Diesel, a story about success(ful living)

Diesel has undergone a major journey over the past two decades, from being a must-have fashion brand in the 2000s, thanks to its provocative advertising and iconic pieces, to gradually losing its sparkle in recent years climaxing in bankruptcy just before the pandemic. Now, however, under the ruling of Bruges-born creative director Glenn Martens, Diesel has been resurrected as one of the stars of the Milanese fashion scene.

The background

Diesel filed for bankruptcy back in 2019, after the brand suffered mounting losses in sales. One year later, in February 2020, Massimo Piombini was appointed as Diesel ceo.

“My competitors aren’t Levi’s or Balenciaga”, Piombini told Vogue Business in 2020, “My competitors are the gym, Netflix. Diesel has to be a part of your life.” This idea came as the brand motto: “For Successful Living” was rebooted in Diesel campaigns in 2020. Moreover, Piombini felt the need for a change in marketing, as he decided the customers were in need of more authenticity and entertainment.

Although Piombini is no longer Diesel’s ceo – he was replaced by Eraldo Poletto in July 2022 – board members at Diesel have said that Piombini has successfully fulfilled his tasks for the repositioning plan at the Italian brand.

Penélope Silva Miranda, fashion essayist at Documoda, explains: “Massimo Piombini wanted to set Diesel apart from other fashion brands. Rather than becoming a hype brand for a short period of time, he wanted to create a strong brand with loyal customers who will always buy Diesel, while at the same time staying relevant to attract new customers.”

Glenn Martens, a fresh start for Diesel

The ultimate power move from Diesel was to appoint a new creative director. Glenn Martens arrived at Diesel in October 2020, and since then the brand has reinstated itself as a trailblazer name in the Milanese fashion scene.

Martens was no stranger to the brand even before that, as he collaborated with Diesel for the 2018 Red Tag collection. Renzo Rosso, Diesel’s founder, says that he was fond of Martens after their initial collaboration in 2017. He now appreciates how Martens integrates Diesel’s heritage into a new look, while preserving the brand’s DNA.

Martens arrived at Diesel at a turning point. He was able to bring back the old-timey glory of the Italian denim brand while pushing forward a modern narrative, something he is good at because of his work at Y/Project. New York-based brand strategist Jané Greer explains: “Glenn Martens has been presented to the public and to Diesel consumers as a reputable and skilled master of denim and design through his work at Y/Project and Jean Paul Gaultier couture.”


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Although he has not been creative director at Diesel for long, the Belgian designer has set a high standard of innovation with up-cycled denim, embellished windbreakers, ultra-miniskirts, and washed-out leather jackets. Many of the items from the AW22 and SS23 collections made waves on Instagram as soon as the models hit the runway.

In fact, according to the Lyst index and roundups of yearly rankings of brands and products, Diesel jumped 31 spots only in the first quarter of 2021. For Q2 of 2022, Diesel jumped six more positions and reaches 9th place in the Hottest Brands Index List, with a 317% rise in demand for the cutting-edge accessory that made headlines this year, the 1DR bag.

It seems like the 1DR accessories are responsible for the high traffic. The bag’s little sister, the 1DR belt, has also been responsible for a surge in social media rates.  Bucharest-based stylist and trends watchdog Silvia Cristescu has recently bought the 1DR logo belt in black. “I find it cool, sexy, fresh. I was hooked since his (Glenn Martens’) first collection at the brand. And this is why I bought the belt.”, Silvia proceeds to motivate her newest buy. “I’d also like to buy the bag in the foreseeable future, the 1-DR bag,” she continues. 

In fact, the brand has recently launched a campaign featuring the signature 1DR bag centered around Diesel’s hedonistic irreverence. The campaign debuted in July 2022 on Instagram with a steamy picture of a naked man on the beach, with the bag placed between his legs. The picture was captioned, in a very Gen Z way, ‘A big D energy’.


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Diesel for Gen Z

What accounts for the surge in popularity, apart from the show-stopping designs, could be the brand’s new initiatives to champion issues the industry is facing, such as sustainability. In fact, the brand has engaged in a denim circularity project in Tunisia which is meant to produce new materials from old denim fabrics.

“Diesel is targeting Gen Z”, Greer clarifies. “When a company brands itself to a particular audience, it’s not sufficient to only address the products that they would like to purchase but also address the political and cultural disparities that the audience hopes to see change. This includes sustainability, race and gender diversity, body inclusivity, and many more.” This explains the brand’s efforts towards sustainability, an issue Gen Z is highly interested in.

But what does Gen Z truly think about Diesel? See _shift’s survey results in the slideshow below.

Diesel has always targeted a young audience, and its bold campaigns were often guidebooks for the youth in the brand’s golden age. “I remember in the early 2000s, Diesel was a sought-after brand,” Silva Miranda at Documoda adds. Therefore, it was only natural for Diesel to bring back the pleasure-seeker DNA.

Diesel’s last runway show for ss23 made headlines before the show even started, as A-listers received a butt plug as an invitation. “In 2005, WWD wrote an article about Diesel’s sexual campaigns, and the director of communications at the time responded by saying ‘Diesel has always been provocative’. Now, using butt plugs as show invites really plays into the strategy,” Silva Miranda concludes.

In fact, the newest provocative Diesel item which caused buzz on social media is the velcro belt-skirt. Impractical by the words of some, conceptual and creative by the words of others, and undoubtedly perfect for Paris Hilton (cause skirts should only be the size of a belt!) the buttocks-unfriendly mini has been trending for the last week on TikTok.

It’s definitely clear that Diesel’s recipe for success is a mix of daring design, resourceful and well-targeted marketing strategy, and a passionate audience to entertain. Diesel’s focus on finding a new formula for denim that centers around craftsmanship, yet gets the people talking is a limelight in a trend-saturated fashion environment. “Nothing exemplifies brand legacy like a quality product that you’ll always remember for years to come and Diesel has retained that message in their branding,” Greer concludes.

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