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Diesel unveiled its first full collection under Formichetti’s watch on April 3 with a fall show in Venice. “He has brought freshness and youth to Diesel, which needed it—it needed a lift,” says Rosso, admitting he had been spending more time on building OTB than Diesel. “We are repositioning Diesel at a more premium level. We had 35 years of success and growth. That’s a lot of years. But the rest of the group is very high end and I want Diesel to be on the same level.”
Rosso believes both Diesel and OTB reflect his persona. Asked to define himself, he quickly responds: “A creative entrepreneur. I have always been an entrepreneur, and have grown over time both my creative and entrepreneurial traits.”
He recalls recruited managerial talent outside the fashion world from early on, for example, Armin Broger from Disney, Luca Fuso from Danone, and Giovanni Pungetti from Unilever, who is still chief executive officer at Maison Martin Margiela.
“I was young and ‘in love’ with them, I learned and assimilated their managerial mentality,” he says.
Discussing OTB, his mantra is: “It’s more important to be cool than to be big.” Rosso believes this is “the only weapon” he has facing large and powerful groups. “Our strategies are mapped out based on our means. I can’t go against groups such as Kering or LVMH.” He believes OTB offers an alternative of simpatia, which translates as “endearing.” Japan is the main market for both Diesel and OTB, with 20 percent of sales, followed by North America, with 16 percent.
His goal is for OTB to be “a group alternative to the world of fashion, fresh and modern. I talk to our customers. Young people like my style.”
And Rosso enjoys working with young people because they keep him young, he says. “They help me understand their needs. This way, it’s easier to produce what they need.”
His newest acquisition is Marni, which OTB took over at the end of 2012. Rosso has been working to restructure management at the company founded by Gianni Castiglioni and his wife, creative director Consuelo Castiglioni. “We are focusing on the signature line and eliminated the Edition line, which meant cutting sales by 30 percent,” says Rosso. “It was a brave choice, but it had to be done.”
He says the overall restructuring of OTB is going well, as he fine-tunes the organization, with communication, business development, finance, legal, human resources and information technology servicing all the brands.
“This expertise is added value and power, we can write out global contracts and exploit synergies, with less costs and more efficiency,” he says.
Rumors constantly swirl around Rosso and his next potential acquisition. He still speaks wistfully of the missed opportunity to buy Valentino, which was unexpectedly snapped up by Mayhoola for Investments in July 2012.
Rosso confirms he had been interested in taking a stake in Stone Island last year. Talks broke down at one point, and in January owner Carlo Rivetti decided to pull back on his search for a business partner.
Asked what kind of labels, designers or companies trigger his interest, Rosso says he looks for “an alternative to a luxury brand. Stone Island is a good example, with one iconic product—the jacket that combines technology and treatments, in line with my own denim.”
As other examples of the types of houses he’d want to look for, he cites Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Alexander Wang as “perfect brands and not established.” His interest in Valentino was piqued because “while an iconic label, it had a style that was already in an evolution phase and right for the modern world, with fantastic designers and an excellent ceo,” referring to Maria Grazia Chiuri, Pierpaolo Piccioli and ceo Stefano Sassi.
The names of Nicolas Ghesquière, before his move to Louis Vuitton, and John Galliano have also been associated with Rosso. “There’s nothing to it. It would be a dream to work with either one. But I think Galliano is more focused on the U.S. now.”
He waves away any notion of a backlash, following the designer’s anti-Semitic comments that led to his firing at Dior. “It would be good for both of us,” says Rosso.
His thirst for new creative talent led him to set up ITS, the International Talent Support contest, in Trieste in 2002. Rosso was also a mentor for the 2013 French fashion prize ANDAM.
He joined the board of Italy’s Chamber of Fashion last year and is deeply involved in the reorganization of the association with the likes of Prada’s Patrizio Bertelli and Tod’s Diego Della Valle. “This is the first time that there is an accord between the members,” he says. “We want for Italian fashion to become increasingly more important.”
While fashion is clearly Rosso’s bread and butter, his creativity finds another outlet in Red Circle Investments, his family’s private investment holding company. In January, it invested in organic food retailer EcorNaturaSí, with its namesake 113 sales points throughout Italy and another 300 Cuorebio doors.
“There is a huge interest in bio. To be able to eat well is the real luxury of the future,” he says, adding that he is contributing to packaging, interior design and marketing. His aim is to inspire young people to start working the land again. “I hear this is happening in San Francisco.”
Rosso is in the midst of transforming his Diesel Farm, which produces wine and olive oil, to an eco-friendly farm. “It will take almost three years,” he notes.
The entrepreneur bought Diesel Farm, located in Marostica, on the hills close to Vicenza and Molvena and not far from Breganze, in 1994 and restructured it, launching the first limited-edition bottles of his wine in 2003.