The latest copies of Vogue and Elle must make depressing reading
for people in the jeans industry.
One of this season’s looks is part Greenwich Village, part Saint Germain
- think Audrey Hepburn dancing in black pipe-cleaner leggings. Another
is elegant, shapely silhouettes, cut in ’to-die-for’ fabrics such as
snakeskin and silk. And then, of course, there are combat trousers,
which are still out in force.
Good old-fashioned denims are nowhere to be seen. With jeans having been
shoved to the back of the wardrobe for some time, it’s no surprise that
the market for them is shrinking; four million fewer pairs were sold
last year than in 1996.
Diesel, which describes itself as ’a lifestyle brand with denim roots’,
insists the declining jeans market has nothing to do with its decision
last week (Marketing, September 3) to part company with ad agency Lowe
Howard-Spink. Nor did it prompt its move away from its jeans range with
the launch of an upmarket designer sub-brand: Diesel Style Lab.
The moves also coincide with the appointment of a new marketing
director, Luca Fuso, who takes over from the company’s founder, Renzo
’Everyone’s talking about the crisis in the jeans industry, but while
it’s true that jeans sales have fallen by about 8%, the value of the
market has only dropped by 2%,’ says Peter Schofield-Lawley, Diesel’s
commercial director. ’This is because while some brands, particularly at
the cheaper end of the market, have collapsed dramatically, those at the
designer end have grown. Diesel has increased its jeans sales by 35% in
So why establish a new, higher-quality brand when Diesel is already
perceived as cult and cutting-edge? After all, Diesel does not suffer
from the Jeremy Clarkson Effect: the problem of older, unfashionable
types wearing certain jeans brands and so diluting their cool image.
Diesel may not be quite that mainstream yet but it risks becoming too
populist, according to Lawley. It currently has 30 stores worldwide and
is expanding rapidly. An ongoing survey of 100 men’s retailers by
fashion magazine Menswear has put Diesel in the top five brands for the
past four months, with more retailers clamouring to sell its
While Diesel welcomes the opportunities, it is keen to avoid alienating
what it sees as its crucial market: stylists, opinion leaders and
’As the traffic and interest builds in the brand and the core product,
there’s obviously the feeling that we may alienate these people. What
the new brand does is show that we are not abandoning our commitment to
innovation; we’re not going mainstream and we’re not selling out the
brand name,’ says Schofield-Lawley.
Diesel has been aiming to establish two brands for the past 18 months by
making a clearer distinction in-store between its denim products -
streetwear aimed at the over-16s - and its high-fashion goods, the more
individual items aimed at the over-20s.
’The problem when a collection grows and diversifies is that it pulls at
the brand message. Diesel saw this coming and has taken action to
prevent it. It’s very important to have purity of message in fashion,’
says Andy Gilgrist, deputy editor of Menswear.
Diesel Style Lab will launch during London Fashion Week, with 30 to 50
stores, designed by Conran Design Group, due to open over the next two
years. The two brands will also be kept separate with different store
environments, logos and advertising.
The core Diesel range will see more emphasis on the famously
controversial branding campaigns by Diesel’s original agency,
Stockholm-based DDB Paradiset, rather than product advertising which was
the main focus for Lowe Howard-Spink.
Diesel Style Lab will receive a very different treatment, believed to be
more along the lines of Prada or Gucci ads: conventionally beautiful
models, rather than street models, shot by well-known photographers.
Instead of mainstream advertising, the range will feature in magazines
such as Arena Homme Plus and Wallpaper.
’It will also maintain its exclusivity by being sold in a limited number
of retailers. This is important for the development of the brand in the
long term and will enable us to keep the focus on innovation and
experimentation, which is Diesel’s strength,’ says Schofield-Lawley.
Observers point to a number of problems with launching two separate
Some question whether Diesel’s association with a clubby and juvenile
image will prevent it from being taken seriously as a fashion house and
suggest it may have been wiser to launch under an entirely different
Others suggest the brand name has not been used enough.
Jeremy Bowles, former Diesel account handler at Lowe Howard-Spink, says:
’Instead of launching a completely new brand, perhaps Diesel could have
used its brand equity more.
’Once you split brands, you split resources, operations and budgets,
which tends to make everything much harder work.’
- Total jeans sales fell from 22 million pairs to 18.9 million in the
year to May.
- Sales change by brand in the year to May (%):
- Value of total jeans sales fell 2% from pounds 609.5m in 1997 to
pounds 561.2m in 1998.
This article was first published on Marketing