He was the man responsible for styling Lady Gaga in that infamous meat dress. He re-invigorated the French label Thierry Mugler, instigating a name change and introducing a menswear line. He has steered Uniqlo and Vogue Hommes Japan as fashion director. But Nicola Formichetti has now taken on his biggest role to date: in April, he was appointed Diesel’s first artistic director. Here he talks about his plans for Project: Diesel world domination, his social media mission and the reboot of the Italian mega-brand.
NAOMI BIKIS You said you had admired Diesel from an early age. Can you tell me what you remember of the brand?
NICOLA FORMICHETTI I knew about it in Rome in my teenage years, but when I moved to London when I was 18, that’s when I really discovered Diesel. The store in Covent Garden was the hot place to go and I couldn’t afford it, but I was there all the time. They had DJs and all these crazy people working there. I wanted to be part of it. Then afterwards, it kind of lost that feeling and became much more corporate.
NB You’ve talked quite publicly about that – Diesel losing its relevance. What do you think happened?
NF There was no point of view. Now I know why it happened, because basically Renzo stopped. He became so big and started doing other things, working on other brands. That was the only reason. At that time it was all him. He was making the clothes, fucking it up, doing the marketing at the same time, crazy parties… but he lost the human touch. That’s why I’m here.
NB Apparently, he said that when he met you he finally found someone as crazy as himself. What do you think he sees in you?
NF I think we are very similar because we are like kids. We like to be in fashion but at the same time we actually don’t care. Renzo, he’s a little bit of an outsider in fashion. We are a bit rebellious. I like to tease people and do crazy things. I never had a mentor where I would come up with something and he goes: “Go crazier” and I’m like: “What?” I mean, the people in the company must be fucking shit scared, because we are going to go crazy.
NB So you’re planning on stirring up the kind of controversy caused by the iconic David LaChapelle image for Diesel of the two sailors kissing?
NF Well, that’s me, you know? That’s my DNA. I don’t want to shock people for the sake of it, but I want to talk about culture, about what’s happening now.
NB What is happening now?
NF Crazy things. I think to be relevant we have to project what’s happening around the world at the moment, good or bad. It’s all about referencing what’s happening with the kids, what they are wearing and thinking – to have their voice heard. I’m doing all that. No worries.
NB How are you reaching the kids? You started the Dieselreboot Tumblr. Is that what you think it takes to stay in touch with them?
NF Well the Tumblr people just told me that we are the fastest growing Tumblr ever. It’s fucking amazing. I think people really respect it when a brand is trying to listen. It’s not trying to use them as a marketing tool. I’m not interested in that. There are so many brands out there going: “Social media, yeah, hashtag, yeah”, it’s like my mum does. For people who don’t know, it might look like that, because we use the same thing, it’s Tumblr and Instagram, it’s a tool – but what we do with it is the game changer. My idea is simple: I want to collaborate with people you normally can’t find. Everything I do now – from designing stores to creating T-shirts to advertising campaigns, models – is done through Dieselreboot.tumblr.com. Digital for me is becoming much more organic, it’s emotional, it’s a bit similar to the whole Indigo children idea. I think I’m an Indigo child, Renzo is an Indigo child, an old one. We can look at technology in a very organic way. Kids nowadays, I think they want to be loved: what they care about most is how many followers they have. I’m going to play on that idea of emotional technology.
NB Are you basically trawling Tumblr and Instagram for people you think are interesting?
NF Yes, and we are going to promote that particular person. For a brand to actually promote your Instagram or Tumblr – people are going to go mad; you want to be part of it. We are helping each other.
NB You mentioned that Renzo had lost the human touch. How does your social media plan ensure you maintain that?
NF All my assistants, my team members, I meet mostly on social media. Some people I meet at parties or on the street. I’m better with younger people or a younger attitude. I think Renzo is the same, because we think young. Although we don’t want to be those sad 80-year-olds who are still going clubbing. I wouldn’t be like that – like one of those Ab Fab people, Patsy and Edina, still taking drugs and partying till morning.
NB Is it daunting taking on other people’s brands?
NF No, I’m not worried at all, because it’s going to be super successful. I’m the only person who can do this, I think, in the whole world.
NB When Mugler had mixed success at times, was that difficult for you?
NF Yes. I don’t want to bitch about it but basically I didn’t have the support system from the brand. We started with a bang and I wanted to continue doing those things and they just didn’t support me. The collection looked weak because there was no budget to make clothes. It’s a shame I didn’t have someone like Renzo behind me. He’s completely supporting me. He’s managing structure, factories, distribution, marketing… everything. I have a huge budget to really do what I want to do. I’m going for the kill this time. Diesel is such a huge brand. We can really change the way people wear clothes. It’s exciting, because I’ve never done that. I worked with Uniqlo, so I know the mass market. But Diesel is not high fashion or high street, it’s kind of a new alternative to luxury, so I’m going to make clothes that people are going to wear.
NB So there are no plans to create couture collections or super premium lines?
NF I haven’t planned to do that, but never say never. First I want to create a standard Diesel collection, which I’m going to launch in March. I’m thinking of not really caring about the seasons, calendars and things like that.
NB You are going rogue on us.
NF Yes, because I have a tiny capsule collection in October that’s more of an homage to Diesel. I just went into factories and found all this amazing stuff and customised it a little. I want it to be available straight away. We are going to start playing with a new way of doing retail. Now the system is just too crazy: I have no idea what season it is, it’s hot outside but in the stores it’s already winter and it’s like, what the fuck is going on?
NB At times you’ve said you hate fashion and you’ve been very vocal about its failings, the elitism… What have you experienced of that?
NF I just want to be nice to people. In fashion, so many people are very negative and very snobbish and I don’t agree with that. It’s so ’80s and backward. In a way, I believe that even more now that I’m a little bit outside fashion with Diesel. Some people think if they don’t get the right shoes, they are going to die.
NB Who thinks that?
NF Everyone in fashion. So many people go fucking crazy if they don’t get the right bag. I know people who would cancel a shoot if they don’t get the right shoes. It’s good to have a bit of intensity but just chill the fuck up a little. I think I need to make this work to prove that you can do it in a different way. I have a big job ahead and I know it’s going to be great – it has to be great.