Once in a while, we hear stories of success that draw at our hearts and minds, that inspire us and also leave us wondering how some people do it all. Renzo Rosso’s is one of them.
Rosso founded Diesel in 1978, and went on to make it a brand to be reckoned with all over the world. Today, he is the chairman of OTB, a group that controls Diesel, Maison Margiela, Marni, Jil Sander, Viktor & Rolf, Amiri, Staff International, and Brave Kid. Through his company, Red Circle, he invests in businesses that have a strong drive for innovation, while also managing many renowned hotels under his wing.
We speak to him about his early days as an entrepreneur, his creative vision, and where the brand is today.
Sonal Ved: You started your journey in fashion as a 15-year-old, with your mother’s sewing machine. As someone so young, what inspired you to work with a sewing machine when other kids your age were busy playing or studying?
Renzo Rosso: I thought it was cooler, you know. But I also studied how to run and work in the fashion industry. The school was incredible. After five years, you could go do any job in a fashion company and make something of it. I learned how to make shirts, t-shirts, and trousers—that’s when I also started making jeans. I was in love with denim, and I created a pair of jeans that were so different from the ones in the market that they became an incredible success. All my friends loved it, and I started to work at night at home making them. That was the beginning of my journey.
SV: So you made your first pair of jeans at the age of 15. When you were even younger what did you dream of—how did that dream evolve over time?
RR: Making my first pair of jeans was a nice moment. Just that particular moment felt evolutionary. It also taught me how to be a rebel. It was also the time when my mother bought me a pair of jeans and I fell in love with them.
But my dream has always been to suffer a little more than normal for work. I never thought I would become who I am today. Even when I was younger, I was an entrepreneur. I remember when I was 10, I started a business of rabbits. A friend of mine presented me with a rabbit that was pregnant with seven more, and from that lot I managed to get more which I gave away later.
SV: All of this is very enterprising.
RR: An entrepreneurial attitude is something you are born with, and it's very strong in me. I just wanted to do something out of the ordinary. I am lucky because now I can be part of many different industries, many different aspects of life, and many different businesses.
SV: Who inspired this entrepreneurial spirit in you?
RR: I am always inspired by people who are doing better than me. I like to see people who are doing something better, because I love to learn and these people give me the energy to strive for more.
SV: You started the OTB Group more than two decades ago, and now it has many luxury brands under its umbrella. What was the thought process behind the name 'Only The Brave' (OTB), and what according to you makes a luxury brand legendary?
RR: Luxury brands are great. It’s the only area where I want to work because in luxury we can have more margin and through that margin we can drive the brand towards what the new generation wants. The new generation wants sustainability, and so, when you have more margin, you can spend money on sustainability. It is not just one recycled fabric, it is everything—how to run an industry, how to do business, the way to think, the way to deal with your employees, the way you pay them, and the work conditions. It's a lot of things.
So, I think that we are brave. We are brave because we have done something different, something more. We have done something before other people did it, and this is why all the brands in my group have the same philosophy.
SV: The Diesel denim became immensely popular in the ’80s, almost as soon as the brand was conceptualised in the late ’70s. Today, it is scaling new heights and has renewed momentum. What is your vision for the brand today? What do you think makes a luxury brand brave?
RR: Being a rebel is just having the power to do something that others don't have. Many people think about doing a lot of different things, but in the end, few do it. And it's fewer people that have the power to actually make something different. So, to me, this is how one is brave.
To answer the first part of your question, Diesel is an iconic brand because we were the first to do destroyed denim, vintage denim, and certain treatments of denim. Other luxury brands followed after. Also, Diesel is famous because we changed the way of communication. Our communication has not been just about advertising but also about creating interaction with the consumer. Sometimes we don’t even show the product—it is just talking about something and creating a desire for it. And, currently, we are living in a magical moment because we have a new creative director who brings all my energy, all my DNA along with modernity to new designs. We are not just a jeans brand, we are something much closer to luxury, but with a new attitude, a more democratic way to do things and an incredible fullness of personality.
SV: Diesel delivered several standout moments on the runway—be it using a mountain of condoms as a backdrop for the brand’s show at the Milan Fashion Week this year or having the world’s largest blow-up sculpture last year for the same fashion week. What was the thought behind creating these innovations?
RR: This is the way my new creative director is thinking, his plans are to develop a language for the brand that is different from the others, a brand that is brave. So, for example, the condom is a way to connect with the customer, to speak of a social message, because sex is great, but people sometimes don’t pay attention to the minute details of it.
SV: And how do you feel about creating these viral moments? Do you seek virality when you're launching a new collection?
RR: I am lucky to have worked with many creative directors including John Galliano and Glenn Martens. All of them are different, all of them give different opinions, and in the end, allow me to have my own opinion. So, working with them means a more complete vision.
SV: Speaking of the path forward, do you believe that GenZs and millennials are looking to show more responsibility? How does Diesel cater to this consumer?
RR: We are very involved in sustainability, technology and other social things. This is the aspect I love about Diesel and all the other brands at OTB. Sustainability is tough to master and the new consumer wants to consume fewer but more beautiful products. Technology helps you achieve that; you not only save cost but also expend less CO2.
SV: What is next for OTB?
RR: The next is to become a public company. And that is for many reasons—one of the most important being that I want everyone working for the company to be my partner. Because I want to share everything that they do and experience in the company, be it frustration or satisfaction. So, if we have more partners, we become much more of a team, and we can work better together. This can be my final path before passing it to somebody else.