The Italian design mogul joins Document to discuss the brand’s legacy at the Pelican Hotel, and what it takes for creatives to stay relevant today
Although the Pelican Hotel—located in Miami Beach’s picturesque yet tourist-heavy South Beach neighborhood—has no mention of “Diesel” in its name, it’s earned the nickname “The Diesel Hotel”—and for good reason. Its staffers wear Diesel jeans and collared, short-sleeved Diesel tops. A metallic orange-hued Diesel 1dr bag and teeny-tiny red and silver 1dr-Xs-S bags, an assortment of Diesel watches, a Diesel luggage tag, Diesel bracelets, and Diesel phone cases are proudly showcased in the hotel’s check-in desk display case. Some guests probably wonder about the branding, but when they learn that the owner is Renzo Rosso—the Italian fashion mogul who co-founded the Italian denim label back in 1978—it all starts to make sense.
Rosso and fellow co-founder Adriano Goldschmied decided on the name “Diesel” because the substance was seen as the alternative fuel during the oil crisis of the late-’70s, and they wanted the brand to be known as the alternative denim label. Over 40 years later, Renzo continues to run Diesel with creative director Glenn Martens, the Y/Project designer credited with reviving the brand Rosso, who also founded Only the Brave, or OTB, the luxury conglomerate that owns labels like Maison Margiela, Jil Sander, Viktor & Rolf, Marni, and Koché. After purchasing the Pelican, Rosso became a partner at London’s notoriously sceney Chiltern Firehouse Hotel, and is currently restoring the historic Hotel Ancora in Cortina D’Ambezzo, Italy, scheduled to be ready for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
The Diesel brand is deeply embedded within the hotel’s DNA. Rosso originally purchased the Art Deco establishment in the early-’90s, back when Gianni Versace lived in a mansion down the street, and he and the Diesel team renovated and redecorated the 32-room boutique hotel. Some two decades later, when he shut down the Ocean Drive Hotel before the pandemic, he charged his son Andrea with overseeing the hotel’s interiors. The result is something that’s perfectly South Beach: excessive, kitschy, and kissed by the Miami sun. Inspired by Hollywood movie sets, the younger Rosso and his team scoured garage sales and thrift stores looking for wares with which to decorate the hotel. One ocean-view room is named the Big Bamboo for its ’70s bamboo decor; Go Bananas, meanwhile, is covered in banana-leaf wallpaper. He also hired chef Wendy Cacciatori to serve authentic Italian fare at the hotel’s Pelican Café, like Orecchia di Elefante (veal chop Milanese), Pasta al Pomodoro made tableside, and an outrageous assortment of desserts served on a ferris wheel.
Rosso joins Document to discuss the evolution of art and fashion in Miami Beach, and how he’s managed to keep his brands relevant all these years.
“I discovered the city’s unique Art Deco heritage and decided I wanted to have a bit of it. The Pelican was already a hotel, a pretty rundown one, but I could see its potential.”
Ann Binlot: Why did you purchase a hotel in South Beach in the early-’90s?
Renzo Rosso: On my way back from a trip to South America, I stopped over in Miami and decided to spend the night. I fell in love with the city’s light, its many contrasts, and these decadent beachfront properties where retired, elderly, and incredibly beautiful models sat side by side. I discovered the city’s unique Art Deco heritage and decided I wanted to have a bit of it. The Pelican was already a hotel, a pretty rundown one, but I could see its potential. So, instinctively, I bought it. The day after, I told my US team—they thought it was a very bad idea—and my CEO in Italy, who couldn’t make any sense of it and thought I was going crazy. But look where we are today.
Ann: How has Miami Beach evolved since then?
Renzo: At some point, Miami Beach—and Ocean Drive in particular—became more mainstream and commercial. But in the last couple of years, it has constantly been striving to get to its very best: cleaner, safer, better serviced. And Ocean Drive is now a one-way street, which frees more space for cycling lanes, outdoor dining, and strolling along the beach.
Ann: Your son Andrea was a very big part of the interior design. How did he become involved in the renovations?
Renzo: I had a clear idea in mind of what I wanted to do at the Pelican, and Andrea made it come to life. With Diesel Living, the brand’s home collection, Andrea is also working on another big interior design project in Miami—a 159-apartment complex in Wynwood that Diesel is developing with Bel Invest.
Ann: People around Miami have called The Pelican ‘The Diesel Hotel.’ How do you feel about that?
Renzo: The Pelican was born as a Diesel hotel. Instead of one concept, [my creative team] presented 28 different ones. We decided to go through with them all, and make every room different. The recent, sustainable refurbishment has preserved that spirit. But the Pelican will always be related to Diesel, whose advertising history is browsable along the hotel’s staircase.
Ann: But you don’t sell the Diesel items at the hotel?
Renzo: We are thinking of a Diesel store inside the hotel, maybe in the future. In the meantime, Diesel fans will be able to enjoy a new retail outlet opening soon in Miami’s Design District.
Ann: Each room has a different theme and decor. Where did you source the furniture from?
Renzo: The original furniture was found in garage sales all over the world. Andrea found incredible vintage pieces, many from Miami itself.
Ann: Why did you hire Wendy Cacciatori for the restaurant?
Renzo: We wanted a quality Italian chef who knew the market, and the result is high-end Italian cuisine with an international touch.
Ann: Most of your staff is Italian. Why?
Renzo: The hotel staff will be truly international, but for the opening, it was just easier to have a cohesive, experienced team working together.
“You never stop, and you’re never content. Society changes, consumers change, brands have to continuously evolve to stay alive.”
Ann: What were the most interesting things you saw and experienced during Miami Art Week, and why?
Renzo: The city has undeniably changed, compared to the ’90s, and today it is one of the most beautiful and exciting in the whole world. As for Miami Art Basel, I think that—together with Milan’s Salone del Mobile—it is the most all-encompassing event a city can have. The whole city is part of it; there are events of every kind. The energy is incredible.
Ann: Glenn Martens revived Diesel to the point that people are just as excited about the brand as they were in the ’90s. To what do you owe this revival?
Renzo: I followed Glenn for several years before deciding to work together, since he won his first ANDAM award. I knew he was the right talent for Diesel and I managed to bring him on board. I have to say, so far, he has been incredibly good at marrying the brand’s 40 years of heritage and his vision of a modern couturier.
Ann: Diesel was known for its iconic ads in the ’90s. How are you adapting your marketing strategy for Gen Z and social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok?
Renzo: Diesel has always been a lifestyle concept, with a revolutionary product and communication ideas. Glenn is bringing incredible innovation to the denim world—just think of the shows he’s done for Diesel so far, creating something which I like to call ‘couture denim.’
Ann: How have fashion and hospitality evolved over the last 30 years?
Renzo: The Pelican Hotel was one of the first ever ‘fashion boutique hotels’ in the world, and in a way, it opened the path in this direction to many luxury brands—because fashion and hospitality naturally go together. Fashion creates iconic worlds and environments that transcend pure retail spaces and flow into experiences and living spaces.
Ann: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career about keeping a brand relevant?
Renzo: You have to be constantly in touch with your consumers, spending time with them, talking to your store teams, understanding what they need. You never stop, and you’re never content. Society changes, consumers change, brands have to continuously evolve to stay alive.