What I've learned: Renzo Rosso
Renzo Rosso is a busy man. The founder of Diesel and president of OTB Group - the parent company of Maison Martin Margiela, Marni, Viktor & Rolf and Diesel - has an unshakeable work ethic and is not afraid to learn from his mistakes. He shares his live lessons with Esquire:
I was born on a farm and had a simple education. My father said I had to go to secondary school because my sister and older brother didn’t go. So I chose the fashion school because it was easy.
I started working on a tractor when I was five years-old. If today your children go to work at that age maybe you’ll end up in jail! But it was a different period. We came out of World War II and we were angry.
When you’re angry, you desire things more.
That moment after World War II in the ’60s, there was a revolution, and I grew up in that time. It was an era of peace, and rock ‘n’ roll with the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Children were going against their parents and growing their hair.
I produced my first pair of jeans when I was 15 years-old. And from that moment I was a success, because my friends liked it. So every night I worked with the machine and my mother to produce them, which gave me money to go out and party, which is what you want to do at that age.
After I finished [that first pair], the material felt very rigid. So — don’t ask me why, because I don't know — I went to the cement floor and started rubbing the denim until it became softer. And that’s how it all started, and all the brands went in this direction. It was instinct rather than genius. Today we have a secret room where we just do special treatments. Half the time the people work without considering what the designer wants.
I started working on a tractor when I was five years-old. If today your children go to work at that age maybe you’ll end up in jail!
My boss tried to fire me from my first job. I persuaded him to pay me by the quantity of my production instead. My salary at the time used to be the equivalent of 240 euros [Dhs1,000] a month, and I increased it 10 times. How did I do it? Well, I was like every other young guy, I just wanted to enjoy life, but when people try to squeeze you then you react. And the way I reacted was to say, I can do this. So I started my company. But when I began, I never thought I would become who I am today.
All I knew was that I wanted to make jeans. And I wanted to do what I liked. Afterwards, where to go with a plan, that comes with experience and mistakes. Without mistakes you can never grow.
I remember when I was 20 and arrived in New York. It was my first time out of Italy but I felt at home immediately. I’d seen so much of it in films growing up and I had so much desire to get there.
It’s not important how big you are in life, because sometimes being smaller is more beautiful than being big. But if you do whatever you like, you can enjoy every single day of your life.
To sell our products in the United States in the beginning, I went to shoe stores, bag stores, second-hand stores, and I asked them to give me one metre of their wall space. I told them, “If you put my product up and you sell less than what you sell today, I will pay you the difference”. But I never paid the difference, because they sold much more.
How did I convince them? I think because when I talk to someone, I am very passionate, and they see my passion. At the time, jeans from other major brands cost around $50 and we started at $100. But if I put on the table a pair of Diesel jeans compared to all the other brands, I can show you how many of the details are different.
I used to do charity a lot without talking about it. But a friend told me it was important to show my name, because the more you can put your name in front, the more others will follow you.
Is it the duty of the wealthy to contribute? Well today, multinational corporations can become more important than governments. Because governments they can just act in their area. But multinationals are everywhere in the world. And when they decide, they can just go ahead with it, whereas governments are slower. So the more multinationals get bigger, the more responsibility they have.
My culture is about quality, and quality for me is living in simplicity. Take care of your body the best you can. Live somewhere beautiful and comfortable. And the last, and probably the most important, thing is having quality food.
We have a company [H-Farm] that finances start-ups. When I see all these kids and the way they approach these jobs that don’t even exist yet, I get this energy to take back to my company.
You have to learn, always. And if you take the time to listen to people you can learn a lot. And people today, they don’t want to listen. So if you listen to people when they talk, you gain their respect and you can also learn a lot.
I got my first tattoo when I was 50. I did it because the day I die, I want show that someone lived in this body. So mine all have meaning. But I don’t like people that get tattoos all over, because, to me, tattoos have to mean something special.