With ‘Deisel’ stunt, brand founder Renzo Rosso reinvigorates a tired label

Diesel founder Renzo Rosso wants to tell the world that his 40-year-old brand is returning to its roots. To do that, the brand is up to its old antics, including opening a pop-up store of “fake” products.

“Diesel is back,” said Rosso, who is also the president and founder of Diesel’s parent company OTB Group, which also owns brands like Maison Margiela, Marni and Vivienne Westwood. “Diesel is modern. Diesel is a unique brand. Diesel is still alive with the real irony and with the real DNA that it used to have before.”

As part of a new campaign focused on embracing imperfection, Diesel quietly opened a store on February 1 selling purposely misspelled “Deisel” logos. From the outside, the store situated on Canal Street in New York City’s Chinatown appeared to be a fraudulent operation. However unbeknownst to consumers, the seemingly fake products were actually authentic, limited-edition Diesel items.

Diesel shared a video early this morning on its website and social channels depicting footage from inside the store from earlier this month, featuring a man posing as a sales associate trying to woo confused shoppers who were convinced they were being duped. Now that the secret is out — thanks also to support from rapper Gucci Mane, who posted multiple posts about the campaign on Instagram — the store is holding a “grand reopening” today.

As of 1 p.m. on Friday, February 9, the store had already drawn a line weaving down Canal Street, competing with the streetwear enthusiasts that had already lined up for a sneaker drop at nearby Stadium Goods. The shop will be open through February 13 (or until inventory runs out), after which an e-commerce site will be available to European consumers to purchase the products.

While drinking a glass of wine from an annex next to the pop-up store on Canal Street on Friday, Rosso was quick to dispel that the design was a nod to Supreme, noting Diesel’s red and white logo had been around for nearly two decades before Supreme was even founded. As people waited in line outside to get into the store, Rosso socialized with special guests including influencers like Sebastian Tribbie Matheson, founder of the popular Instagram meme account @youvegotnomale and a contributor to Gucci’s buzzy meme campaign in 2017.

Rosso said the aim of the campaign is to make a tongue-in-cheek statement on authenticity by strategically placing the store in New York City’s Chinatown, a destination long known for its underground market of knockoff designer goods. The stunt is part of the brand’s Go With The Flaw campaign, which was first teased on Instagram in late January using a promotional video depicting a couple dealing with physical imperfections. 

It also builds upon recent tongue-in-cheek efforts like an October 2017 advertisement featuring Rosso searching for a “chair executive officer” to replace the vacancy left by Alessandro Bogliolo stepping down as CEO by finding a new person who would, literally, sit in his chair. It also plays into ongoing innovation within the company, like the launch of its Denim Lab in May 2017 focused on new product design. 

After spending 15 years at a distance from Diesel to pursue other parts of the business, Rosso said he is very focused on reviving what he feels to be a loss of identity from the brand’s early days, when it was heralded for its flashy and creative marketing campaigns. (As a privately owned company, Diesel does not disclose sales, but Rosso’s return likely indicates struggling performance.)

“I have never designed anything in my life. I’m not a designer,” he said. “But I can drive an idea with my DNA, my history, and with my background, to do Diesel like it used to be, but with the modernity of 2018.”

As part of the ongoing revitalization, Rosso brought on a new crop of creative talent, including creative agency Publicis New York. Social media was at the core of the campaigns, an area Rosso said the brand is increasingly focusing on. Rosso said the brand will soon release another stunt on social media, in which an individual will jump from atop St. Marcus tower in Venice.

Gucci Mane and Rosso walk around the pop-up store, in a post on Instagram. 

Andy Bird, chief creative officer at Publicis who oversaw the campaign, wrote in an email that Diesel’s history of nonconformity made it an easy fit for an effort of this structure.

“Only a brand with a fierce legacy of innovation has the courage to storm fashion week conventions with a knockoff brand and sell streetwear style on Canal Street,” he said. “Diesel has been breaking conventions in the fashion world for 40 years. Here they are again, taking a direct-to-consumer twist on fashion marketing, smack in the center of one of the largest fashion-centric events in the world. Now that’s a real fashion statement,” he said.

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