Diesel's chief executive Alessandro Bogliolo believes that to survive in the luxury retail sector, sometimes you have to sacrifice sales.
The retailer first became successful in the 80s as one of the first brands to make denim a high-end fashion item. But, since joining the business in 2013, Bogliolo has been fighting to maintain its luxury image.
It has become commonplace into find designer brands stacked up at knock-down prices in department stores. However, in 2014, Bogliolo recognised this trend would erode Diesel’s premium credentials.
“We had gone a little over-distributed,” he said. “We wanted to make sure our product was in the best stores, where our customers shop.”
So Bogliolo set about “exiting certain doors” and trimming down the business’ wholesale clients. It was a tough decision; the move wiped out €110m (£93m) worth of Diesel’s wholesale sales.
However, two years later, several struggling designer brands have started following suit; a practice now known as premiumisation.
Diesel’s turnover stood at €960m last year, a slight decrease on the year before. However, Bogliolo says he made the changes to ensure Diesel’s long-term success, rather than to gain an immediate salesboost.
“Even if the last two years have not been easy…. I’m glad we started this modernisation process before our competitors,” he says. “When we decided that it was not obvious, the market was easier at the time.”
Now, Diesel is embarking on a new strategy to prove to customers that its product is worthy of its price-tag: Bogliolo is spearheading an initiative to make sure every Diesel outlet worldwide is providing the right customer experience.
He is sending out a small army of sales representatives to every location where shoppers can find Diesel products. They will assess the different outlets on various criteria, including the location, size and the categories of Diesel it sells, and come up with a score. If outlets don’t make the grade, Diesel will set about trying to improve them.
Outlets which are completely unsuitable for the brand will be axed, but Bogliolo insists relatively few will go. As part of Diesel’s store review in France, around 10 to 15 per cent closed, he said.
“This is not a cut, it is not a clearing, this is not a punishment,” he said. “It is about setting standards.”
Diesel wants to make sure its customer experience is top-notch, which is essential now shoppers can buy jeans online.
“[The UK] is the market in Europe where standards of retail are very high, and competition is very high,” he says. “So definitely it is about the experience.”
Diesel stores are also a place where the business can show off its “irreverent” personality, Bogliolo says.
And Diesel is certainly a brand that enjoys broadcasting its opinions. Its newest advertising campaign, promoted under the slogan “Make Love Not Walls”, is a clear attack on the politics of US President Donald Trump.
Clad in Diesel jeans, models and dancers break through a concrete wall, celebrate a gay marriage, and dance around an inflatable, rainbow-coloured tank. It was released just weeks after Trump’s inauguration.
“The message is not to shock people, but it is to make people think,” Bogliolo says.
“There was a huge response, not only in terms of coverage, but also private individuals who have been writing and supporting. Some comments are also moving, emotional, people can see themselves in the situation in the video.”
Using adverts to make political comments can land brands in hot water. Pepsi recently sparked outrage when it used the themes of America’s “Black Lives Matter” protests to sell its drink in an advert featuring supermodel Kendall Jenner. The backlash was so severe the ad had to be pulled.
So how does Diesel get away with it? Diesel was running a campaign event when the Stockholm terror attack happened. Instead of ending the launch, Diesel staff went into the streets and handed people flowers. Was Diesel profiteering on the back of a terrorist attack, or was it a heartfelt response to the situation? It seems the public found it touching.
“People were crying when they received these [flowers],” Bogliolo said.
The key to Diesel’s advertising success is its authenticity. Far from jumping on the Trump-protest bandwagon, Diesel has been a trend-setter in politically-charged advertising. In the 1991, the jeansmaker caused a stir when it released its “Kissing Sailors” advert, which (as the name suggests) features two sailors kissing, in front of an American submarine.
“[Diesel] is irreverent, unconventional,” Bogliolo says. “But it is also a very serious brand, when it looks at and talks about messages.”
There have never been so many ways consumers interact with brands, and Bogliolo knows luxury products must be pitched perfectly, whether that’s on the shop floor or on people’s TV and laptop screens.
And, although Diesel tries to be ahead of the curve, Bogliolo says: “We are not satisfied, we want to do more.”