Since its inception in 1978, Diesel has demonstrated the Italian flair for irony, approaching everything from crime to the Roman Catholic Church with irreverence and high-fashion sophistication. Picture a sexy nun in Diesel denim and habit and you have a good sense of what this is about. Another example of the nothing's-sacred approach is the fashion company's Africa campaign. The ads are presented as covers of the satirical newspaper, The Daily African. Cover story: The EuroAid Festival in Nairobi, dedicated to providing Europeans and Americans with much-needed food and other aid. Featuring models enjoying lux living in Africa, the campaign adjures: 'Let's not forget the suffering people of Europe and America.' Point taken. Diesel's reputation is firmly set as a debunker of the status quo. Recently, one met with Maurizio Marchiori, VP of Marketing and 17-year Diesel veteran, at the flagship store in New York. Wearing jeans from the company's 'Work Hard' collection (new denim made to look dirty and old), Marchiori discussed their campaigns and their collaboration with 'creative partner' (n.b., not 'agency of record') KesselsKramer in Holland.

What is the history of your brand?
Our first approach to our brand communications was, 'We have creative people inside. Why do we need to go to an outside agency?' We probably can do everything by ourselves; after a couple of months we realized we needed to work with professionals. We pitched around the world, looking for an agency that would be able to work with our creative people. Normally, the agency says, 'Okay, give us the brief, and we'll come back with ideas.' But we thought that wasn't a good way to work. Maybe we would give the agency ideas, and they would develop them. This meant that the communication would come from people that were living day by day with Diesel, people who knew our goals and direction. Most of the big agencies that we met at the time said, 'No. Why do you want to do our work?' Finally, we found a very small, independent Swedish agency, Paradiset. They thought, 'Why not? That would be a good challenge, to be integrated in the company.' This mix was the secret to the success of our communications.

As of 2001, we began working with KesselsKramer in Holland, but the system is still the same. Sometimes the ideas come from us, sometimes from KesselsKramer. It's not a question of: 'Here's the brief, you come back with ideas.' People at Diesel whose jobs are not specifically involved with our communications, the head designer, the sales people, the owner of the company, are part of the process, with, of course, the creative partner. It's not a specific, defined process, but the meetings are constant, via phone, video conference, they come to us, we go to them.

In this magazine, we don't often do stories on fashion advertising, because so much of it tends to be about the photographer, or about the model. Diesel is different in that sense.
In our ads, you never know who the photographer is. In the past, we worked with the best, young photographers, with young kids from Sweden, with David LaChapelle, but we never show the name. And we never use supermodels. This is because the photographer needs to develop our ideas, and be part of the process. We include the photographer for a certain period of time in the creative team, and they will be part of the process. In the end, it's not the Diesel campaign by David LaChapelle; it's the Diesel campaign. That's it.

What's the philosophy of the 'Work Hard' campaign?
The 'Work Hard' campaign was a reaction to the fact that in this technological life, where everything is virtual, you don't touch anything anymore. You lose the physical part of doing work, and the satisfaction that comes from it. The big problem in life now is that 70 percent of people are not happy with what they do. You spend more than 1/3 of your life at work. In the end, you say, 'But did I do something?' The campaign is intended to stimulate people to say, 'I need to have passion about what I do.' It can be something very simple. It doesn't matter what it is. The campaign uses exaggeration to turn an image of someone doing a small action into a depiction of hard work. You need to do what you like. That means going back to passion, risking a little. This is the message behind the campaign.

It sounds like a brand philosophy
It is. In our history, since 1978, there were two headlines. First of all, 'Only the brave.' From 1978 to 1990, that was our payoff. The ads were about breaking the rules, being different and provocative. When the company became a little more mature, we shifted to the idea to: 'Successful Living.' What does that mean? It means feeling good. Being happy. That is the best starting point for everything you do in your life. If you have something specific to wake up to every morning, the simple actions will be done with energy. You will say I'm ready to be out of the house. I want to drive the world. In this way, you are never a follower, you are a driver.

Which came first in the case of 'Work Hard?' The theme of campaign or the collection?
'The theme of the collection came first, after which point we integrated it into the campaign. In the past, our collections were separate from the campaigns, because the advertising was used to build the brand. When Diesel became a brand, we integrated the product with the communications. This entire collection was devised to reflect the act of working hard, under the sun, under the rain, and rest and relaxation after work. Then we put the same theme into the ad campaign, the window displays, the store design, and events. For example, we opened the store a few weeks ago in Portland, and for the event, the bartender was dressed like a worker, dirty with a construction hat. Instead of being ready, the store was 'under construction.'

What role do focus groups have?
We never use focus groups. Our way to test is, 'Do we like it, or not, or maybe?' We never go out with a specific process of testing, but I do have one example. The Africa campaign. When we did the Africa campaign, the company was nervous. We were touching on these very delicate, sensitive problems, such as the third world and famine, with irony. They predicted that people would misunderstand it. There would be a backlash. Black people would be offended. At that stage, I said, 'Okay, let me go to the United States for a couple of days.' I met with a few sophisticated magazines. Magazines like Paper, Interview, and Vibe. And I presented the idea. I said what do you think about this? The reaction was: That's so intelligent. That presents real problems from a different angle. And that was the most simple kind of testing we've done. We never go to a market research agency. We never do focus groups. We do what we like. Because we change the campaign every six months, it's also not a big drama if one campaign is good or not good.

Have you ever gotten in trouble?
Yes. Not for the Africa campaign, but one campaign was for a new system of stone washing denim. In the ad, we showed models under water, with cement blocks tied to their feet. ['They're not your first jeans,' reads the copy, 'but they could be your last. At least you'll leave a beautiful corpse.'] When we broke the campaign in Argentina, many people were sad and upset because during the revolution, young people were massacred in this way. But we explained that it was not our intention, that this style is who we are. In the end, after we communicated in this way, they thought maybe it was good, because years later, we brought new attention to the tragedy.

How is the environmental design of your stores part of your message?
The interior design of the store is drawn from 'Successful Living.' Successful Living is about comfort. It's the reason we have a caf, in our store. It's the reason we play specific music during specific periods of time in the year. When we change the ad campaign, we change the details of the store. We reinvigorate it. The goal is to create a store where you feel good, and where you don't receive an aggressive message: 'Hey, buy this product. Hey, pay attention to this price.' When you go inside, you think, nice music, for example. It may look like a room in your house. In the meantime, when you feel comfortable, you go to touch the product, and see if you like it. Our target wants people who speak intelligently and softly to them. We suggest, 'Hey, come with us. Maybe you'll like us, maybe you'll feel comfortable.' Today, people are smarter about design. Everything now relates to atmosphere. That is why design is so important in every aspect of Diesel's communications, from our ads to our window displays.

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