MILAN — The crowd at Wednesday’s Diesel show at Milan’s Allianz Cloud arena was 5,000.
Filling a stadium is not easy, even when tickets are free. And it wasn’t just the size of the audience that stood out, but also its quality – reflecting Diesel’s still-fresh transformation from dated designer-denim pioneer to cool fashion label for the young and hot.
Gen Z celebrities, like Gossip Girl actor Evan Mock, were surrounded by rows of college students and other fashion-obsessed youngsters, dressed as characters straight out of ‘Euphoria’ in colorful suits candy and sparkling eye makeup.
A few hours later, in the Diesel store near the Duomo in Milan, the event was already broadcast on giant screens, placed next to the looks of designer Glenn Marten’s fall collection for the brand.
Martens’ take on Diesel harks back to its earlier heyday, when it was best known for its ultra-low, ultra-dirty washes, with a few iterations made to make the wearer look like it’s rolled through a field of wet grass, or with rips large enough to expose swathes of shiny thigh. His designs hark back to those days of extreme distress, with the silver leaf on a €495 ($486) pair of jeans chipping away for style. (Pieces in the collection are mostly sold between €500 and €1,000, a little more expensive than the main line, where jeans start at €150.)
At the store, the fashion kids rummaged – like the one wearing an Ambush sweatshirt – stuffing his stylish bags like a €425 race car and his €795 wrestling belt-style cummerbunds. While many are surely fans of Martens’ work at Y/Project, where he helped revive that gritty but sexy late ’90s/early ’00s look, Diesel is giving it another level of exposure. and offers a wider range of consumers have access to his creations.
Diesel has always been big business and the engine of Italian entrepreneur Renzo Rosso’s OTB Group – which also includes Maison Margiela, Marni and Jil Sander – generating the largest share of the group’s $1.5 billion revenue l ‘last year.
But despite its continued heft, Diesel’s relevance had been waning since the mid-2000s, when its tarnished, worn look was replaced at the mall by cleaner, darker propositions like J.Brand and later Frame.
Diesel’s attempts to reignite consumer fire, including a four-year partnership with Lady Gaga collaborator Nicola Formichetti in the 2010s, came as momentum waned in the high-end denim category. range, as well as in department stores and shopping centers that had championed the category. The brand struggled to reverse the trend, and in 2019 its US subsidiary filed for bankruptcy.
Then came Y/Project designer Martens, who had originally been tapped for a one-time collaboration as part of the brand’s “Red Tag” program in 2018.
Two years later, in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic made it particularly difficult for independent designers, Rosso convinced Martens to become creative director of Diesel, tasking him with revamping the product offering and image of the company. company while continuing to design Y/Project.
The bet on Martens seems to pay off. Although parent company OTB does not break down sales for individual brands, it cited advances in diesel as a key driver of growth in 2021. Sales were up 16% year-on-year and flat from 2019. Not extraordinary given the large sales increases seen by many competitors after the first year of the pandemic, but respectable given the number of unwanted wholesaler accounts Diesel had left as part of its repositioning.
As OTB eyes a potential IPO, Diesel’s continued success under new CEO Eraldo Poletto, who joined in July, will remain crucial to the health of the business.
Online, the social media conversation around Diesel has grown, up 69% from a year ago, according to tracking firm Launchmetrics. Spikes were attributed to Julia Fox’s Ye-style Diesel look last February, Nicole Kidman in Diesel on the cover of Perfect magazine in August, and an increase in influencer placements.
Business partners are also increasingly enthusiastic. After leaving dozens of underperforming outlets and discount wholesale boutiques – and sacrificing around 400 million euros in turnover along the way – the brand is finally gaining the high fashion adjacencies that Rosso craves. . Just before New York Fashion Week, the company co-hosted a late-night party with high-end independent retailer The Webster at an East Williamsburg club, celebrating a capsule collection of Glenn Martens designs for Diesel, reworked in the store in the signature pink.
Laure Hériard Dubreuil, founder and CEO of The Webster, called Martens’ Diesel an “avant-garde journey”.
Of course, two collections are rarely enough to change the perception of a brand as big and well-known as Diesel, especially when the entire product offering is much broader than Martens’ vision. But it’s clear Rosso has found something with its new star – the test will be whether the brand can win favor beyond the avid fashion fan.