MIKE AMIRI AMIRI
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.