photographers. graphic designers and artists to work with them. It was a brilliant strategy. one that paid dividends and produced some of the most inventive commercial art (and commercial short ﬁlms) of the past l5 years. In an odd perversion of what Guy Debord and the Situationists articulated as a ‘detoumement'. in which an image. message or artefact is lifted out of context to create a new meaning. Diesel created a fiefdom of eccentric marketing. aggressive irony and fringe absorption that made any resistance futile.
Such ruthlessness is not a version of the Italian clothing company's commercial history that Diesel’s 43-year-old creative director Wilbert Das recognises.
‘When I first arrived at Diesel in 1988. there was just a few of us in the creative team and we didn‘t know what marketing was. we‘d never even had a marketing director. There was no master plan. it was just a fun way of working and showing people how things can be done in a different way which takes quite high risks but really works.‘
It is true that even the most cursory research into this fascinating company will lead to one of two conclusions: that Diesel Clothing is the most inspired and
OF THE BRANDS
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96 THE LIST 5-19 Oct 2006
accidentally influential branded company in the world. or that in the hills of rural Molvena in northeast Italy Diesel owner Rosso has created a cult of almost Pagan proportion.
Das has no such
conspiracy talk. ‘There are lots of
codes in the fashion and advertising industry that say there are only one or two ways to do things and we just thought we didn't want to do this. Our first campaigns were a follow-on from what Iinglish designer Bryan Baderman had been doing in the l98()s in the Diesel
catalogues. It was a kind of
anarchic vision: the only thing we wanted to do was stand out. At the time all the clothes campaigns were
Jom Nell Boorman as be dramatically embarks on hlS journey towards a brand-free life.
promptly at 6.45pm
RecopUOn to follow ,/ until 9pm
very stylish. black and white images of people staring into nothingness. We wanted to use Technicolor. have loads of things happening in the picture. comment
‘FOR ALL THE MONEY I HAVE DEVOT ED TO THESE BRANDS, I HAVE NO IDEA WHO I AM'
on the ridictllottsness of American society while always being really honest about what we were: a company who sold clothes.‘ Accusations of corporate hoodwinking really don't fit well with Diesel and its remarkably complete brand history. For one thing. I)iesel is fairly small beans when compared to the bigger fashion boys (the company owns 2()() worldwide stores and has 3500 employees compared to (iap's l52.()()(). Annual sales in 2005 were SLZ billion compared to (iap‘s Slb billion). While tnost of Diesel‘s jeans are made in Italy. they do depend on some Third World work forces for the creation of their other fashion pieces. That said. the company states that outsourced
workspaces are thoroughly researched. and educational
facilities are made available to the workers. at Diesel‘s cost.
Creative director Wilbert Das (far left) is responsible tor Diesel's famously subversive branding and advertising campaigns. However. although Diesel manages to avoid the pitfalls of other ‘straightforward' brands like Nike. it still incurs the wrath ot anti-brand evangelist. Neil Doorman (bottom left)
Kevin Roberts. the CH) of Saatchi and Saatchi has a totally different take on I)iesel‘s place in the world. 'I)ies'e| is one of the millennium's living. throbbing Iovemarks (marketing speak for successful companies that consumers completely trust). A lovemark has to have mystery. sensuality and intimacy. Those words could have been written for Diesel! Plus. Diesel stores attract like-minded people. so there's a terrilic sense of community.‘
It may be this corporate need to create a community which will be the undoing of Diesel and its many imitators. As brave. enticing. fun. bizarre and exhilarating as the DieselWorld seems. what would you really gain from living there'.’
As Neil Boorman points out on his blog. his attempts at branded self-identity have only left him with “a ntnnbed sense of dissatisfaction'. ‘For all the time and money I have devoted to collecting these brands. I have absolutely no idea who I am. For every new material extension of my character. I become more distant from myself.‘
As Quentin Crisp once wrote. ‘Fashion is what you adopt when you don‘t know who you are.‘ Self- knowledge. education and an ageing demographic may see Diesel and their ilk move the goalposts as never before in the coming decades.
Diesel Heaven, the Fall/Winter campaign 2006 is at selected outlets.