After a four-year run as artistic director, Nicola Formichetti to leave Diesel
In a joint exclusive phone interview, Diesel founder Renzo Rosso and Formichetti, artistic director, spoke in a friendly manner, sounding upbeat about the shared experience and about future prospects at the same time. “The contract expires at the end of December, so there is not that much to say. We’ve had five fantastic years [including early interaction with Formichetti]. It was a fantastic collaboration. I really love very much what was done, and the relationship between us is really special,” Rosso said.
The entrepreneur pointed to Formichetti’s Japanese background, saying that Japan was very inspirational every season, defining it as “the most avant-garde country,” and one that accounts for 21 percent of Diesel’s business. “He also has Italian blood, so he is special. I like him personally, and we complement each other,” Rosso added.
Asked what Formichetti brought to the denim and fashion brand, Rosso answered: “A fil rouge, from the beginning to the end. This was missing before, and the collections had become boring and a problem. His styling especially is amazing.”
Diesel is not naming a successor to the artistic director at the moment. “I believe this kind of company can work differently, and not in this same kind of direction. There are many things coming up, special projects. The market is very different now. We want to be modern, I want to explore,” Rosso explained.
Formichetti described his years at Diesel as “amazing. I’ve had a good time, but we both decided to end it here. I travel a lot to New York and Tokyo. I want to concentrate on my projects, but there will always be a bond between us.”
Formichetti said that when he started at Diesel, he “loved developing [projects] from the beginning to the end, to go into the archives.” He emphasized the “incredible ads” done with Diesel, working with “edgy photographers” and creative minds.
Formichetti took the opportunity to congratulate Rosso and the brand on its 40th anniversary next year. “It’s not the end with Diesel, but I have my own brand Nicopanda. There will be more styling, going deeper with musicians and actors. My dream is to work on a movie,” he concluded.
To be sure, it appears that Formichetti will be keeping busy. He is forging ahead with his alliance with Uniqlo and will continue to do so, according to a spokesman for its parent company Fast Retailing.
Earlier this year, Amazon Fashion Europe teamed with Nicopanda to launch a unisex streetwear capsule range. Amazon’s version of see-now-buy-now during London Fashion Week was geared for Amazon Prime shoppers. There is no word yet if the designer will work with Amazon Fashion again. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company does not have anything to announce at this time.
Kevin Kollenda, who has two companies with Formichetti — a creative agency Two Hustlers and Nicopanda.com — mapped out some of the 2018 business initiatives.
After that “pretty impressive program with Amazon” with its see now-prime now, and another capsule collection in Urban Outfitters, Nicopanda will announce a major partnership with one of North America’s largest retailers, Kollenda said. Set to launch beauty in April, Nicopanda will move into other new categories like publishing. Kollenda is expected to unveil a children’s book detailing the story of Formichetti and Nicopanda in the fourth quarter of 2018. That project is being overseen with help from CAA, which represents Formichetti, as well.
Formichetti has also collaborated with Urban Outfitters for a Nicopanda capsule collection. For the holiday launch, he and some of his fashion-loving friends visited two of the retailer’s New York outposts to show off the women’s and men’s apparel and accessories, and to meet with shoppers. Formichetti is still doing projects with editorial magazines, too, having recently worked with Mario Testino in Paris, Kollenda said. Formichetti is also still creative director of his own magazine Free.
Kollenda said that collaboration will go into next year and other partnerships are also in the works. “Nicola loves playing with people high and low. The brand is going to move into a number of categories and partnerships, and in some cases surprising ones,” he said.
Kollenda continued: “He’s really playing with the brand in 2018 that obviously we have been lathering up and working on in a way that we have not [done] to date. Part of that is really making a brand that is more affordable, accessible and available to all. That really is where the brand is going. So we’ve lowered the price point, we’ve changed our distribution and we’re partnering with people, brands, retailers and companies that are giving access to Gen Y and Z to Nicola’s vision of what a brand should look and feel like. That’s kind of driven by their desires, their needs and their creativity.”
Expanding Nicopanda’s wholesale business globally is another objective, according to Nicopanda chief executive officer Soni Dhesi, who declined to quantify annual sales.
“We want to partner strategically with amazing retailers that speak to who are customer is and who have wonderful relationships with those customers. The second facet is creating our own ecosystem where people can really entrench themselves in the world of Nicopanda and all the amazing creativity that Nicola embodies,” Dhosi said. “Our dream would be to begin pop-ups by the end of next year, but definitely by 2019, and of course having our own freestanding stores within two years.”
Formichetti joined Diesel in 2013 as its first artistic director after two years at Thierry Mugler, where he had been tasked with revving up that brand’s fashion business.
At the time, Rosso told WWD: “I finally met somebody as crazy as I am.” He tapped Formichetti to be responsible for “a total view of the Diesel brand — product, communications, marketing and interior design. I want him to do bigger things, different things. This is the right man to take the next step for a young company and a brand for people who are young of mind.” Diesel’s parent company OTB, formerly Only the Brave, required Rosso’s attention as it was developing into a fashion and manufacturing group that has since grown to comprise Viktor & Rolf, Maison Margiela, Marni, Paula Cademartori, Staff International and Brave Kids.
Formichetti joined shortly after Daniela Riccardi left her position as ceo of Diesel. Formichetti now exits as a new ceo of OTB, Ubaldo Minelli, succeeds Riccardo Stilli, effective January, and the Diesel ceo position remains vacant, after Alessandro Bogliolo’s move from that role to Tiffany & Co. in October, as the company goes through a phase of changes.
OTB closed 2016 with net profits up 8.5 percent to 3.8 million euros, on revenues that were in line with the previous year, totaling 1.58 billion euros. “It was a complex year for Diesel,” Stilli said in March, as it was impacted by the repositioning of the brand and its more selective distribution, which led to a “voluntary reduction” of sales amounting to 200 million euros.
In 2016, Diesel’s revenues totaled 960 million euros, representing about 60 percent of OTB’s sales, but for the first time it operated at a loss, dented by business in Europe and the U.S., as well as in Hong Kong.
For Formichetti, the appointment at Diesel in 2013 represented an affiliation with a brand that was among the first to stir his interest in fashion as an 18-year-old student in London in the mid-Nineties.
Although he’d long been observing the younger man’s work, Rosso sensed he might have found a kindred spirit when he walked into the Mugler pop-up shop that was open in New York’s TriBeCa for two weeks in September 2011. Designed to look like the inside of a bombed-out disco, it threw Rosso’s schedule into disarray. “The presentation and every single item in the store were just unbelievable,” the Diesel founder told WWD in 2013. “I spent four hours going through that store.”
Formichetti, the son of an Italian pilot father and Japanese flight attendant mother, studied architecture in London, but a stint in a local boutique landed him gigs as fashion director and then creative director of Dazed & Confused, followed by an experience at Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion books. Passionate about styling, he also worked with Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen, and brands including Nike, Umbro and H&M.
More famously, he served as Lady Gaga’s stylist and de facto fashion director starting in 2009, but Formichetti has also done styling work for Kim Kardashian, for example.
Formichetti officially debuted in April 2014 in Venice with a show held at the Venetian Arsenal, an over-the-top event that merged fashion, music, video and art. Designs included leather zipped dresses, biker jackets and skinny pants, with an extensive denim section ranging from traditional classic jeans outfits to Nineties-inspired slouchy trousers and a number of laser-cut pieces, which Formichetti at the time described as “denim couture.”
Last year, Diesel held a second megashow in Tokyo to mark the company’s 30th anniversary in that country, presenting the brand’s fall collection readily available in stores and online the same day. Formichetti also curated an exhibition with archival looks from 1978 until today and launched dedicated capsule collections to be distributed in Japan.
He was a pioneer in establishing a web of friends and followers on social media. Formichetti’s ad campaigns for Diesel were aimed at creating an online community. For example, following up on the fall 2013 ad campaign featuring a cast of what he called “modern-day rebels, heroes and just cool people” found on Tumblr and other social media and in his travels, the peripatetic Formichetti assembled a cast of 23 individuals. Both were shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin and styled by Formichetti.
In the summer, Diesel named Stefano Rosso, son of Renzo, as its North American ceo,succeeding Tommaso Bruso, and marking the company’s decision to strengthen business in the North American market.
Rosemary Feitelberg also contributed to this article.