Renzo Rosso

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Renzo Rosso
Born 15 September 1955 (age 61)
Brugine, Veneto, Italy
Residence Bassano del Grappa, Veneto, Italy
Nationality Italian
Education Textile Manufacturing, Universita di Padua (Dropout). Economics, Universita di Venezia[1]
Occupation President of OTB Group (the parent company of Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor&Rolf, Diesel, Staff International and Brave Kid).
Years active 1976–present
Known for Diesel Black Gold, Diesel Kids, 55DSL, Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor & Rolf, Staff International (includes licenses for DSquared2, Marc Jacobs Men, Just Cavalli, Vivienne Westwood, as well as Viktor & Rolf and Maison Martin Margiela)[2]
Children Ranieri
Awards 2011, Cavaliere del Lavoro, Rome, Italy. 2010, Millennium Development Goals Global Leader, New York City, USA. 1998 “Advertiser of the Year” and 2010, 2009, 2007, 2001, 1997 & 1992 “Grand Prix” at Cannes Lions International Awards of Creativity, Cannes, France. 2005, Master Honoris Causa, Verona University, Italy. 2004, Pitti Imagine Uomo, Florence. Italy. 2000, Master Honoris Causa, CUOA Foundation of Altavilla Vicentina, Italy.[3]

Renzo Rosso (born 15 September 1955) is an Italian fashion entrepreneur. Referred to as the “Jeans Genius”[4] by Suzy Menkes, he is the President of OTB Group, the parent company of Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor & Rolf, Diesel, Staff International (manufacturer and distributor of DSquared², Just Cavalli, Vivienne Westwood, and Marc Jacobs Men),[5] and Brave Kid. Founder of the Only The Brave Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, Rosso is also the President of the Red Circle investments; the Diesel Farm in Marostica, Veneto; the Pelican Hotel in Miami; and Bassano Virtus 55 S.T., the professional soccer club of his hometown Bassano del Grappa, Veneto.


Early life

Rosso was born in the village of Brugine in the northeastern Italian region of Veneto. His parents were farmers and he grew up under simple conditions, regularly helping his father after school. Having seen the laborious life required for a farmer, Rosso aspired to do something different from his parents and in 1970 began studying industrial Textile Manufacturing at the Marconi Technical Institute in Padua. There, he produced, at the age of 15, his first self-designed garment, a pair of low-waist bell-bottomed jeans using his mother’s Singer sewing machine. He kept experimenting with different jeans models and would give each pair to friends or sell them at school for about 3500 lire[1] (equivalent of 24 Euro in current prices).[6] In 1973 he began studying Economics at the University of Venice, where in addition to helping his father on the farm, he also financed his studies by working as a mechanic and as a carpenter.


Beginnings of Diesel

Diesel logo

Rosso dropped out of the University of Venice in 1975 and began to work as a Production Manager at Moltex, a local clothing manufacturer that produced trousers for various Italian clothing labels. Moltex’ parent company, the Genius Group, was run by Adriano Goldschmied who would eventually become Rosso’s mentor and future business partner. During Rosso’s first two years at Moltex the company grew rapidly. In 1978, after Rosso had managed to increase the company’s production beyond what Goldschmied actually considered possible, Rosso wanted to leave the company in order to start a new business on his own. However, Goldschmied convinced Rosso to stay by offering him a 40% stake in Moltex and by agreeing to form a new company together, thus forming Diesel.[6] Following the new partnership, Rosso also became shareholder of the Genius Group, which gathered brands such as Replay, King Jeans and Vivai. Created Goldie label which Katharine Hamnett designed a collection for, before launching DIESEL among others.[7]

The brand name Diesel was chosen because ‘diesel’ was considered to be the ‘alternative fuel’ in the current oil crisis, and Rosso and Goldschmied liked the idea of their brand being perceived as an alternative jeans brand in contrast to the prevalent casual wear brands. Furthermore, since the word was an international term pronounced equally all over the world, it appealed to Rosso’s view and that the global fashion market was not segmented by national borders, but by people’s lifestyle.[7] In 2004, after having followed those core values for nearly 20 years, CNN accredited Diesel for being “the first brand to believe truly in the global village and to embrace it with open arms.”[8] In an article by The NY Times in August 2013, it was estimated that Diesel had sold more than 100,000,000 jeans since 1978.[9]

Diesel acquisition

In 1985 Rosso wanted to achieve creative freedom over the brand’s direction and took complete control of the company, by trading his shares in the Genius Group, at the time Diesel’s parent company, for Goldschmied’s remaining shares in Diesel.[10] Following the launch of Diesel Kid the year prior, at the time called Dieselito,[1] sales of the Diesel-branded clothing had by that point reached about $5 million annually.[7] Wanting to focus on denim, Rosso began experimenting with different ways of treating the fabric with stones and washes. Then, after handpicking team of likeminded designers in the late 1980s, the company began a period of remarkable growth and expansion.[10]

Diesel in the 1990s

During the first of the 1990s Rosso pioneered Diesel into the fashion world and set the grounds for its establishment in global markets.[11] In 1991 the company launched its first international marketing effort with the highly successful ‘guides for successful living’ campaign series. In 1992 the campaign, which was Diesel’s first advertising campaign ever, won a Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the world’s leading awards in advertising.[1] Later on that same year Diesel launched the campaign on TV and would eventually become part of the company’s global communication work for a decade to come, bringing in multiple advertising awards across the world.[12]

Diesel Farm

In late 1992 Rosso purchased a farm close to the Diesel headquarters in Molvena, province of Veneto, where he began producing wine and olive oil under the name Diesel Farm. Initially the purchase was meant as a gift to his father, who until then had questioned his choice of career, but then for the first time understood that his son had in fact become a successful business entrepreneur.[13] At the time of the purchase the farm and its land was at risk of getting divided into separate lots for multiple buyers, but Rosso was able to prevent this by taking charge of the whole estate. Today the land and the old farm buildings are considered a nature reserve.


In 1994 Rosso created a new sports line and sub-brand, called 55DSL, which was inspired by the passion for snowboarding he shared with his sons. The first collection was titled ‘FW94, Subzero Winter’ and consisted of 55 pieces.[1] That same year, 55DSL became one of the first clothing lines to endorse snowboard competitions around the world, starting with competitions in Riksgransen, Sweden. The competitions featured several now legendary snowboards pioneers like Todd Richards and Peter Line.[14] In the following years 55DSL progressively became an independent brand and in 1999 moved from Diesel’s headquarters in Molvena, Italy, to Balerna, Switzerland. There it remained until 2005 when its headquarters re-located back in Italy.[15] Since the mid-2000s it has been spearheaded by its Creative Director and Rosso’s eldest son, Andrea Rosso, who, after learning to sew at the age of 13 and starting to work as a quality controller in the Diesel factories at the age of 16, went on to New York City where he completed his graduate studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Since then 55DSL has established itself as a globally recognized urban and street brand that is well known for its vast variety of collaborations.[16] This includes collaborations with independent artists like Eric Haze,[17] Alex Fakso,[18] and Turbokrafen;[19] action sports legends Joel Tudor,[20] Tony Hawk, Steve Berra and Lukas Hoffman;[21] musicians Steve Aoki[22] and Bloody Beetroots;[19] art foundations Poo on Art[23] and Two Steps Back,[1] and global brands like Adidas,[24] Coca-Cola Zero,[25] MTV,[26] EA Sports,[27] Yoox,[28] Manhattan Portage[29] and Panini.[30]

The Pelican Hotel

Also in 1994, Rosso reopened the Pelican Hotel on Miami’s South Beach strip. The hotel, which was a historical Art Deco building constructed in 1939, had been restored under the direction of his Creative Team[1] after Rosso had fallen in love with the building in 1991 and purchased it one month later.[31] Its kitsch, retro-styled interior with each room being independently designed and different from the others, was considered unique for its time[32] and contributed to Diesel’s image of the ‘Successful Living’ lifestyle. Several years later the hotel was listed by British daily newspaper The Independent as one of the world’s “best fashion hotels”. Other brands included in the list were hotels by Missoni, Armani, Bulgari and Ralph Lauren, which had all been opened after the Pelican.[33]

Diesel in the late 1990s

In the second half of the 1990s, Diesel continued to ignore common marketing rules and began to establish itself as a major brand in the global fashion market. This was a result of Rosso’s ambition to always break new grounds[34] and his aspiration to work with most creative agencies and photographers around, including David LaChapelle, Terry Richardson, Ellen von Unwerth, Rankin,[12] and Erwin Olaf.[35]

In 1995, Diesel became the first major fashion brand to embrace the Internet with the launch of,[34] which two years later was followed by the first online store of any fashion brand.[1] Later in 1995 the company also launched one of its most popular yet provocative campaigns ever, featuring two kissing sailors staged at the peace celebration of World War II. Shot by photographer David LaChapelle, it was the first major public advertisement to show a homosexual couple kissing[12] and was published at height of the Don’t ask, Don’t tell debates in USA, which had led the U.S. Government to refuse entry for openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service. In a long article published by Frieze in 1996, the advertisement was credited for its “overarching tone of heavy-handed humor and sarcasm”.[36]

In the late 1990s, Diesel began opening a large number of stores around the world, starting with its first ever mono-brand store, located on Lexington Avenue in New York in 1996, which was followed by stores in Milan, Paris and Rome.[1] In contrast to common retail norms of the time, Rosso decided that each Diesel store should be styled independently.[37] Occasionally, he would also collaborate with famous artists in this progress, as in 2003 when he let the artist Stephen Sprouse personalize the Union Square Diesel store in New York with graffiti.[4] Rosso also opened up new locations to showcase the creativity of the Diesel Creative Team, such as the Diesel Denim Gallery in New York and Osaka, Japan. The galleries showcased hand-treated denim of the highest quality and gave exhibition space to young, local artists.[38] The Diesel Denim Galleries were much acclaimed by the fashion press and were described by The New York Times Suzy Menkes simply as “super-cool”.[4]

Diesel in the 2000s

Throughout the 2000s, Rosso increased Diesel’s share in the global fashion market, mainly through opening more company owned stores,[34] embarking on a series of brand collaborations,[39] and by expanding on the business of Diesel.[40][41]


In 2002, Rosso was asked to collaborate with Karl Lagerfeld on a denim collection for the designer’s Lagerfeld Gallery.[1] The collection, which was titled Lagerfeld Gallery by Diesel, was co-designed by Lagerfeld and then developed by Diesel’s Creative Team. It consisted of five pieces that were presented during the designer’s catwalk shows during Paris Fashion Week[39] and then sold in very strict limited editions at the Lagerfeld Galleries in Paris and Monaco, and at the Diesel Denim Galleries in New York City and Tokyo. During the first week of sales in New York, more than 90% of the trousers had already been sold out, even though prices ranged from as high as $240 to $1840.[42] In a statement after the show in Paris, Rosso said “I am honored to have met this fashion icon of our time. Karl represents creativity, tradition and challenge, and the fact that he thought of Diesel for this collaboration is a great gift and acknowledgement of our reputation as the prêt-à-porter of casual wear.”[39]

In 2003, Rosso asked legendary street and graffiti artist Stephen Sprouse to do a take over of Diesel’s Union Square store for New York Fashion Week in the following September.[4] As part of the collaboration Sprouse designed a series of limited edition jeans, T-shirts and hats, and made a complete makeover of the Diesel store, which meant adding his renowned Day-Glo design to windows, interiors, and outer building exteriors.[43]

Business partnerships

In 2007, Rosso and Diesel partnered with L’Oréal for the production of Diesel’s first fragrance, titled Fuel For Life.[44] This was followed by a partnership with Italian carmaker FIAT in early 2008 to re-design the classic Fiat 500. Originally being one of FIAT’s most popular models ever, the new version, simply titled ‘500 by Diesel’, featured several unique design details throughout the car’s interior and exterior and was only produced in 10,000 units.[45]

In the spring of 2008, Rosso launched a collaboration between Diesel and sportswear giant Adidas.[46] After Diesel made a special denim collection for Adidas that was exclusively available at Adidas Originals stores, called Adidas Originals by Diesel,[47] the collaboration then developed into a number of additional product collaborations between Diesel,[48] as well as its sister brand 55DSL, and Adidas.[49]

In January 2011, Rosso took Diesel into its first sponsorship of the Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the MotoGP, through a partnership with the iconic Italian manufacturer Ducati. Following the deal, Rosso said “This season in particular is extraordinary and with the arrival of Valentino Rossi, the association between our brands is perfectly in line with our ‘Only the Brave’ philosophy”.[50]

In May 2011, Rosso launched the first ever Diesel bicycle, together with award-winning bicycle manufacturer Pinarello. Built as a single-speed, city bicycle with a hydro formed aluminum frame, the collaboration marked one of the first true collaborations between the bicycle and the fashion industry.[51]

Diesel Black Gold

In February 2008, Rosso launched a new, premium line extension called Diesel Black Gold.[52] The new line combined Diesel’s original expertise in denim and casual wear with the craftsmanship of tailoring.[53] Through its collections of artfully distressed denim and leather, new twists on traditional garments and iconic blends of past and future, Diesel Black Gold has become the largest non-designer label in the contemporary high-end fashion market,[54] and has successfully managed to become a casual alternative to other luxury brands[55] Sophia Kokosalaki left her position in 2012, and Andreas Melbostad was appointed in October 2012 as Creative Director of Diesel Black Gold womenswear collections; his first show was a success with style. com claiming him to be “the perfect man for this label”.[56]

Successful Living from Diesel

In 2009, Rosso launched Diesel’s first home collection, called Successful Living from Diesel. Produced together with pioneering Italian manufacturers Moroso, Foscarini and Zucchi,[57] For Successful Living from Diesel was credited by Wallpaper magazine for its style and comfort when it premiered at Salone del Mobile in April, 2009.[58]

Uffie x Diesel Capsule Collection

In 2010, Diesel launched a collaboration with the young electro-popstar Uffie, called the Uffie x Diesel Capsule Collection. The collection featured 12 female pieces of denim and leather, that all were modeled by Uffie herself and available for purchase on the Diesel website.[59]

Advertising and campaigns

In the early 2000s Rosso and Diesel began to implement a mindset into their global marketing strategy that “put sales and profit second to building something special for customers, often by creating interactive user experiences that are not directly connected to retail, sales or stores.”[60] In a research study of innovative businesses presented by The Times,[60] much of Diesel’s successful growth in the early 2000s was accredited to this mindset. The study concluded that “Diesel is an experience which interacts with and entertains its customers with a far deeper relationship than other brands”,[61] and that “It is always about engaging with the customer as opposed to selling at them: creating an enjoyable two-way dialogue as opposed to a hollow one-way monologue.”[62]

In 2007 this approach took another step, leading to the infamous ‘Heidies’.[63] It mocked the phenomenon of reality TV and was one of the first ever campaigns by a fashion brand solely based on the Internet. It featured two models that were locked inside a room and who did whatever the online viewers suggested. The models played two mentally crazy women who, wanting to claim their 15 minutes of fame, had taken an intimate Diesel sales guy as hostage, closed themselves up in a hotel room and hijacked the company’s website; requesting that they be selected for the next Diesel advertising campaign. The employee was said to work for Diesel Intimate, as the campaign was in fact the launch for the brand’s new line of intimate and beachwear.[64] The campaign became a huge success, and reached over 100,000 views daily while it was live.[65] It was awarded at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival that same year.[66]

On October 11, 2008, Rosso and Diesel celebrated the company’s 30th anniversary through hosting 17 parties around the world all broadcast live online and spanning across 24 hours.[67] Following the opening in Tokyo, the live stream continued to Beijing, Dubai, Athens, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Milan, Zurich, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Oslo, London, São Paulo and finally ended in New York, with Rosso’s attendance.[67] The event featured live performances by Daft Punk, Earth Wind and Fire, 2manydjs, Mark Ronson, New Young Pony Club,[68] and a pregnant M.I.A who broke her retirement for the occasion.[69][70] In addition there were neverseen before mash-ups with Chaka Khan feat. Franz Ferdinand and N.E.R.D. feat. Hot Chip.[71]

The event was advertised through the release of a video titled ‘Diesel SFW XXX Party Video’,[71] which immediately went viral and spread rapidly across the Internet, mostly due to its ironic take on 1980s style pornography. By 2011 it had been viewed more than 20 million times online and classified as one of the most successful viral campaigns ever.[72] Additionally, the anniversary event also featured the production of a limited edition pair of jeans, called ‘The Dirty Thirty’.[73] The denim, which were for sale for one day only (on the date of the birth of the brand) at the extremely discounted price of €30 and modeled by Daisy Lowe,[73] caused ‘hysteria’[74] and lead to consumers to form mile-log lines outside Diesel stores around the world. These jeans were sold out within just a few hours worldwide.[75]

Throughout the 2000s Rosso and the Diesel Creative Team also continued working with a number of famous photographers and agencies, including Jean Pierre Khazem, Carl de Keyzer, Finlay McKay, Elaine Constantine, Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott, Johan Renck, and Terry Richardson,[12] the latter for the celebrated “Global Warning Ready’ campaign of 2007. In 2001, 2007, 2009, and 2010 Diesel was given Grand Prix awards at Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.[76]

Talent support

In the early 2000s, Rosso pushed Diesel to start reinvesting part of the company’s marketing budgets back into the creative community, by financially supporting young, creative talent.[1] This led to Diesel initiating projects like Diesel:U:Music,4560[77] Diesel New Art[78] and Diesel Wall,[79] and become a founding partner of ITS (International Talent Support).[80] Furthermore, the company also helped launch Pocko’s affordable art books in 1999, and for a number of years sponsored projects like Online Flash Film Fest and Semi-Permanent.[1]

In 2001, Diesel:U:Music was founded with a vision to support unsigned bands and as a reaction to an overly commercialized music industry.[1] Consisting of an independent jury with artists and producers such as Ian McCulloch,[81] Mark Ronson,[81] and Ronnie Wood,[82] the jury annually reviewed thousands of demos from around the world and selected winning, unsigned bands.[83] By partnering with record labels like Warner Music or media publishers like Vice,[84] the winning artists were offered records deals[85] and media publicity. In 2006, the project consisted of an awards show that was broadcast live on Channel 4[86] in Great Britain and featured legendary avant-garde rock band Roxy Music.[87] In 2009, the project hosted a global tour and radio station. The tour featured live performances by artists like Kanye West and The Roots,[88] who supported the competition’s winning younger bands, The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt! and HEARTSREVOLUTION. Produced in London, The Diesel:U:Music radio station as hailed by The Guardian[89] and The Daily Telegraph[90] for its unique quality programming, and had shows hosted by everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Franz Ferdinand. In an interview with Dazed & Confused, Rosso explained the purpose of the project, stating that “It’s about giving people the tools and the seeing them succeed and excel in their creativity”.[91] Through its 10-year history, the Diesel:U:Music winners included Diplo, Mylo, DJ Yoda and The Cool Kids.[92]

In 2002 Rosso and Diesel became founding partners of ITS (International Talent Support),[93] a competition for young designers and fashion photographers. While Rosso has often been a member of the jury, Diesel sponsors the competition financially.[94] In 2005, the founder of i-D Magazine, Terry Jones, credited ITS for “dedicating so much passion and commitment to the selection of designers, like no other organization.”[1]

In 2003 and 2004, Diesel began supporting local, young artists through the Diesel New Art and Diesel Wall competitions.[1] Diesel New Art was open to graduating artists working across various media, and would sponsor winning artists with solo exhibitions, shows at international art fairs, or promotion through internationally published catalogues.[78] In Diesel Wall the company purchased large, unused facades in major cities and transformed them into popular exhibition spaces. Winning artworks were then selected by an independent jury, and displayed on the walls for a longer period of time throughout the year.[95] During the years a few of the jury members have included curator Hans Ulrich Obrist,[96] film director Bigas Luna, art director and graphic designer Peter Saville,[97] artist Patrick Tuttofuoco, art director Jérôme Sans and editors Helena Kontova and Stefano Boeri.[98]

Founded in 1989, ANDAM (National Association for the Development of the Fashion Arts) seeks, in the words of its president Pierre Bergé, “to identify emerging talents in contemporary fashion design and offer them the means to exist, to produce a runway show during Paris Fashion Week, and to establish and develop their label in France, thus perpetuating the dynamism of the Parisian fashion scene.[99]” Thanks to its sponsors (Fashion GPS, the Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, Longchamp, Yves Saint Laurent, Galeries Lafayette,, OTB, LVMH, Swarovski, Hudson’s Bay Company[100]), as well as of two public institutions, the DEFI and the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, ANDAM is the largest international fashion Prize, a driving force in the development of new fashion designers in France. Renzo Rosso, was the mentor[101] of the 2013 ANDAM finalists.[102] In addition to the financial endowment of the prize, the winners benefited from the strategic, creative and commercial coaching of a worldwide fashion industry entrepreneur, helping the winners develop their label and build an international reputation.

Nicola Formichetti

In the spring of 2013, Rosso named Nicola Formichetti, the former stylist of Lady Gaga and creative director of Mugler, as Diesel’s first ever Artistic Director. The announcement followed days of speculation and was met with positive response across the fashion world and daily news press.[103] In an interview with V Magazine following the announcement, Rosso said “I finally met somebody as crazy as I am”, and explained that Formichetti’s new responsibilities will be overseeing “the total view” of Diesel’s brand, including product, communications, marketing and interior design.[104]

Formichetti’s first project’s included launching a groundbreaking crowd-funded advertising campaign with Tumblr. The campaign, titled #Reboot and shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, featured prominent, young creatives ranging from graffiti artists to film students instead of common models, with varying body shapes, sizes and personal styles.[105]