Blue jeans may be an American invention, but 57-
year-old Italian entrepreneur Renzo Rosso has built
a global empire by turning jeans into high-end
fashion. In turn, he’s earned a spot on Forbes’
ranking of global billionaires.
Rosso founded Diesel in 1978 with partners he’d
worked with for a few years at an Italian clothing
manufacturer that produced pants for a variety of
brands. The company, Genius Group, was behind a
number of successful brands including Diesel.
Seven years later, in 1985, Rosso bought Diesel
outright. The story goes that Rosso chose the name
Diesel because it’s pronounced the same around
the world. Also, diesel was considered an
alternative fuel and he wanted his brand to be
thought of as an alternative to the clothing trends
of the time.
The popularity of the brand grew quickly, helped by
marketing and advertising campaigns designed to
make customers sit up and take notice. The stores
soon followed. In 1996, Diesel opened flagship
stores in New York, Rome and London. By 2010
there were more than 400 stores in 80 countries.
And Diesel had become much more than jeans.
Today there is a sportswear line, sunglasses,
fragrances, and shoes.
In 2000 Russo began to acquire other fashion
houses and companies. His first was Staff
International, which manufactures and distributes
clothing under license for brands such as DSquared,
Just Cavalli and Marc Jacobs Men. This was followed
by picking up controlling interests in two fashion
houses; Maison Martin Margiela in 2002 and Vikton
& Rolf in 2008. On December 20, Diesel parent Only
The Brave announced that it had purchased a
majority stake in Milan-based ready-to-wear brand
Marni for an undisclosed price.
The company is headquartered in Molvena, a few
hours away from Italy’s fashion epicenter, Milan.
However, Rosso makes his home in nearby
Bassono del Grappa, where he owns the local
A spokesperson for Rosso’s holding company Only
The Brave confirmed that Rosso is the sole owner
of the privately held company. Consolidated
revenue was 1.4 billion Euros or $1.8 billion for
2011; applying price-to-sales multiples from a
range of publicly traded competitors values Rosso’s
fashion empire at more than $2.5 billion and makes
Rosso a billionaire.