Renzo Rosso on why money is no object when it comes to his fashion empire

By Paolo Briscese | 19 Oct 2017 | Style

Diesel and OTB Group founder Rosso says standing out from the crowd is about more than luck

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* Renzo Rosso tells Tempus why money is no object when it comes to his fashion empire [photo © Andrea Delbo]

Renzo Rosso believes in standing out from the crowd. It’s a philosophy that has seen the 62-year-old rise from humble beginnings (he grew up in the Italian village of Brugine to farmer parents) to founder of denim company Diesel in 1978, and later the OTB Group. With a $3.9 billion fortune to his name and a slew of iconic brands – including Maison Margiela, Marni and Viktor & Rolf – under his belt, he’s become one of the wealthiest men in Italy.

“Our goal is to build not the biggest, but the most alternative fashion group,” Rosso tells Tempus, adding that creativity has been the key to his success – his first foray into fashion was borrowing his mother’s sewing machine to make a pair of bell-bottoms at age 15. This mentality shines through his business sense – in early October his playful video ad to find Diesel’s next CEO via best ‘chair posing’ gif went viral – and his daring yet savvy investments into technology start ups and e-commerce sites.

We met with Rosso in Milan during fashion week to find out the story behind the successful entrepreneur who transformed a teenage passion into a wildly successful business, and made billions in the process...

Tempus: Renzo, how did you begin your venture into the world of fashion?
Renzo Rosso:
Really, it was pure coincidence. I was the youngest child, and although my parents wanted me to pursue secondary education I was not too much into studying. After spending a little time researching I chose a fashion and textile technical institute near my town – I’d heard it was easy – but I have to say that I was immediately fascinated by the industry, which is why I am still here today.

Did you ever imagine that you would be this influential and successful in business?
Not at all. My biggest ambition was to be something more than a simple worker or employee. I’ve never worked one day for money in my life. I’m driven primarily by passion and the ambition to create something special, unique and pioneering.

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* Renzo Rosso tells Tempus why money is no object when it comes to his fashion empire [photo © Martin Schoeller]

Your sons Stefano, Andrea and Alessia all work within your company. Do you consider OTB a family business? What are the values that you are hoping to impart?
You know, I never asked them to join the company – I just wanted them to be happy in whatever they chose to do. Then, one day, they surprised me by telling that they actually wanted to join the family business and I was sincerely happy. They each worked their way to their current positions without my backing, as they felt they had to earn the respect of the people they work with. In fact, the first value I passed on to them is respect: respect for your co-workers, respect for your suppliers and for your customers, respect for your employees.

What is the most interesting aspect of your job – and the most challenging?
I have to say I consider myself very lucky because with the current variety of businesses that I cover, and after 40 years of work, I feel like I have a rare wealth of knowledge and a global vision, which I try to apply to everything I work on and to share it with my staff. I can span over several brands, categories, market segments and industries. I work in fashion but I also invest in organic food and digital start-ups. I also produce my own olive oil and wine, and I’m very active in philanthropy. e part of my work I like the least is everything that has to do with accounting, numbers, and fiscal matters. I am more of a creative entrepreneur.

You are always travelling the world for your work, so when do you find time for yourself?
Honestly, I never make that distinction. When I am travelling for leisure, I always see something that sparks my imagination, or an idea that I can use back at work. And when I am working, I often come across things that are interesting to me as an individual. I am a very curious person.

Forbes Magazine listed you among Italy's richest men. What does luxury living mean to you?
I do not at all feel like I am one of the richest people in Italy, I am probably just one of the people who pay all my due taxes! As I said before, I never worked with the goal of earning money, but only for the desire to create something beautiful and more modern than what was existing. For me, luxury is quality time with my family and real friends.

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* Renzo Rosso tells Tempus why money is no object when it comes to his fashion empire [photo © Steve McCurry]

Considering your goals, do you consider yourself lucky in business?
I do not believe in luck. What matters is your vision, your dedication, and the team you build around you. You are not going far alone. My family is my point of reference in everything I do.

The fashion and luxury market in general has undergone a profound change in recent years. How do you see the future of the retail industry and what strategies should be adopted to keep up with the times?
I think online sales are the growth area of the future. At OTB Group. we are starting off well, with almost 15% of our total sales already on this channel. However, real brick-and-mortar stores are also important in order to convey the lifestyle and the aesthetics of a brand and its collection. In fact, what is happening right now is this convergence called ‘omni-channel’ where consumers browse online and then buy in the store, buy in the store and return online, or they buy online and change in the physical stores. You have to be easily available at every touchpoint.

As a holding company, how does OTB Group preserve the true spirit of its brands when they become so big?
It is not easy, of course. It is hard to maintain the integrity of a passionate and motivated team that grows every day. is this the reason why I recently returned to Diesel. I want to bring down barriers in the company and make the unique DNA of this brand shine.

Read more from Renzo Rosso in the latest issue of Tempus, available now