We Talk To Nicola Formichetti About Diesel’s #ForSuccessfulLiving Project
So here we are, in Knightsbridge – more specifically, the brand new Diesel flagship store, nestled somewhere between Harrods and Harvey Nichols on Brompton Road. We are downstairs in the just-opened store, in the menswear department, where we find on one side of us a rail of brand new Diesel clothes, on the other, Diesel’s lovely Artistic Director and all-round creative mega-brain, Nicola Formichetti. A nice position to be, non? Now: full disclosure. We were partying last night. But it was allowed. Because it was a Diesel party and Nicola was the host, celebrating his latest project, #ForSuccessfulLiving, with a good old East London knees up. It would have been rude not to partake. The project, reviving a 90s Diesel campaign and photographed by Terry Richardson, cheekily gives you tips for, well, successful living. 49 in total. With that in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Nicola might be well, a bit tired. But no. He’s used to all this. Because, since taking the helm of Diesel three years ago, Mr Formichetti hasn’t stopped – and it’s working. Diesel is bigger, and better, than ever. Can we call him a superhuman?
Jack Moss: The #ForSuccessfulLiving project, that we celebrated last night, is a resurrection of an old Diesel campaign from the 1990s. Why did you choose to revive this one?
Nicola Formichetti: At that time, the Successful Living project was this idea that they were kind of making fun of, or being ironic, because Diesel was not successful. They were more rebellious, so it was more like a joke. So I started thinking about what it is to be successful today. Because it’s not just about being rich or fabulous, so how can you measure success? I think personally for me it’s all about being true to yourself and being positive. So that was kind of the starting point, asking around seeing what kind of mottos people have. That’s how we built the project. Initially I just wanted to have three or four statements!
JM: And you you ended up with nearly fifty…
NF: Yeah, well, we actually ended up with hundreds. We were also making stuff up whilst we were shooting with Terry (Richardson) and Lotta (Volkova) – so we ended up with a really good solid fifty.
JM: So the tips came from people around you?
NF: Yeah totally, I don’t want a brand that’s going to tell you what to do; I think it’s rude – who the fuck are you! Today we live in such a crazy world I think it’s our duty to let people know, to be strong and be positive and be brave. It’s going to get even crazier.
JM: Yeah, with everything that’s happening it seems like a relevant time for these kinds of messages…
NF: We need to encourage people; we have such a huge platform we can use, I don’t want the campaign to be all about products. We have to challenge and solve all these issues, that’s why I did portraits of different variations of todays people.
JM: How did you go about picking the project’s stars? At Diesel you’ve championed unconventional beauty…
NF: Yeah, it’s just the reality of the people that we are. I don’t like to just focus on unconventional beauty, there’s some beautiful people too – but I want to represent different colours and body-types and sexes and ages. I think it’s even more important that before that we keep talking about that. We don’t want people to feel left out, because more and more we need to stick together and have a voice. I never want to represent the brand with one face.
JM: Do you have a favourite of the phrases?
NF: It’s ‘Be Brave’. I mean the brand ethos is “Only The Brave”, which used to be all about this macho feeling, but today it really resonates with me. We need to take risks and move forward, if we just be quiet we just wont go anywhere. I feel like Diesel is one of the only brands that gets behind all that. So I like ‘Be Brave’.
JM: Why did you pick Terry Richardson to shoot the campaign?
NF: On top of all this meaning and statements I didn’t want anything too heavy. Politics is a serious subject; so I wanted someone who was very good at capturing youth. Terry is perfect for that – he understands youth culture, he loves diversity so it was a very natural choice. I’ve been working with him for a long time.
JM: The Kills played at the party last night; I know that music is a big part of the Diesel world. How much is it a part of your process?
NF: I’m very spontaneous I work with instinct. I was really into The Kills and I feel like they’re really rocking at the moment. Their new album is incredible, so we asked them to do it. We asked Jodie Harsh and Jonjo Jury and Clara 3000 just for a mixture of diversity. In music, one day you can listen to pop and the next day rock – I really love that.
JM: Apart from music are there any people or figures that inspire you?
NF: At the moment I’m really inspired by people who are brave, the younger generation really go out there and talk about what they believe in. They’re activists. Like, the election last week we were supposed to celebrate but it turned into a nightmare – and then the next day all the generations got together and went out on the street. We didn’t know what to do so we walked. That was rally inspiring to see everyone get together.
JM: Do you live in New York?
NF: Yes, I live in New York and Italy. What happened was just a crazier version of what happened during Brexit.
JM: I guess trying to be positive, let’s hope that at times like this in history people are pushed to create art, or music. How important is it that Diesel pushes against boundaries? It has a tradition of doing so.
NF: I don’t want to do stuff just to be crazy, for me, talking about culture is very important. Diesel has always been like this – in the Nineties they talked about gays kissing, at that time it was very taboo. So for us it’s always about referencing culture and what’s happening in the world. That’s very important, more than showing the bags the shoes and the jeans. And I think that’s how we create our gang and unite people.
JM: You’ve been at Diesel for three years now, how would you describe your Diesel tribe? Have you got to the place you want to be?
NF: We’re getting there. The first few years were about internal work. It’s a huge company so I wanted to inject new blood – we have a really amazing design team at the moment, and marketing team and we are slowly building new stores. Once those stores are set then I’m going to start becoming really experimental, I’m going to start doing me – crazier stuff!
JM: Watch this space. It’s nice that you see it as such a long-term project, so many designers now a days move on so quickly.
NF: It’s not throwaway, Renzo Rosso saw it as a really long term project. I don’t want to do the whole one season, change everything, change the logo, do the fashion show and then two seasons later leave. We discussed it a lot and I really felt like he had a very long-term vision and relationship with me. So we’re thinking five, ten years. We wanted a much slower process which is much more satisfying. At the beginning I was like oh fuck, I wanna do crazy shit, but I’m learning a lot – maybe I’m becoming more mature, using the left and the right brain at the same time.
JM: How do you find traveling to Italy?
NF: It’s great to be in Italy, I’m half Italian, and I love pasta and stuff.
JM: The most important thing!
NF: I have to watch out because my trainer’s like, “you’ve been eating too much pasta and wine”. But I love travelling. So now I’ve done the internal work I’m going to start doing more work outside – we just did two fashion shows in Tokyo and Shanghai. We experimented with new pop-up stores and it really worked for us, so I really want to start doing more of that for Europe and America.
JM: I read that you take your team to travel and find inspiration.
NF: Yeah, its nice because I travel everywhere but these younger people don’t get to go to China, Tokyo or Brazil.
JM: Obviously this is one of your new stores – you worked with Masamichi Katayama and Wonderwall on it. Why did you choose to work with him?
NF: He’s the only architect I wanted to work with; I’m such a huge fan. I met him a few years ago and he was my only choice. He has this international design feel but also he’s very Japanese; Japan and Diesel have a very long history. And I’m Japanese, so it made sense. I wanted to do something that was really intimate and small, I didn’t want to do these blockbuster stores that Diesel usually have – and today we shop in a really different way, I don’t want to go somewhere and bombard people with this stuff. I mean you can go online and do all of that.
JM: Yeah, people don’t just shop online or in store, it all works together now.
NF: Exactly. So I wanted to create something a little more chill – we’re downsizing the store size to make it a little more intimate. It’s going in a really good direction, the flagship store is bigger but the feeling will still be much more intimate.
JM: What were some of the inspirations behind the store?
NF: The store that Renzo Rosso first created was inspired by his own house, which was really revolutionary at the time. So I took that starting point. So how do I do that today? Well, to create a modern day house, today we mix and match everything. You have a very modern space then you put in vintage carpets and tables all thrown together, you have one small space but it’s compiled in different ways. Like the denim area – that’s supposed to feel like a wine cellar. I tried to divide it into rooms with props.
JM: You were obviously very involved with the process of the store.
NF: Totally, I started working at theThe Pineal Eye in London and I always loved merchandising. Before that, I wanted to be an architect before, but the London club scene was just too much to deal with… (laughs).
JM: Yeah, has a way of doing that…
NF: So I had to leave the school, but I always had an interest in architecture so it was great to be collaborating with one of my favourite architects, I’m very grateful for that.
JM: Do you like having control of everything?
NF: I mean, I never liked just doing one thing so I get to do all the things I’ve learnt through out the years on a bigger scale, which is really exciting. So now it’s time to do even crazier stuff.
JM: You are quite well known for your social media presence. Do you still like using all those apps now?
NF: I was never a fanatic, I just kind of used it just like everyone else. I have a bit of a thing at the moment with Snapchat and Instagram – of which one I should use. But that’s actually what I love about social media is it keeps going, changing and it just doesn’t matter. But I’m getting less emails from friends these days – you just talk to people on social media, it’s so much easier.
JM: What do you think it takes to be respected in fashion?
NF: I don’t give a fuck about being respected in the fashion industry to be honest (laughs). No, I have a few friends that I respect whose opinions I respect. But I think if your really truly do the things you want to do people will respect you, and sometimes they might not, but it doesn’t matter. It’s important that you really do what you love doing, and try not to be fake because the fashion industry can be so fake. We need to be strong individuals, but together at the same time. No hate, no pointing fingers because sometimes it can be like high school.
JM: I mean, it’s nice to work at Diesel where you’re allowed opinions…
NF: Diesel was on Pornhub last year! If I was with any other company I would have been fired.
JM: Yeah! How did that come about?
NF: I wanted to advertise on sites that people go on so I thought: porn! That’s what everyone goes to. That was fun, and now they’re obsessed with me! Wanting to know when I’m going to do more ads.
JM: So you have a mantra? Or advice you’d give people starting out?
NF: I have a few. Be nice to people – I believe in karma that’s always worked for me. You don’t need to be an asshole. Be truthful to yourself, not in a selfish way. Believe in yourself – because if you don’t know what you want, then you can’t do anything. Be brave and stand up for what you believe in. Get together and – I don’t want to say fight the system – but, well, let’s see what happens next year.
JM: Yes, it’s so easy to become apathetic.
NF: It’s crazy, I think like 40% of people didn’t vote in America. It’s insane.
JM: So what’s coming up for Diesel?
NF: I want to do more fun events and shows and parties all around the world to start talking directly to consumers, to use events so people can see more of the work I’m doing. I want to create more experimental pop up stores, showing different consumer types different products, because we have a lot of products. Yeah, next years going to be crazy busy, I’ve got lot up my sleeve.
JM: Are you the kind of person who can look back to what you’ve achieved and be satisfied?
NF: No, I’m never satisfied. I always like keep going keep going. That’s my problem; I can always find something wrong. Recently though, I’ve started to accept when I do something wrong, everything I’ve done in a way is wrong, but that’s great because there’s always some way I can improve. Renzo Rosso always says don’t try and be number one – try and be number two or three. Because then you can always be number one later – I love that. Always keep going.