The first look that launches onto the sheet-metal runway at Pier 57 near the end of New York Fashion Week in February appears close to perfect in the eyes of the fashion-exhausted audience: a slim black blazer, a pristine white turtleneck and slick, coated black jeans with a slight flare at the hem. This wardrobe relief comes by way of Diesel Black Gold, now under the guidance of designer Andreas Melbostad, who took the reins from Sophia Kokosalaki in October 2012.
The following morning, in Diesel’s loft-like, industrial-furnished U.S. headquarters in Chelsea, Melbostad exhibits no major debut jitters—even though this is his first runway outing. “A first step in the process,” he says, relaxed, and slightly hungover from last night’s after-party (co-hosted by Purple Fashion’s Olivier Zahm at the Boom Boom Room).
The label is the high-fashion offshoot of super-label Diesel, which is run by fashion boss Renzo Rosso from a rural town in Italy. Rosso built the factory as a futuristic community centre that supports most of the village’s inhabitants. “It opened my mind to what an [advanced] company [Diesel] is,” Melbostad says of his first visit, which led him to accept the job. “There’s a gym, tennis courts and a kindergarten—it’s much [more than] a workplace.”
Norwegian-born Melbostad has been in New York City for 12 years. He made his name at Phi, the sexy, minimalist go-to for professional women with some cash to burn, which lived and died during the boom-time Noughties. “Phi was a very personal project,” reflects the designer. Diesel Black Gold, however, involves constant collaboration with Rosso, who is putting more emphasis on his high-fashion properties—he’s added Marni, Viktor & Rolf and Maison Martin Margiela to his roster at Only the Brave, Diesel’s parent company. And it also involves frequent commutes to the pastoral HQ. “I have this double life: I’m [suddenly] in the middle of the countryside in northern Italy—with fields and cows and corn growing,” he laughs. That’s a striking contrast to Melbostad’s Oslo background, which is consistent with the label’s city codes. Wearing all black—hoodie, leather jacket, combat boots, jeans—he’s obviously the ruler of the roost. While I’m with him, the mostly Italian staff follow his lead devotedly. The admiration is mutual: “I put the concept together: the mood and specifics,” he says. “Then the team will do fabric research. How they can transform a piece of denim is really extraordinary.”
The result of this extended process is über-constructed, meticulously thought-through clothes. The pants from that first runway look, for example, aren’t leather, as I had thought, but wool, finished with a waxed seal more typically used on denim. “When you put on a jacket it gives you support, and I wanted the dresses to have the same feel. They weren’t a soft form of dressing,” says Melbostad. No: They’re high-necked and zipped to the top; short and tight, but not body-squeezing like the outdated sausage casing that “sexy” used to mean. “What’s important to me is to convey a sense of confidence in a very modern way. That’s my main mission.” Round one: mission accomplished.