Global plans fuel Diesel’s brand

Cult fashion retailer Diesel has designs on the global market, and is looking to the high street, says Tom Bawden.

Italian fashion chain Diesel is gearing up to make the transition from cult label to mega-brand and has just appointed Conran Design Group and New York consultancy Sisman Design to work on global strategy development.

This is the first time the client has used an outside consultancy for strategic work and indicates the scale of the exercise it is undertaking.

In the past Diesel has brought in Redjacket and John Herbert Partnership on creative work.

The design-led project will look at ways of strengthening Diesel’s high-street presence, which, in the UK, currently comprises just three stand-alone stores.

It will also review the entire Diesel brand, including store and concession design, retail identity, packaging, labelling and literature, and look at extending the brand to attract a broader customer base.

In going for a mass-market presence, Diesel risks losing its core values of irreverence, irony, attitude and innovation embodied in its distinctive print advertising. These values make it the kind of hip label which trendy 16-30-year-olds want to wear.

CDG managing director David Worthington acknowledges the danger of alienating the chain’s existing customer base, while failing to attract new ones. He is giving little away at this stage as to how he expects to overcome the apparent dichotomy.

“We are advising Diesel to consolidate its brand through various measures, to give it a stronger identity. From there we can move on and develop into new areas,” concedes Worthington.

Diesel founder Renzo Rosso, who takes an active part in the brand’s design strategy, has mooted older men, older women and children as target groups worth investigating.

The company specialises in denim goods, fashion items and accessories, which currently include perfume, shoes, stationery and sunglasses. All are designed in-house.

Further down the line it is likely to extend the range, adding more items, such as watches and home-decoration products, says Diesel creative head Wilbert Das.

After 20 years in business Diesel’s products are sold in 30 standalone stores and 11 000 branded concessions, and as wholesale goods in unbranded “corner” areas in 80 countries. But with a turnover in 1997 of 188m it is still a relatively small player.

Diesel opened its first standalone store in Stockholm three years ago and rolled it out to New York and London in 1996. The first concession opened in 1992.

Standalone stores and concessions now account for around 65 per cent of turnover and Diesel is looking to fuel its expansion through stepping up this side of the business. The remainder is generated through wholesale. The company currently has standalone stores in Glasgow, Birmingham and London in the UK, and plans another outlet in London and in one Manchester.

“While the [standalone] retail outlets have been extremely successful, they have put a big strain on our business, particularly in areas such as changing rooms and till points, which we hadn’t really had to deal with before,” says Diesel UK marketing manager Jethro Marshall.

He says standalone outlets require more subtlety than concessions which have to shout loudly to compete with other retail brands.

Store design strategy has previously been set by Das, in conjunction with Rosso, Diesel’s commercial department, the communications department and the in-house design team.

“Our work is accelerating and we felt it was necessary to work with big external design groups [CDG and Sisman] with more experience in this area,” says Das.

But despite the appointment of external consultancies, the fashion retailer’s in-house design operation will continue to take centre stage. The team includes new media, graphics, accessories, interiors, fashion and literature designers.

While almost every client and consultancy in town claims to be unique, Diesel would appear to be the real thing. It has created a clear brand ideology, within which designers are free to express themselves.

“The success of Diesel is down to having a centralised design operation [at its headquarters in Molvena, near Venice] which has enabled us to create a strong and consistent image,” says Marshall.

Real Time Studio director Phil Jones says: “There is a fantastic vibe [at the headquarters]. There’s real style there, music blaring out and a really young crowd. It’s a great environment and I think that feeds through into everything they do.”

Real Time has just completed a virtual shop for Diesel and it is in the process of revamping Diesel’s website.

Das encourages his in-house designers to express themselves. “I get a lot of young designers straight from school and aim to recruit more in the future. I like the fact that they have no experience and are not restricted by other companies’ practices. By giving them this freedom, they come up with really interesting stuff,” he says.

This process will be on display at Diesel Retrospective/Futurespective, an exhibition at Mission in London’s Notting Hill, starting on 28 July.

The challenge is to channel the left-field designs generated in this environment into the mainstream, while remaining alternative. Indie group Pulp has made the transition from alternative minority to alternative mainstream band, and retained its fan-base. So it can be done.

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