Born in 1955 in Brugine, Italy; married; children: Stefano, Andrea (son), four others.
Addresses: Office—Diesel, Molvena, Italy. Office—Diesel USA, 770 Lexington Ave., 9th Flr., New York, NY 10021.
Worked for Moltex; bought part of the company and changed the name to Diesel, 1978; bought out the Diesel name, 1985; created website, 1995; opened first flagship store in New York, NY, 1996.
Awards: Premio Risultati award, Bocconi Institute, for Best Italian Company of the Year, 1996.
Renzo Rosso is the president and powerhouse behind Diesel, the Italian-based international fashion brand with more than 10,000 points of sale and more than 200 privately owned stores in over 50 countries. Rosso created the brand name in 1978 while part owner of a small clothing manufacturing company, of which he became sole proprietor in 1985. By 2003, Diesel's worldwide revenue rose above $760 million. While the luxury brand's primary product is denim—particularly jeans—it designs, manufactures, and markets trendy consumer products from sunglasses to underwear. Rosso's motto is "Diesel is not my company, it's my life."
Growing up, Rosso lived in northeastern Italy on a farm near a village of about 2,000 people where there was only one car and one television set. Rosso told Brad Goldfarb of Interview, "I think this experience of growing up in a little town, of doing farmwork, was important for me because I learned to respect the value of things . These sorts of experiences give you a real sense of the value of money, and over the years this has helped keep my feet on the floor."
At the age of 15, not liking to study, he decided to attend a newly established Italian industrial textile manufacturing and fashion school where he thought graduation would be easier. Here, he discovered he loved the fashion business and, after graduating in 1975, made clothes for himself and his friends. He dreamed of one day owning his own small business.
He took a job with a small trouser manufacturing company called Moltex. He told Interview's Goldfarb that once he had money in his pocket, he bought a car, a motorcycle, and "went out too much." Then, he got a letter from the owner, "You're a nice guy but I don't want to work with you any more." He pleaded for a second chance and was reemployed with a salary based on how much volume the company did. "This gave me an incredible incentive," he told Goldfarb. "The company completely turned around."
Beginning to comprehend his potential, Rosso decided to move on. The company's owner enticed him to stay by offering him the opportunity to purchase 40 percent of the company. Rosso borrowed the money from his father and changed the company's name to Diesel because, he told Goldfarb, "It's short. It's easy to remember. And it was already a word that was pronounceable—the same way everywhere—and understood worldwide." Rosso's dream was bigger now. In 1985, he bought the entire business, and this would be the beginning of Diesel's remarkable growth.
Rosso then went in search of an international design team. "When I started my first job," he told Interview's Goldfarb, "I would pass through the offices of one of the sister companies on the way home, and I'd meet a lot of people there from all over the world. We would share information, our different mentalities, different ways in which we'd all been brought up." Through this experience, he understood the importance of multicultural input, a component now vital to Diesel's success. At first, Rosso hired every Diesel employee himself, believing it was important he feel a connection with each one. "This doesn't mean we're not professional," he said, "but we maintain this incredible team spirit by working together." By 2003, Rosso left most of the recruitment to his Human Resources department, but still had a final say. "I look for people who can work in a team. I don't want the star, I want the number two," he explained to Sara Manuelli in Design Week. Rosso encourages freedom of expression and design, "hoping they could create a line of clothing perfect for people who follow their own independent path in life," reads the description on the company's website. "The company now views the world as a single, border-less macro-culture."
In 1991, Diesel went international. In 1996, they opened the first U.S. store—on New York's Lexington Avenue; in 2001, their third New York store opened on Union Square making it the twelfth store in the United States. In December of 2002, Rosso flew to the United States to celebrate $100 million of sales with his New York staff, then on to Miami, Florida, to the opening night party of a store in South Beach—his 23rd U.S. store with five more U.S. openings planned for 2003. By February of 2003, the total number of stores worldwide numbered 203.
While 85 percent of the company's business flows from outside Italy, the small Italian town of Molvena is the hub of the organization. From here the business is run, and the team of 40 young international designers produces 3,000 new designs every six months. While Diesel is known for its denim, that fabric constitutes only about half of those designs.
Rosso told Thomas Cunningham of the Daily News Record, "We have [many] different items each season, including shoes, watches, shades, and Diesel Style Lab and 55-DSL. We don't look for big production of key items. Instead we divide the production more evenly. That makes each item more exclusive and more appealing."
When the Union Square store opened, a separate space became the first boutique for 55-DSL, Diesel's board sport brand, the creative force behind which is Rosso's son, Andrea (Rosso has six children total). Catering to the skateboard and snowboard crew, the boutique includes couches and video screens showing boarding videos with dressing rooms designed as toilet and shower rooms, "adding a dose of Diesel wit to the decor," commented the Daily News Record's Cunningham. In addition to the Diesel, Diesel Style Lab, and 55-DSL lines, the company also manufactures a children's line. In 2000, Rosso purchased Staff International, an Italian fashion manufacturing and distributing company that produces the NewYorkIndustrie brand and licensed brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Martin Margiela, and Dsquared.
Rosso envisioned customizing each store to the culture in which it is located. "It's quite impossible, but it's a dream," he told the Daily News Record's Cunningham. "Because the customers [at our Union Square store] are kids, they are fashionable and trendy, and at Lexington Avenue they are richer, more interested in the upper end." Rosso makes sure every Diesel store is stocked with merchandise unique to that store and its clients. "Different stores, different displays, create interest . Companies like Gucci, Prada, and Armani always have the same display in all their stores. Our policy is much more difficult to manage and we really have to have people that know how to do more than just read a manual but that are actually creative," he explained to the Daily News Record's Courtney Colavita.
Rosso, for now, has decided to keep the company private. A businessman with his feet on the ground, he has been twice tempted to put it on the stock exchange, but decided that is too much of a headache and can cause too many mistakes. Rather than rewarding his employees with shares—he reason he considered going public—he decided to reward them with bonuses based on sales volume.
In the 21st century, Rosso moved beyond just working in fashion. He supported the Online Flash Film Festival, which was held in May of 2002 in Barcelona, Spain. The company also runs events such as the Diesel U Music awards. Rosso published a nightlife guide in partnership with the Little Black Book. However, he did not leave fashion far behind. In November of 2003, the company launched a jewelry collection for men and women.
When asked whether he fears the increasing competition from high-end denim companies like Lucky Jeans and Paper Denim & Cloth, Rosso scoffed. He explained to Colavita in the Daily News Record, "In the past 25 years, we've seen many ups and downs in denim, but actually I like when there's a crisis in the denim market because only the true professionals remain . I don't really think there are other [denim] companies out there that really have as much know-how and experience as Diesel."
BusinessWeek, February 10, 2003, p. 64.
Daily News Record, July 30, 2001; December 9, 2002; September 15, 2003, p. 14.
Design Week, July 10, 2003, p. 15.
Interview, November 1998.
"Renzo Russo, The Man Behind Diesel," Diesel, http://www.diesel.com/companyinfo/renzorosso/ (December 7, 2004).
Africa News Service, December 9, 2002.
—Marie L. Thompson