At the opening of Diesel's first Indian store in Juhu, Mumbai, Rosso talks to Forbes India about weathering the economic slowdown, his love for India and staying young
Renzo Rosso looks every bit the rebel. His greying curls peep out of a baseball cap and tattoos pop out from under his T-shirt as he animatedly talks about the denim brand he started fresh out of college and his fashion philosophy. Rosso is of course in the distressed jeans that he made famous: Diesel. Diesel is now a global fashion giant with a turnover of more than 1.3 billion euros in 2009.
How do you cater to customers spread around the world?
I started Diesel 30 years ago with an idea to make denim aspirational. Now, we think of ourselves as a global brand. I have had people on my design team from all over the world from the beginning. There are also Asians in it. The Web has made aspirations and expectations from a brand come closer than ever before. Fashion trends are converging. That has made us realise that we need to think differently to address a common global demand. So we have unique global collections where the styling is clearly international. But we do have products from some areas. For example, we will have more colourful ingredients in our collections for South America.
How has your India experience been so far?
There are a lot of young people here. And in general, it is easier to deal with young people. We have a lot of experience in doing that as we want to have respect from the young generation. In doing so, we have built an incredible relation with them. What I love about India is the attitude of the people — there is poverty but people are still smiling. The positivity brings in a different kind of creativity which we use in designing our bags and belts. It is much different than in China where they just copy everything. We produce some of our stuff here and I think Indian people are creative. When they are asked to make something, they add their own creativity to it. In China it is not like that.
How did you plan your strategy for India?
That is why we tied up with a partner like Reliance. They have the size and they were creating a separate division for clothing. In India, we plan to start more stores quickly. We will have seven stores this year itself. In a short time, we have 35 stores in China and business is up 20 percent last year. However, we will maintain exclusivity and not simply multiply. We will have different merchandise within stores in a city and get people talking. That will make them visit the next store — each of our stores will be different. We have the patience and love what we are doing. I think India will develop with more good taste because of its smiling people.
But won’t Indians who are more mobile now be able to buy cheaper Diesel merchandise elsewhere in the world?
We will have all our premium range in our stores in the country as the economy is doing very well. Because of the Web and the changing fashion trends, we have to bring the most fashionable clothes of the season too. In terms of pricing, our product prices may be just 10 percent more than Dubai but it will be in line with London. We can’t price products differently as people “know” about these things. Even the slightly higher costs will go if duties are reduced but that is a political decision.
How did the global downturn affect you?
For us the crisis was worse in the US than in Europe. In the US, 35 percent of the stores on Madison Avenue closed down and walk-ins were down by 50 percent. Traffic was down badly and retail shops looked like ghost towns. We didn’t do that badly and have survived the downturn. In 2009, our sales were down 3 percent while our competitors’ were down 15-20 percent. Our business in emerging markets like China has done well and we are now expanding in India.
It all seems so complex to tie in fashion styles from across the globe. How do you do it?
We plan and execute at our headquarters in Italy for our big product divisions like jewelry, denim and kidswear. We collect knowledge from across the world by extensive travelling four times a year and twice every season. We make it to fashion shows, see fashion magazines and keep a pulse on what is happening around. Most of my people in the company have been hired while travelling. Then we merge all the concepts to create special designs. Our aim is to be more fresh and trendy than others. We did an India inspired collection a few years ago. There were the Olympics that year and we did a collection with a lot of detailing.
Is it that easy?
Our corporate team is now very well versed in doing that. Certainly, running Diesel is not easy. There are so many particular details in every product. I am not involved too much in designing these days but I establish the concept with the team of designers who in turn are always talking to marketing, etc. Our learning itself comes from different parts of the world. We really learnt marketing from the US — how to do up the store, product display and all that is important. From Italy I learnt creativity and from Germany, management skills and systems. The right product has to have the right distribution, communication and organisation. If you love what you do, putting all this together does not appear tough.
Everyone is talking of changing demographics, especially in the rich nations. How would you design for the young and the ageing in Europe?
In fashion, it is about staying cool. Every one wants to be cool, look cool. In Europe and the US the gap between the young and the old is not much. Now consumer groups are not fixed by age as much as they are by lifestyle. It is not uncommon to find couples with an age difference of 20-30 years.
The young and not-so-young want to look and feel the same. Both of them want to look cool and fashionable. They want to wear similar kinds of clothes and accessories that are considered in fashion. So, there is no target group and the real focus is on lifestyle.
Diesel has a special place for celebrities in the shop. Is there a reason?
Celebrities are important. They bring eyeballs to the brand. Fans love them and love what they are wearing. They define trends. So it is important that they try and wear Diesel. They can make an appointment with us and try out clothes in our shop. That is true in each one of our shops. But we never sign contracts with celebrities because we want them to choose our brand on their own. It is our philosophy.
How has the Internet affected fashion?
The normal way is to think of the Internet as a source of information. But, that is exactly what we don’t use it for. We try to do crazy things on the Net. We use it as another place to interact with our customers. We use it as a platform to communicate with them.
We let people customise their experience. Like our new ‘How to Be Stupid’ campaign. The broad strategy on Web is to focus 80 percent on the brand and 20 percent on marketing. To us, our visitors are intellectuals who know what they are looking for. We always keep that in mind.
It is also a platform to bring our new collection to a world wide platform immediately. In our entire strategy, the move to the Web is important and we can’t call it bull***t any more.