The founder of the Diesel clothing empire tells Divia Harilela how jeans ignited his love of fashion.
ORIGINS I started working in production for brands such as Katharine Hamnett, making everything apart from denim. Diesel was my baby - I am the founder, and the company is very much myself. I produced my first pair of jeans when I was 15, using my mum's sewing machine. All my friends loved them, so I would stay up at night and make jeans for them. After school, I managed to avoid going to the army [at the time, many Italian school leavers had to do national service], so I started working for a company. I founded Diesel in 1978. From the very beginning, my blood, my skin, my sweat was for denim. I am a kid of the 1960s so, for me, jeans give people freedom and comfort.
STAYING YOUNG We are a young company and we like to employ people who are in their 20s. They are full of energy and fresh blood - that means lots of creativity. You can take this energy and transform it into something unbelievable. The way they think, look and work is so different, and that is what inspires me. Like my son - he's working in the company; both my sons are, but one of them works with me very closely - every time we are in the boardroom it always surprises me how he deals with a problem. He interprets it in a completely different way. Young people help us see the world differently.
EMPIRE BUILDING My dream is to have the most modern group of fashion labels. Already we have Diesel, Martin Margiela, DSquared and Sophia Kokosalaki. We are more modern than any of the established fashion groups out there. I want brands that are upcoming and fresh. I am looking for designers who have something new and are changing what we wear for the future. I don't want a classic established brand - no one wears this type of clothing any more and it's not comfortable. This is the future of fashion - more contemporary than luxury.
THE BIGGER PICTURE People must be conscious about how many problems we have in this world; if you want to buy something, it's better to spend less on it and use the rest of the money for a social problem such as pollution. The young generation is a lot more conscious. Why throw money out the window when we have a social problem?
I established a charitable foundation 11/2 years ago. Before, I would donate money through Diesel and stay away from any publicity - I didn't want to promote myself. But now I've realised you should show you care, especially as it serves as an example for others and makes what we do more effective. Now, every month, we give money to different projects as well as build our own hospitals, schools and so on, mainly in Africa. Africa is close to me and my mentality.
LOVE/HATE I hate when people want me to talk about numbers or problems. I prefer to be involved in creativity, giving direction, looking forward. Those are my strengths.
I also love being active and playing sports - I snowboard and surf. I also play soccer in a regular division every week.
Each city gives me something new - New York for anything in 24 hours, Japan for research, London for the arts. My travels are too short; I don't even know where I am half the time! It helps that I have a private jet. Honestly, I spend more time on it than I do in my own home. There's nothing like it; it's the love of my life. You can do anything on it. People even have massages.
THE GOOD LIFE I was born on a vineyard so I was always surrounded by wine culture. Back in 1990 we bought a farm but didn't know what to do with it. Then someone came and told us the land was very special and we could make wine that was similar to that produced in the French region of Bourgogne. We started doing this in 1999 and the wine is very special. It's so fantastic you can't imagine. It's great because other wines are made using eight to 10 grapes per bunch, but for this we only use two grapes per bunch. It's even better than the French version.
The day when I go to work only to make money or kill time, without positive adrenalin, then I'll stop. There are so many other things to do - take care of my property, land, farm, foundation. The day you stop doing everything, you may as well be dead.