saying, ’Dream, Renzo!’”

Riding a windfall from his original brand Diesel, which exploded during the premium denim boom in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, he’s snapped up creative labels whose small scale and focus on ready-to-wear makes them a poor fit for the giant groups, but for whom stable financing and a bit of support on production and distribution can tip the scales to turn them into sustainable businesses.

Becoming an ‘Alternative’ Fashion Mogul

Recent years have seen Rosso flex his influence in the luxury space, joining the LVMH-backed Aura Blockchain commission as a founding member alongside giants like Cartier and Prada, and leading a commission to support the “Made in Italy” supply chain for industry lobby Confindustria. But his place in Italy’s business and fashion community has been hard won.

A self-made billionaire who was born on a farm in the Veneto region, where his company is still based, Rosso abandoned his studies to work in a denim factory before founding Diesel. His rock-and-roll look (complete with tight leather bombers, tattoos and pointy boots) and profanity-laden speech make him an outlier among Italian fashion’s aristocracy, where contemporaries like Gildo Zegna and Miuccia Prada are third-generation leaders of the companies that bear their family names.

A 2014 move to hire star couturier John Galliano demonstrated both Rosso’s opportunism — no one else would touch Galliano, who had been ousted from Dior 4 years earlier for a substance-fuelled anti-Semitic rant — as well as signalling the scale of his ambitions.

The designer’s DIY, art school-inflected vision for Marni took years to take off commercially, but Rosso earned good will among fashion’s creative community for providing a rare platform for a young talent in Milan, whose fashion week has historically been packed with fusty brands.


Rosso has also broadened his influence through his approach to manufacturing: OTB leveraged Diesel’s volumes to build an apparel supply chain that produces creative items at prices that are luxurious, but still saleable, at a time when many rival brands’ ready-to-wear has become far too expensive to drive volumes. 

Diesel’s Turnaround Remains Pivotal

Now, Diesel is enjoying more buzz than it has in years under a new creative director, Glenn Martens, who brings a sharp eye for pattern-making and silhouettes (especially key in denim, which sticks to a limited palette of materials) and an underground, ironic sensibility.

The brand also burnished its cultural credibility by partnering with an iconic collection of queer ironic art, the Tom of Finland Foundation, staging co-branded exhibitions at the Venice Biennale and outside Paris.



“Glenn has brought a really cool element back to Diesel,” MyTheresa’s Hsu said.

But the strong reception for Glenn’s designs could conspire with a much-hyped “vibe shift” that’s seen early 2000s aesthetics surge to help Diesel get back on top — as well as making Rosso’s renewed ambitions possible. A handful of trendsetting multi-brand stores like Antonia, LuisaViaRoma, and the Webster are already responding positively, Rosso said.









About the Exhibition Artists Venice Paris Catalogue Press About the Exhibition On the occasion of Tom of Finland’s birthday (8th May), Tom of Finland Foundation and The Community have curated a group exhibition, supported by Diesel, presenting Tom of Finland Foundation’s permanent collection. AllTogether explores the erotic art collection consisting of thousands of artworks, spanning… View Article
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Published: 12th May 2022

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