Racks and rows of jeans in every wash and style stood in front of me as I walked in at Diesel’s flagship store in Milan. It was nearly closing time, but I decided to pop in anyway. My blood sugar rose as I felt the adrenaline flowing through my veins as I sauntered over to the rack. Featuring an array of denim jackets, acid washes and bodysuit tees from their Spring/Summer 2022 fashion show, I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the Y2K influence as it was a yassified version of the ‘2000s I remembered from my childhood.
I grabbed three pairs of jeans, a cargo skirt, a mesh tartan two-piece set, denim bodysuit, bodysuit tees, belted tank top and a yellow dress. Struggling to contain two kilogram-worth of clothes, my fingers ached. While I tried on my outfits, I snapped selfie after selfie, a chronicle of the yassified chrysalis. Before I paid, I spied a small denim bag sitting on top of a counter. “This is the last piece in Milan,” I was told. Without a doubt, I asked the cashier to add it in my bag. Though I only wore Diesel as a child, I was meant to be a Diesel girl as an adult: unapologetically confident, sexy, impulsive and someone who marches to the beat of her own drum.
Founded in 1978 by Renzo Rosso and Adriano Goldschmied, Diesel started out as a brand that sold low rise jeans. Rosso felt inspired to start the company after making a pair of low rise bell bottom flare jeans when he was 15 years old. Two decades later, Diesel defined the premium denim market with its pre-distressed and whiskered jeans. In tandem with its edgy brand image, art director Jocke Jonason and marketing director Johan Lindeberg were recruited in 1991 to produce the brand’s campaigns, which married fashion, politics and social commentary.
Rebellious, provocative, yet chic, Diesel’s peak stronghold was in the 2000s. Every “It” girl in town from Paris Hilton to Rihanna wore the brand. As low rise jeans were phased out, Diesel adjusted to the times by yanking their waistbands higher. In a bid to stay relevant with the rise of Tumblr, Nicola Formichetti was hired to be the artistic director in 2013. Staying true to the brand’s punky DNA, Formichetti recruited models from Tumblr and hired photographer Nick Knight to shoot the campaign on an iPhone for Diesel’s Denim Capsule drop.
The Diesel “D” logo has become a hot commodity in fashion today and is often blown-up by its current creative director Glenn Martens as a motif on ready-to-wear pieces and accessories. Here, it is seen on a mini skirt from the Fall/Winter 2022 collection.
Despite Formichetti’s name, Diesel failed to gain traction during his tenure. Formichetti stepped down as artistic director in 2017. The customers outgrew it, sales dropped and clothing had to be deeply discounted all thanks to millennials’ preference of athleisure (which made US$43.6 billion in 2015). Apart from athleisure, the preference for normcore among millennials was a death knell to the campiness of the ‘2000s that Diesel was associated with.
Due to their inability to keep up with the changing fashions, Diesel’s US stores performed poorly. Between 2008 to 2015, the brand invested US$90 million in capital expenditures that was spent on their brick and mortar retail stores. In a desperate bid to increase their sales, Diesel attempted to create a luxury brand presence at Saks Fifth Avenue. The plan was futile as being placed against other branded goods encouraged other buyers to go for their competitors as opposed to helping Diesel boost their sales.
Diesel is now branded as a conscious fashion label with a gender neutral touch.
Thefts at their brick and mortar stores dented the brand’s pockets. Between 2016 to 2018, US$900,000 in cash was stolen by a former Diesel employee, but it wasn’t detected until 2018. The same year, two falsified invoices approximately US$300,000 were billed to Diesel by a scammer who pretended to be one of Diesel’s vendors. The combined losses totaled to US$1.2 million. By 2019, Diesel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy of its US arm. But, poor performance and finances weren’t the main reasons for filing the bankruptcy in the US. Rosso stated that he filed for Chapter 11 in order to stop paying for high rent prices in New York and Hawaii.
In spite of its struggle in the States, Diesel was still the biggest earner of its parent brand Only The Brave by raking in £700 million pre-pandemic. Though the pandemic was associated with an economic downturn, Diesel beat its pre-pandemic record. In 2020, Only The Brave made €1.53 billion with opening more than 70 stores. According to Rivet, the parent company earned US$1.71 billion in 2021 due to its performance in Asia Pacific and North America.
Creative director Glenn Martens blends his punk-couture touch with sustainable practices such as upcycling deadstock Diesel items for his collections – like the one from Fall/Winter 2022 above.
Perhaps one can thank Y/Project designer Glenn Martens, whom Rosso appointed in 2020. A fan of the brand since his teens, Martens played fairy godfather to the once lagging brand by pushing the brand to new creative heights with its newfound agenda on sustainability. Speaking about his tenure at Diesel, he felt that denim was “polluting”, yet it was a “social fabric”. Redirecting Diesel as a luxury sustainable brand with a gender neutral touch, Martens introduced the Denim Library capsule for both men and women. With limited washes and zero bleach, pieces from the collection are made with minimal water use and less pollution.
For a men’s denim jacket from the library collection, no pumice stones were used in the process of stonewashing as to reduce the damage made inside machines and on fabric. Instead of using petrochemical-based synthetic indigo dye, mineral-based dyes were used for the overdyeing process. In a pair of women’s low rise straight leg dark wash jeans, ozone treatment was applied to give a bleached effect instead of water, which is mixed with chemicals. Crucial to its sustainability agenda, nebulisation treatment is applied on denim as to limit the amount of water needed for washing it. Extending the same treatment for its runway collection, organic and recycled fabrics are used alongside chrome-free leather and non-galvanized buttons for its Pre-Fall 2022 collection.
The 1DR shoulder bag is now a cult hit for Diesel.
A marriage between trendy, classic and sustainable, Diesel’s makeover won celebrity fans. Muse of the year Julia Fox journaled her red hot date night while dressed in head to toe denim for her column in Interview. She also wore the brand again for an editorial for The Face’s June 2022 issue.
Fellow Y2K fashion lover Megan Thee Stallion exuded big demeanor in the brand’s cult logo ribbed top. While on tour in South America, Miley Cyrus strutted her metallic blue 1DR bag on stage to coordinate with her leggings and top “catsuit” combo. Newly minted Broadway babe Pamela Anderson wore the brand’s viral smash hit pantaboot for a Paper magazine photoshoot. A fellow endorser of Y2K fashion, Dua Lipa served “It” girl cool in Diesel’s denim two-piece set and again with the brand’s logoed red bag. As a brand that generations grew up with, its revival among Gen X and millennial celebrities is proof that the brand’s cross generational appeal is not going to leave the spotlight.
Just in time with the Y2K revival, Diesel’s chokehold on street style and editorial carried over to TikTok, where influencers do unboxing videos of the brand’s latest collection. Dubbed a “hot brand” by TikTok creator Vienna Skye, videos of the brand’s 1DR bag to vintage Diesel jeans ballooned. Ditto with the logo D tube top, a holy grail item that every TikToker swears by.
Rihanna spotted recently wearing a pair of Diesel jeans from the label’s Fall/’Winter 2022 collection, while hitting the studio to prepare for her Superbowl performance.
Hitting at the 15th spot for Q1 of 2022 on the Lyst index of Fashion’s Hottest Brands, Diesel had a huge jump compared to its ranking at number 46 at the tail end of 2021. Securing its rank at 10th position of the top 10 Hottest Women’s Products, the brand’s iconic 1956 jean boots became a household name of the year. Without a doubt, Diesel’s reemergence as a rising fashion powerhouse is set to become future collectibles. Interest in Diesel surged with earnings of US$79 million on its retail website in 2021.
Though Martens and Diesel share a common thread with its progressive ideas from design to manufacturing methods, it’s ironic how it still follows the cycle of pushing products every season of the year. Even if other trends and brands will emerge with the next video or photo, Diesel will still make the next “It” item whether it be a bag, shoe or jean. Already proving his chops with the revival, Martens’ legacy for Diesel will be remembered across all generations (especially as Gen Z ages).
Ahead, a compendium of how the brand is paraded by some of its fans today, as seen at its Spring/Summer 2023 show during Milan Fashion Week.
Designer Josh Tirados Channels Childhood Memories Into Capsule For Dover Street Market Singapore