Italian Lifestyle and Fashion: Renzo Rosso, for a successful lifestyle
- WTI Magazine #97 Nov 18, 2017
The story of Renzo Rosso – the man behind the Diesel brand – is so inspirational and unique that could easily make a great subject for a screenplay. Not only he managed to rise from rags to riches but also started a revolution that changed forever the way the world thinks of and buys jeans.
In 1950s, the Veneto region had yet to become a powerful stronghold of the Italian economy. Though the first signs of this change were on the rise, farming and agriculture were still an important source of income and livelihood in which many Venetians were engaged. Brugine – a small town near Padua – made no exception. There, in 1955, Renzo Rosso was born to two humble hard-working farmers.
Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Renzo did not spare himself from helping his parents in the fields. Actually, these sheer experience of hard work instilled drive and ambition in the young Rosso; let alone his first-hand experience of pain and hard work. During the time he spent in high school, Renzo used his mother’s sewing machine to experiment on jeans and then sell his creations to friends and acquaintances.
Shortly after enrolling in the Business Administration Department at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, he was hired by the Italian denim mogul and ‘godfather’ Adriano Goldschmied at Moltex – an emerging fashion business at that time. The rise of Rosso from employee to shareholder was astounding and quick. By 1978, he already owned more than 40% of the company’s stocks. Later that year, the two decided to rebaptize Moltex and so chose Diesel as the new name. By 1985, Renzo took total control of Diesel and fully changed its direction. He did not try to follow east and known path but strived for greatness and excellence, instead.
In fact, he was the first one to think of jeans as a marketable item on a global scale. To him jeans was a means of communicating a worldview and a lifestyle altogether. Indeed, jeans became the starting point of all his creations. In other words, he stretched the meaning of jeans by decompartmentalizing it; in other words, he made jeans transition from being solely related to workwear and streetwear into becoming a luxury fashion item. Then, Rosso turned a textile once associated with labor into a luxury garment or – as Goldschmied labelled it – into premium denim.
This major shift of the jeans narrative contributed to legitimize it on the runways of Milan, New York, and London. By doing so, Rosso gave countless customers the chance to set themselves apart by merely wearing jeans. Sporting a pair of Diesel exuded a status symbol: it became a strong statement to the outer world, indeed. Owning and wearing Diesel items meant to embrace Rosso’s values, lifestyle, and view of the world: a nonorthodox, creative, and unconventional vision of thinking outside of the box. It is not by chance that Rosso has created different product lines that target customers of all ages. For example, the ‘Diesel’ brand is targeted to young wealthy professionals; 55DSL focuses on streetwear items, while Diesel Kids is aimed at the prepubescent clientele. At the top, towers Diesel Black Gold which is the top-tier one and focuses on the prêt-à-porter luxury fashion.
Through the years, Rosso cast Diesel as the quintessential denim brand worldwide. He was more than willing to break the rules. Along with the clothes, he sells a lifestyle and a different approach to reality. He did so through his thought-provoking, nonconformist and politically incorrect advertisement campaigns. In these ads, stereotypes and accepted values are overturned and taken them to the extreme. Jeans are not the main focus of the ads, the meanings lying underneath them are. This way, Rosso conquered the tastes of thousands of customers, making Diesel the biggest lifestyle worldwide brand and setting the bar for all the competitors.
However, Rosso is not only a self-made man and a visionary; he is a skillful businessman as well. In fact, he is the CEO of OTB Group that owns Diesel S.p.A and includes some major well-known luxury brands; Maison Margiela, Vitkor&Rolf, Marni Men, Just Cavalli, Vivienne Westwood and Paula Cadermatori. As of 2014, the conglomerate had 1.559 billion euros in revenues. OTB has a global presence with 15 subsidiaries that span across Europe, Americas, and Asia. It has also licensed more than 5000 stores around the globe of which 300 are designer outlets. OTB numbers are outstanding and show Rosso’s business skill and audacity. Actually, OTB is an acronym that stands for Renzo’s life motto ‘only the brave’. An idea well explained by the company’s mission statement, the ‘Diesel Manifesto’:
“Diesel Manifesto: We decode the world around us, take it apart and unlock what we thought we knew. We see differently and unite with those who see it too. Draw your own path. March in the streets with us. Especially the ones our streets are on.”
Rosso is a fine example of what passion, foresight, and consistency can help man achieve. His rise from rags-to-riches is not a story of mere luck; it is one of drive, vision, and dedication. In the span of forty years, he has turned himself from an ordinary employee at Moltex into a self-made billionaire businessman that has revolutionized the fashion the market. Make no mistake in thinking that everyone can follow his path; only the brave can.