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It’s Wednesday afternoon on Madison Avenue, and New York City is bustling with the eminently daring, the bold, and the brave. In Midtown, flagships sit high and mighty, and Diesel, now nestled among them, shines through LED lights and a clean, powerful facade. Arriving promptly for our meeting, we slipped in through the brand-new main entrance and were faced with an interior only Diesel could dream up. It was clear that the brand’s relentless founder and the “Jeans Genius” of our century, Renzo Rosso, has changed much for the revamp of his famed 38-year-old label, and for the launch of its newest flagship. To coincide with this opening, Diesel and its collaborative home collection, Diesel Living, are celebrating a new focus on providing premium goods, and not just jeans, to those loyal to Diesel’s avant-garde spirit.
Back in 1996, “when I opened the first store on Lexington, at that time, the most important brand was Levi’s,” Rosso told us. “I was thinking, ‘I want to show how different we are.’ And today, after so many years, after 20 years, we are not, anymore, a jeans brand. We are a lifestyle brand. And for who we are, where we want to drive the brand, this is the perfect location.”
In addition to Diesel’s sturdy new flagship by Wonderwall architects’ designer Masamichi Katayama, Diesel also graced Aoyama, Tokyo with a new store last March and is gearing up to construct the largest shop yet, which will debut in early 2017 in Milan with a 16,000-square-foot space. “I am Italian in the end, so it must be the most important store in the world,” said Rosso. But it’s not all location, location, location for Diesel, and it’s not just new shops, bells, and whistles, either. There is new direction for the label, specifically for Diesel’s apparel and home collection, Diesel Living, and it has all been in the making for the past two years. It’s an instinctual organic change, and one that Rosso feels is “coming from the blood.” As usual, the brand is effortlessly communicating their message, and this time, the message is premium.
To further fine-tune Diesel as a premium brand, a revitalization that Rosso has been itching for, he has wrangled Nicola Formichetti—the multitalented Italian-Japanese creator previously linked to styling Lady Gaga, editing Vogue Hommes Japan, directing Mugler, Uniqlo, and more—for keen artistic direction, and a necessary brand refresh. This culminating vision began when Formichetti was hired in April 2013 to redesign the collection, later celebrating the premiere of the Fall/Winter 2015 campaign, the unveiling of the new Diesel.com in October 2015, and recently, the new store on Madison Avenue.
“Before, he studied the company for about two years—who we are, what we are doing,” said Rosso of Formichetti. “He spent a lot of time with the archives to see what we have done before to find the heritage and the DNA of the brand. The DNA of the brand is the treatment—the vintage, the way we stitch the garments together. It’s very tough, very strong. So we kept this DNA, and this is the result.”
Diesel Living is a huge component of this revamp as well, with a handful of prized collaborations with well-known names for home collections, such as furniture with Moroso, lighting products with Foscarini, ceramic tiling with Iris Ceramica, and home accessories with Seletti—all of which were present at Salone del Mobile 2016. The new Wooden Flooring with Berti and Diesel Open Workshop Kitchen and Bathroom with Scavolini also made their first appearances at the international furniture fair, with Scavolini pieces showing signature metallic framework to accentuate Diesel’s “work and create” ethos. In 2013, the previous Diesel Social Kitchen collection quickly won the Elle Decoration International Design Award (EDIDA), so it is no surprise that this recent kitchen collection made its way into Salone as well. “We can have the guarantee of technology through Scavolini, and the warmth, the living in terms of lifestyle, through Diesel,” said Rosso. “We don’t change everything. We just put our feeling, our touch.” That touch, along with sleek design and a warm feel, is allowing each piece of the Diesel Living collection to shine as top sellers for each of its collaborators.
To safeguard Diesel Living’s “Diesel” roots, Rosso’s son, Andrea, is the creative director for Diesel Licenses. These licenses encapsulate a variety of lifestyle objects, from lamps to tables, and from silverware to chairs. “If you can take the existing and change it for the better, for what people need, that’s Diesel. That’s the Diesel philosophy, Diesel mentality,” added Rosso. And without a doubt, the luxe contradictions—vintage look and modern style, contemporary feel and rugged soul—are embedded in the brand’s DNA, and that, similar to the label’s philosophy and mentality, surely isn’t due for change. What is, however, is the outdated idea that Diesel is just jeans.
“We changed the world of denim,” said Rosso, hinting at the evolution denim has undergone to be what it is now. “In the beginning of the denim in 1978, it was just a simple product, but today, it is a luxury collection. We have directed the denim to become something very important, but you can see here that it is not anymore the simple world of denim. We are the temple of denim. The temple of the denim is not just jeans—it’s a lot of things.”
With a new campaign starring Joe Jonas’s spunky band DNCE, a string of new stores, celebrity-attended celebrations for them all, and a strong collaborative focus for Diesel Living’s innumerable parts, Rosso can confirm the exciting, recent change. “It’s the vibration. It’s the energy behind it. And it’s fantastic.”
This article is published in Whitewall‘s summer 2016 Design Issue.