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Renzo Rosso: The “Denim God”

© Lauren Greenfield

The newest member to this years Forbes billionaire list is far from the average clean-shaven, suit wearing, impeccably groomed CEO. The tattooed, scruffy faced, leather jacket, jean wearing, energetic Renzo Rosso, looks more like a rock star than the president of a $1.8 billion empire.
Dubbed the ‘denim-god’ and the ‘King of high-end casual wear’, the president of Only The Brave (OTB), an umbrella company that owns Diesel, Maison Martin Margiela, Viktor & Rolf, and Marni, is recognized for reinventing the jeans market and bringing the suave Italian fashion to the American market, a market he has been influenced by since his youth. "I was born in the 50's, and I grew up with the 'American myth' in my head and in my eyes: James Dean, Marlon Brando, Coca-Cola and, of course, jean...So, when I created Diesel, it was natural for me to concentrate on the product that I felt was close to my mentality, denim,” he told InStyle in 2008.

He designed his first pair of jeans as a teenager, skintight bell-bottoms with 17-inch flare, using his mom’s sewing machine, and soon after worked his way up from the factory floor to partner of Diesel, all after originally being fired by co-founder Adriano Goldschmied, who he somehow managed to convince to let him stay.

Raised on a farm in a small Italian town, the father of 6, lives in a palladium style home in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, located 15 miles from OTB’s headquarters. He remains active in the community, employs many of the town’s residents, owns the local soccer club, provides free WiFi hotspots throughout the town, and recently pledged $6.5 million to repair the Rialto Bridge in nearby Venice. It is a real family business and Rosso’s sons play major roles in the company. Andrea is the creative director of 55DSL, Diesel’s street wear label, and Stefano is the co-CEO of OTB.

Rosso’s risk taking and intrepid mind is the hallmark of the company’s success, one that has not been without controversy. The 2010 Diesel’s “Be Stupid” campaign encouraged dangerous behavior by featuring a model standing on a busy street at night with a traffic cone over her head. But through his bold moves that challenge the status quo of the denim industry, he encourages his employees and his customers to be different and dare to take risks.

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