My mum took me to Milan for my 18th: a girls’ trip to the “fashion centre of the world”. At this point, I only owned one pair of jeans – a mid-rise, straight cut from Uniqlo – and I wore it everywhere. It wasn’t until we darted across the city, jumping from shop to shop, that I grew fond of denim. At the time, double denim fits were all the rage, with every other shop displaying a different variation of the jeans and denim jacket combo. When we stopped at Diesel, my mum couldn’t leave. She told me stories about the nights out when she rocked her pair of Diesel. “Statement jeans for any occasion”, she called them. I didn’t understand her nostalgic obsession until we took a closer look at the pieces they were selling, made from rugged materials and contemporary patterns sewn onto vintage silhouettes. Distressed denim never looked so good on a tank top before I saw it styled with a pair of distressed bootleg jeans and a statement belt. 

The Italian fashion house was a 90s staple, a uniform across nightclubs characterised by low-waisted jeans and cut-out baby tees. Their style was a clever mix of European chic and American cool. Their clothes merged high fashion with the high street, with advertisements all sending the same message: “For Successful Living”. Woven into the brand’s DNA, this slogan characterised Diesel’s overwhelming popularity. You weren’t clubbing if you weren’t in a pair of Diesel. The brand’s aesthetic spoke to the ragingly expressive art culture that blanketed the 90s and early 00s, with designers such as Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, British fashion gods, promoting reckless and exciting lifestyles.

Diesel’s love affair with controversy garnered them an ever-growing audience by the turn of the century, with multiple advertisements causing shock waves in the media. Tackling race, sexuality, and religion head-on, the advertisements by creative director Jocke Jonason are now buried relics, but their significance put Diesel on the table, leading to a surge in popularity helped also by various celebrity endorsements.

We believe that young people, like everybody else, are interested in politics, in life, in discussing things – so we challenged people’s minds.” – Jocke Jonason

Jonason created adverts that screamed through the pages – provocative, yet witty and intellectual. In an interview with Dazed, Jonason talked through his creative process, noting that his biggest reason for creating such thought-provoking advertisements was because young people wanted to talk about politics. Diesel’s audience was the daredevils, the scandalous celebrities that filled magazine pages and blessed our screens. The Biggest names of the early ‘00s, including Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, wore Diesel. Their campaigns weren’t meant to be safe. Even when riots broke out outside Diesel’s flagship store, after releasing an advert encouraging parents to teach their children how to use a gun, Jonason didn’t back out of the scene. Elevating Diesel from a high street brand to a must-have amongst A-list celebrities, his ads were some of the most prominent of his time and set the foundation for Diesel’s most recent campaigns. 

After declaring bankruptcy in 2020, the fashion house was desperate for a new creative vision. Who would have thought Diesel would rise again as scandalously as during its early years? The 43-year-old brand was going through a “midlife crisis”, until Glenn Martens took over as creative director in 2020 and launched the brand back into the mainstream. His debut in 2022 resurrected the much-loved brand identity that Jonason soulfully created: disruptive, sexy, fluid, and fun. Not only did he manipulate denim in fresh and exciting ways in his show, but he also redefined the fashion show experience, creating two inflatables of people in questionable (but sexy) positions to serve as centrepieces of his setup. Martens made it clear that Diesel was back to stay. This promiscuous show created silhouettes that pleaded to be taken back to the Noughties, but were chained to our modern age through his use of material. Fur is out, but maybe a distressed denim jacket? Martens’ looks firmly marked his presence in the fashion world, doing what many struggled to do: bring a once-loved brand back into the spotlight and transform its reputation along the way.

Martens showed no sign of slowing down, maintaining a rhythm that turned heads all over social media. In 2023, Martens did what designers have very rarely done before: he opened his fashion show to the public. Building on the theme of provocative inflatables, Martens broke a Guinness World Record with the largest inflatable in the world. Would Jonason have loved these campaigns? Definitely! Martin added his own slogan to the mix: “Larger than Life”. Experimentation is for everybody: its energy should be shared.

“It’s what I believe about the fashion and the state of mind — everybody can be part of Diesel.” — Glenn Martens

Martens’ adrenaline-fuelled vision attracted a new cult following for the brand. His aspirational drive towards innovation in fashion, redefining it as both the clothes you wear and the clothes you experience, is why he was so successful in rebuilding Diesel after its demolition. His campaigns focused on identity, creating a space for expression that welcomed everyone. 

Diesel’s Spring Summer 2024 collection was a techno rave in the rain, once again open to the public with an audience of around 7000 people. The music blasted through the speakers as models walked down the long aisle, with videos being projected on the large side screens. People danced, applauded, and felt free. If this isn’t a way of screaming “For Successful Living”, I’m not sure what is.