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Taking the reins of a fashion house involves a lot of things, but it typically doesn’t begin with fragrance. Glenn Martens is anything but typical. The Belgian-born designer, who’s also the artistic director of Y/Project, took over the iconic denim brand Diesel just shy of two years ago. Since then he’s ushered in a new era of gender fluidity and sustainability to great acclaim. And now, he’s bringing that same ethos to fragrance.
It might not be the logical next focus for a new creative director, but to hear Martens tell it, it makes sense. D by Diesel ($49 to $92, available now at Macy’s, Amazon and Diesel) is the brand’s very first unisex scent. Created for and with Gen Z, the subtle, fresh, surprisingly warm scent is not what you’d expect from a unisex fragrance—and that’s exactly the point. It’s grounded in notes of denim (yes, really), ginger, lavender, and vanilla, all of which create a clean, zingy scent that is sexy but not in an in-your-face way. And in keeping with Martens’s new sustainability mantra for Diesel, the vanilla and lavender used in the scent are sustainably sourced, while the bottle itself is created from 25 percent post-consumer recycled glass, is refillable, and arrives in a cellophane-free box made of 55 percent recycled materials.
As an admitted novice to the fragrance world, Martens’s journey to create D by Diesel was not a short one, but clearly worth it. We sat down with the creative director to learn what this new fragrance means for the future of Diesel and, perhaps most importantly, what it’s like to wear it.
What does your new Diesel stand for as a brand?
The Diesel DNA is very much connected with the slogan “For Successful Living,” so it’s about a way of life, about being straightforward with a no-bullshit approach, but still active and quite sexy. Being creative director of a brand like Diesel comes with a responsibility because you have a reach that’s much bigger than when you work for a luxury brand. We’re talking to every single person worldwide. Of course, that comes with a responsibility that you can actually help change and foster awareness. Diesel has done that already in the 1990s and 2000s with those big campaigns talking about social taboos with a language of positivity and acceptance and awareness. We are pushing that even more, and of course that awareness goes into different levels like sustainability. As I get into the second chapter of Diesel, we are really focused on environmental sustainability and are working extremely hard to empower products that have very low impact. That is where I really want to grow, so that when someone buys a Diesel product, they know there’s a big chance it is sustainable, that there is an explanation around it, and that maybe they will think about it a bit more and maybe start engaging with a lifestyle that is a bit more conscious.
How does that translate to D by Diesel?
We are talking about a community of very diverse people because I believe that’s how society should be. That’s how I want to reflect the people of Diesel. We decided not to talk about one single person. A lot of fragrance brands have a celebrity or a star as the face of their perfume because they hope people will try to become a bit closer to that celebrity [by buying that fragrance]. I didn’t want that because Diesel is about society and a way of living: being active, having fun, being aware, respecting each other, nailing life. A fragrance is so beautiful to work with because the full power of the brand can be there in one bottle. It’s a very directional thing.
Had you worked on a fragrance before?
No. Most things I do at Diesel, it's the very first time. I'm enjoying it.
Why did you choose to make your first Diesel fragrance unisex?
I think it’s marketing that gave it the name “unisex.” I never really think about it. My approach is that everybody can buy whatever they want to buy, everybody can wear the same thing. For example, women’s and men’s sneakers don’t exist anymore at Diesel. We just have sneakers and it doesn’t matter who is buying them. My approach to perfume is the same. It’s just perfume and it’s up to you to see if you want to wear it or not. I would love to see [this approach] become a global ethos for everybody worldwide to just do whatever they want to do.
The one thing I really [did differently] was make sure the perfume was tested on all genders to see how the feedback was from all different genders. It was super interesting to constantly have feedback from the whole committee.
Speaking of that: You used a panel of Gen Zers to help develop D by Diesel. What was that like?
Well, it was much more emotional [than I expected]. Gen Zers are very individual and democratic. We had, of course, many different kinds of juices and scents. This one was democratically chosen to be the best for all different types of people globally. It’s a very happy scent. It smells like summer. I thought they would go maybe a bit harder based on the connotations of the Diesel brand being a bit masculine, but this is actually quite warm and sweet.
What did you discover about Gen Z when developing this fragrance?
I feel that Gen Z is much more conscious than I was when I was younger and is much more about respecting others. When I was their age, I was much more narrow minded and I’m really happy to see that this generation, which is actually shaping the future, is really about acceptance and caring. I spent four days on the campaign shoot with them—all different genders, sexualities, nationalities and they didn’t give a shit about the different backgrounds or whatever. You really could feel a good vibe. They just want to nail life. That’s why the optimistic vibe of the scent was very important.
There’s a sustainability aspect to the fragrance as well. Was that difficult to do?
We are working so hard on sustainability in ready-to-wear and all the other categories that we have, so it’s just part of our foundation now. L’Oreal [who produced the fragrance] was directly on board and it was actually very easy. If they would have said no, I would have imposed it, but I didn’t have to. L’Oreal is very much aware of what is happening today and they are also really working on [sustainability]. They also want to do something good.
What do you hope people feel when they wear D by Diesel?
At the end of the day, perfume is a very personal thing. I think everybody wears perfume because it enhances their personality and makes them feel comfortable. I just really hope that the power of D by Diesel makes people ready to nail their day and feel really good in their skin. I think that’s exactly what it is going to do.
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