Less than a year into her role, the Diesel chief executive has set her sights on doubling the denim giant’s sales through a revamped womenswear offer.
There is a buzz of anticipation, bordering on nervousness, among the Diesel UK team, which is about to unveil the denim brand’s spring 12 womenswear range in its London head office in King’s Cross. Chief executive Daniela Riccardi, who has been in the role for just nine months, has travelled from the Italy head office to personally present the collection. Riccardi is embarking on a full-scale tidy-up of the Diesel womenswear offer and it’s immediately clear she is not one to beat around the bush.
“Whichever job I’ve been in, I’ve doubled the business’s turnover. I want to double Diesel’s business within five years,” she says bullishly, pointing out that the success of the womenswear collection will be vital to achieving this. “Business on [womenswear] had previously been 45% of total sales, but over the last few years this has fallen to 35%. But 75% of the global fashion market is made up of the women’s sector, so there is room to grow.”
It’s an ambitious task on two counts. First, sales in the UK branded denim market are generally flat, down 1% to £311.5m for the year to the end of March, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel. In women’s denim generally (including own label and branded), sales have fallen dramatically - by 15% to £565.7m over the same period - while the units sold across the branded sector fell 7% to 10.6 million.
Second, succeeding in the middle ground of the women’s branded denim market is tough. Sandwiched between the much-improved, trend-led high street denim offer and the quality of fit and silhouette from premium brands such as J Brand and 7 For All Mankind, those in the middle struggle to find a point of difference. As a result, Diesel’s brand profile in womenswear has become unclear, by Riccardi’s own admission. She sees Diesel’s refreshed womenswear offer at the higher end of the scale. “Diesel should be sitting with premium quality,” she says.
And branding is what Riccardi knows best. Like her Diesel peers - global brand and marketing vice-president Riccardo Bellini and UK managing director Jonny Hewlett - Riccardi is an alumnus of consumer goods business Procter & Gamble, where she was president of Greater China before leaving last year to join Diesel. Despite having been in the business of laundry and cleaning products, Riccardi says fashion has always been her love and it is this experience of building different brands with clear identities that she wants to bring to Diesel.
One look, one message
The first thing Riccardi did in her new role was to visit Diesel’s stores and ask herself: ‘As a woman, would I shop here?’ “I had a hard time finding my way in store; there was a mismatch between [the women’s] product and pocket,” she says. “The price was premium, but the product on offer was too young. We [Diesel] need more consistency, not to zigzag from one thing to another [in terms of product]. Diesel will have one brand, one look, one message.”
The result is a much cleaner and streamlined collection for spring 12. Less prominent are the over-washed finishes and European handwriting with heavy print and patterns; in its place are slouchy knitwear, plain jersey dresses and soft leather bikers with a clean palette of black, navy and military green accented with burnt orange. “Product has a cleaner attitude - not totally clean, treatments are there but they are more subtle,” says Riccardi.
Elements of the Italian handwriting remain, ticking certain branded boxes such as the Diesel sequined logo T-shirt and a black denim all-in-one with multiple zips, but without the previous distressed denim look. The brand has also introduced five new fits by reworking two skinny silhouettes and boyfriend, high-waisted and bootcut styles. Riccardi says: “We had to take control of the fits. Being a global brand, we need to fit for different markets. Previously, we had a narrower coverage; now we have sizing that fits that global market.”
Overall, the collection has more of a Scandinavian handwriting, and with brands such as Stockholm-based Acne riding the success of deconstructed styles, the comfort utility style is hitting the zeitgeist for female consumers, and Diesel’s new direction in womenswear could be right on the money.
The spring 12 range will have fewer pieces and will maintain its retail entry price jeans of £90, but a larger proportion of the collection will be devoted to medium and higher-priced product, starting at £40 for T-shirts and rising to £520 for a leather jacket. Key pieces include an orange leather jacket at £520, an orange buckled maxi skirt at £180 and jersey dresses at £100 (all pictured). “Some of our best-sellers are our most expensive pieces, because people expect that from Diesel,” says Riccardi. “It’s about listening to consumers.”
Accessories, too, will play a bigger role in the women’s collection, with more statement shoes and bags than in previous seasons. “Denim will remain the core - it’s the DNA of Diesel,” says Riccardi. “But we have looked back to the wardrobe of the 25- to 35-year-old woman and she spends more sometimes on shoes and bags than clothes.”
But the owner of one womenswear indie, which does not stock Diesel womenswear and declined an invitation to see the spring 12 collection, told Drapers they don’t yet feel confident that Diesel can sit alongside fellow denim brands J Brand and Current/Elliott. “It’s not a brand I would currently consider buying into,” the indie owner says. “For the brand to appear more premium, a lot needs to be done on the marketing side.”
This is an area Riccardi will be addressing and promises that women will play a more prominent role in the brand’s ad campaigns. The spring 12 campaign will focus on complete outfits, rather than just jeans, for example, and these looks will be prominent in campaign graphics and PoS material.
In terms of distribution, Riccardi says the initial focus for womenswear will be in Diesel’s standalone stores and in department store stockists, with the strategy for independents still being developed to fit with the higher-priced product. The brand has 300 doors in the UK (45 of which are women’s stockists) from 120 accounts, 13 standalone stores and 12 concessions.
An area Riccardi feels requires little attention is Diesel’s menswear. “Menswear is where we want it to be in terms of product. Obviously this has to continually evolve, but I wouldn’t change something that is working,” she says. Riccardi says chinos, chambray shirts and Oxford shirts are among the best-performing categories. Herringbone and dirty indigo denim mixed with leather are being backed by the brand for spring 12.
But Riccardi is confident about the womenswear collection. “The slice of the pie is so big [for womenswear], we are not going to give up,” she says. And she is sure that, from spring 12 onwards, womenswear will be successful. To those who aren’t convinced, she says in her unflappable Italian manner: “Seeing [our future] success will change that opinion.”
2010 Chief executive, Diesel
2005 President, Greater China, Procter & Gamble (P&G)
2001 Vice-president, Eastern Europe, P&G
1999 Vice-president, Latin America, fabric and homecare, P&G
1997 General manager, laundry and cleaning products, Mexico, P&G
1994 Marketing director, laundry and cleaning products, Colombia, P&G
1991 Marketing manager, cleansers and bleach, Belgium, P&G
1988 Brand manager, dish products, Italy, P&G
1985 Assistant brand manager, Ariel, Italy, P&G