MIKE AMIRI AMIRI

Footwear News - - EMERGING TALENT 2018 -

In 2014, Mike Amiri walked into Max­field in Los An­ge­les with nine gar­ments, look­ing to sell his small cap­sule of jeans, T-shirts and leather jack­ets to the up­scale re­tailer. This year, his com­pany has done more than $40 mil­lion in sales (2019 is pro­jected at $55 mil­lion), and the brand is one of the fastest-grow­ing menswear la­bels glob­ally. At a time when many are ques­tion­ing the Amer­i­can dream, he’s liv­ing it. He’s also sell­ing the quin­tes­sen­tial L.A. rock ’n’ roll fan­tasy to the rest of the world through the sar­to­rial tal­is­mans that tend to come with it — namely leather jack­ets, flan­nel shirts, shred­ded skinny jeans, suede Chelsea boots and that care­free Cal­i­for­nia at­ti­tude.

How else to ex­plain how the L.A. na­tive went from a base­ment work­shop on Sun­set Boule­vard to a 30,000-square-foot head­quar­ters (com­plete with its own bas­ket­ball court) and more than 150 re­tail ac­counts in the span of four years?

In­sta­gram has some­thing to do with it. The 41-year-old de­signer started adding pho­tos of his cre­ations to his ac­count, and slowly but surely, in­ter­est grew. “Peo­ple are very reach­able,” said Amiri (who per­son­ally has 234K fol­low­ers; the brand has 102K). “Ev­ery­body sees ev­ery­thing — if it’s good. You need cer­tain peo­ple to see. That’s re­ally the mod­ern way that tal­ent is dis­cov­ered.” That tac­tic even­tu­ally gained the at­ten­tion of the men’s buyer at Bar­neys New York, who di­rect-mes­saged Amiri in 2015 to ask if he could fly to New York for a meet­ing (the re­tailer has car­ried the brand ever since, and it is one of its top ac­counts).

It also helps that Amiri once lived the mu­si­cian’s life. In his early 20s, the de­signer was in a Korean hip-hop group called Drunken Tiger (un­der the stage name Micki Eyes). He even­tu­ally be­gan mak­ing one-off gar­ments for the likes of Steven Tyler. “I think it was help­ful, be­cause you know what makes peo­ple feel con­fi­dent on stage, what makes some­one feel like a rock star or even just a lit­tle bit like a rock star,” he said. “Not ev­ery­one can pull off a whole rock star look, but I think ev­ery­one has that need, to a dif­fer­ent de­gree.”

Most of his cus­tomers seem will­ing to take some risks, es­pe­cially on his suede boots, a mod­i­fied Chelsea style that has a ban­dana scarf ac­cent (a styling trick from his high school days) and a 30-mil­lime­ter heel. It’s a sil­hou­ette that most men wouldn’t have fath­omed 10 or 15 years ago, but it’s now the brand’s most pop­u­lar shoe. “It’s funny — when peo­ple start out with that one, lit­tle by lit­tle, they gain the courage to go higher,” said Amiri. “Where can I take this per­son in the next col­lec­tion? It’s [about] the evo­lu­tion of it.”

Amiri launched footwear two years ago, and it now rep­re­sents 15 per­cent of the busi­ness (bot­toms, in­clud­ing denim, have the largest share). And though more than 90 per­cent of the col­lec­tion is made in L.A., the de­signer opted to pro­duce shoes at a fac­tory in Mi­lan to keep up with the luxury mar­ket. “These fash­ion houses, they have gi­ant le­ga­cies. As a brand start­ing out, ev­ery de­ci­sion you make is part of your DNA; it’s part of that book that you’re writ­ing,” he said. “If you be­lieve this thing will live on for many years, the but­tons you choose, the lin­ing you do, the color palette — all of these things are su­per-im­por­tant.”

There are 11 men’s shoe styles for fall, plus 11 for women, a cat­e­gory the brand is ex­pand­ing. And spring ’19 will branch out to 19 styles, which in­clude new it­er­a­tions of the ban­dana boot, taken up a notch in leop­ard-print calf hair and bright white leather. There is also a hy­brid com­bat/hik­ing/work­boot (com­plete with the ban­dana wrap) and a se­ries of skater-style slip-ons dec­o­rated with skele­ton bones and mar­i­juana leaves.

Though there are plenty of sneak­ers in the col­lec­tion (fall in­cludes a se­ries of grungy, glit­tery kicks made with vin­tage soles), Amiri ad­mits that he likes stand­ing out from the ex­panse of them in the mar­ket to­day. “Ev­ery­one is chas­ing the dad shoe, but I’ve al­ways thought to go where peo­ple don’t go,” he said. “How do we cre­ate sneaker hype with a boot? If you can turn a sneaker guy into a boot guy, then you’ve done some­thing pretty pow­er­ful.”

Amiri has gained devo­tees through a se­ries of global pop-up shops. The brand did its first event lo­cally with Max­field in 2017 but has ex­panded to Joyce in Hong Kong and Re­stir in Tokyo and will de­but at Le Bon Marché in Paris this month.

The in­dus­try is also start­ing to pay at­ten­tion: After hold­ing his first run­way show in Paris in Jan­uary for fall ’18, the CFDA nom­i­nated Amiri for the Swarovski Award for Emerg­ing Tal­ent. When it came time to at­tend the awards in June, Amiri called up his friend, hip-hop artist J Balvin, and in­vited him to be his date to the show. He met the Colom­bian star a few years ago after Balvin found his pieces at Max­field and sought out Amiri on In­sta­gram, DMing the de­signer to ask if they could meet. Balvin came to his base­ment stu­dio to see the col­lec­tion, and the two be­came in­stant friends. “We sat and hung out and just talked about our dreams and work­ing and what we want for our­selves, what we be­lieve in. He was re­ally en­cour­ag­ing,” said Amiri.

The de­signer didn’t win the award that night, but the evening still pro­vided a mo­ment of re­flec­tion. “It was very sur­real sit­ting there with [Balvin] and Alexan­der Wang and Donatella Ver­sace and Kaia Ger­ber. We’re all at this ta­ble, and [Balvin] leans over to me and says, ‘Re­mem­ber when we were in the base­ment? Do you be­lieve this?’” —S.A.

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