Nicola Formichetti launches his second #DIESELTRIBUTE collection, this season inspired by the label’s leather legacy. An integral part of rock ‘n’ roll since its early beginnings, leather has clung to the arms and thighs of rebels and rock stars alike throughout the four decades of Diesel. And as Nicola tells i-D, it only gets better with time.
It has been claimed that Marilyn Manson spends his summers in the blazing Los Angeles sun locked inside a heavily air-conditioned house in head-to-toe leather. Fact or fiction, the image of the rock star and his leather is an idea so classically cool that you simply want to believe it. “I love wearing leather all year around,” Nicola Formichetti says, a kind of rock star in his own right. “You can’t really go wrong with leather. You just need to own it.” For his second #DIESELTRIBUTE collection as Artistic Director of the brand, Formichetti has looked to Diesel’s leather legacy with a collection of twenty spins on the brand’s authentic archives of rock ‘n’ roll history, and created a modern homage to its iconic heritage. And for a fashion label that first saw the light of day in the late 70s, Diesel was pretty much born to rock.
“It was the overall mood of rockers, punks, and bikers. The energy coming out of those tribes is what inspires me very much,” Nicola says. When Renzo Rosso founded Diesel in 1978, leather had already been the signature of the rebelliously inclined for more than two decades. A leather-clad Alice Cooper and band had crept onto the experimental music and fashion scenes in the early 70s, and seen the arrival of punk groups such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols, whose skinny leather biker jackets washed over young Western world hipsters like a Topshop summer sale. Sid Vicious and Malcolm McLaren covered theirs in riot badges, while Paul Simonon trademarked the trend for insignia on biker jackets.
“The linking point and the common denominator for those subcultures that infiltrated mainstream over the years is the sense of youth and rebellion,” Nicola says. It’s a spirit noticeably reflected in his Diesel collection where a piece like the leather biker jacket with sleeves covered in historic Diesel patches could easily have been worn by any of the original punks. But Formichetti’s understanding of rebellious subcultures and their ownership of leather reaches back much farther than the 70s. “Karlheinz Weinberger is my leather hero,” he notes, referring to the Swiss photographer, whose portraits of tattooed rockers in the 50s and 60s depict the evolution of leather since its early beginnings as a new rock star on the fashion scene.
We have a lot to thank Marlon Brando for (cases in point: his looks, his films, and that Godfather quote) but he never had a finer day than the moment he put on his biker jacket in The Wild One in 1953. Prior to its outing on Brando’s brawny shoulders, the biker jacket had merely been a part of a military uniform during the wars, but with Brando’s brooding defiance came great fame. James Dean wore a variation on it in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause, and by 1960 bad boy musicians Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were pleasantly polluting the minds of innocent teenagers all over Europe and America with their hip leather looks. Most notably, they found a fan club in the rockers of the time – or greasers, as they were known – whom Weinberger portrayed through his photography.
The originators of Hell’s Angels and Bandidos, rockers were a subculture of motorcycle enthusiasts, who lived out the Brando dream and ran riot on the roads of the otherwise so proper 50s and early 60s societies. (Their musical idol, Cochran, was even killed in a car accident riding alongside Vincent, who survived.) Musicians queued up to draw on the raw charm of the beleathered rockers, including The Beatles, who wore all leather looks before someone told them a cleaner image would be a safer bet for the mainstream audience. Jim Morrison as good as pioneered the leather trouser through the 60s, and when Elvis Presley performed in a tight leather suit for his ’68 Comeback Special, he got so hot the wardrobe department had to cut him out of it with a pair of scissors.
“Leather,” Nicola says, “is so timeless. It only gets better and better with time. The way it ages and transforms, it’s very much an alive material in the sense that it lives with you.” If anything, this was the leather philosophy into which Diesel was born. As the 80s set in and punk became common property, the values of leather were up for grabs – and re-appropriation – by any rock star clever enough to make it his own. Freddie Mercury made his patent, while Billy Idol covered it in studs and chains, glamorising its bad boy connotations to no end. Along with designers such as Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana, pop-age rock stars like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Debbie Harry sculpted their leather, dyed it and passed it on to an emerging generation of avant-garde fashion designers.
As leather entered the 90s, it had become an essential part of rock culture, and one to be cherished. Vintage leather jackets and trousers suddenly became a thing, and bands such as Metallica and Nirvana couldn’t get their leather looking old and worn enough. It’s this personality, history and in effect life of leather, which take centre stage in Formichetti’s highly artisanal collection, whose attention to craft for instance only allows Diesel to make three of the hand-stitched pieces a day. “I always love giving personal feeling into a product, and people feeling this attention in the product,” Nicola says, echoing the voice of present-day rock stars, who wear their leather with all the history it carries from a long life as a music, film and fashion icon.
Formichetti’s first memory of leather is as personal as they come. “My dad's leather bomber jacket,” he says without hesitation. For the Artistic Director, who was born just two years before Renzo Rosso founded Diesel in 1978, said jacket was the first chapter in a creative fascination with the multitalented skin, which will only turn leather into a bigger rock star with age. For Diesel, which has been an active part of the history of leather for nearly four decades now, the collection marks not just a tribute to its legacy but another step in the evolution of leather. As Nicola says, “I want to keep working on leather and push boundaries. There is so much to do with it. It has endless possibilities.”