How Hollywood, Axl Rose and 'The Lost Boys’ Inspire CFDA Fashion Awards Nominee Mike Amiri
‘How do you make the world feel like rock stars?’ asks the L.A. designer, who counts Beyonce, Kendall Jenner, Jared Leto, Post Malone and Keith Richards as clients.
It was less than four years ago that L.A. fashion designer Mike Amiri officially launched his namesake Amiri menswear brand (that expanded into womenswear last year), yet he already boasts a long list of A-list fans: Jared Leto, Beyonce, Keith Richards, Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik, Kendall Jenner, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Michael B. Jordan, Alicia Keys and Post Malone. And that’s the short list.
The latest honor for the label that peddles $625 plaid flannels, $1,300 distressed skinny jeans and $2,990 biker jackets is that Amiri is one of five designers nominated for this year’s Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent by the Council of Fashion Designers of America; the winner will be announced Monday at the annual CFDA Awards in New York.
The L.A. brand’s trademarks include artisanal craftsmanship and intricate methods of hand-distressing (he made shotgunned knits a thing — for real); luxe cashmere, mohair, silk and denim sourced from Europe; and iconic California patterns such as palm trees, sharks, Baja stripes and checkerboards that sync up with Spicoli’s Vans. Did we mention that Axl Rose is his muse? (More on that later but note the bandana accents).
Born in Hollywood, Amiri attended Beverly Hills High alongside Angelina Jolie and L.A. serves as an ongoing touchstone. His fashion game authentically hits that Los Angeles sweet spot that’s one part Beverly Hills glam and another part gritty Hollywood rock ’n roll. The collection sells at Barneys, Mr Porter, Maxfield and more.
“How do you duplicate things that you thought were just stage pieces? How do you make the world feel like rock stars?” asks Amiri. In his own artfully destroyed black jeans, a “Black Magic” t-shirt that Beyonce has donned, and suede jodhpur boots with bandana and metal chain detailing, Amiri talks shop to THR during an impromptu tour of the 25,000-square-foot downtown L.A. atelier where he moved the company in December.
He’s added offices, an indoor basketball court, and a stash of beer to a revamped 1930s metals manufacturing building. “I really want it to feel light in here, with no one stressing, what people would imagine an L.A. luxury house to look like,” Amiri says. As if on cue, the Red Hot Chili Peppers song ‘Californication’ drops as a background soundtrack.
On his current state of mind: With the CFDA thing and our second legit presentation in Paris in January, it’s like getting ready for the prom and finals at the same time.
On the Amiri aesthetic: The collection is supposed to be fun and nonchalant and evoke the irreverence of living in Los Angeles and being a product of really nice weather and not taking things too seriously, but at the same time being put together in a certain way. In L.A., everyone looks cool but doesn’t want to try to look cool. With luxury, there’s a need to move towards a more casual, street aspect with classic items like a pair of ripped jeans or a trucker jacket and make it elevated. For us, it’s all about the fabrics, the composition and a secret to our success is that spirit you see in the clothes. If something is mass-produced, no matter how nice the fabrics are, there’s a flatness about it. But when pieces pass through so many different hands, with so much care, in aggregate it just amounts to this spirit in the garment that jumps off the shelf. When I started, everything I did was by myself so I would spend a week on one jacket and was supertedious about every little piece of it. For Amiri, I wanted to find a way to place that item globally with the same care and same characteristics.
On his made-in-L.A commitment: 80 percent or more of our product is made in Los Angeles. Footwear is made in Tuscany because it’s just easier to make shoes there. But we like to use the strengths of L.A. manufacturing, all these artisanal wash houses and embroideries and hand techniques. We go to Paris and Italy and Japan and source the best fabrics but, instead of making it in Europe, we bring it all here and make it all here and process it all here so it will look different than what you will see in a designer section somewhere. About half of our 50 employees are in production or production management at our factory here or at factories around L.A., so any garment being worked on is inspected by someone from Amiri versus shipping off technical specs and a sample to Europe and waiting for production.
On Hollywood as inspiration: There are always direct Hollywood references, a touch of that star culture. I pull so many random images [gestures to a Mickey Mouse print on his spring 2019 inspiration board]. I think there’s something very punk rock about Mickey, you know what I mean?”
On his first celeb connection: I ended up going to Loyola Law School, but fortunately for me it was near the garment district in downtown L.A., so between classes I would walk over there to work on samples. I met some stylists and started to make one-off jackets, suiting and shirts for Usher and Steven Tyler. That was in 2006. I think there was a four-year span where Usher was winning every single award and I dressed him for every one of those red carpets. I was really obsessed with it more than I was with law school, although I still got a degree.”
On The Lost Boys collab for fall 2018: The Lost Boys was super special to me. When I first saw that movie, all the guys looking so cool in it with their earrings and long-haired mullets and chains were the same guys I would see on Hollywood Boulevard growing up. Those young vampires in the movie were literally that same lost kid. My parents would lock the doors in the car when we drove past them and I would look out the window and say, ‘Oh, my god, these guys are so rad.’ It was all about that psychotic Hollywood nightlife culture that I was so drawn to. We reached out to Warner Brothers to legitimize a collab and they knew about the brand and were really into it and supportive. They let us do the whole collection with Lost Boys undertones and we got to use a couple cool Kiefer Sutherland images. The vibe of the styling was, ‘What did a Hollywood vampire look like and what does that mean?’ There was a bit of shine.”
On his Axl Rose obsession: Every collection I design has a little bit of Axl Rose; I sneak it in somewhere, because when i was younger these guys were larger than life to me. When they reunited in 2016, his team reached out and said that somehow Axl saw a bit of this brand and he really loved it and was wondering if I'd like to help style a couple pieces. I ended up styling his entire look for the entire tour, head to toe Amiri. I got to meet him and talk to him a few times about Hollywood and growing up in L.A. and his origins of style. Then we did a Guns N' Roses collab last year in partnership with Maxfield [and Universal Music Group’s music merch company Bravado].
On what makes a pair of jeans worth $1,000 plus: For us, a pair of jeans starts with denim that we have made specifically for us in Italy. We bring it here and it undergoes a 15-step wash process, which most companies will not do because it’s too expensive, but for us it’s about making one of the best products in the world. It can take months to perfectly destroy and rebuild our jeans. Each pair is pinned down in our atelier and individually hand-stitched, hand-embroidered and hand-repaired. The shape of the silhouettes and the fit are also so important. Couple that with the element of scarcity. All those elements make something luxurious. They sell out super fast because we cut down production of store orders from 20 to 25 percent so there’s never an influx of Amiri product on the market. If a store wants 500 pairs of this style, we give them 350 pairs. We’ve been really disciplined in protecting how much product is out there and that’s spoken to how fast the brand is scaling. A used pair of Amiri jeans are still almost $1,000 on eBay.
On the current state of fashion: Fortunately for me, fashion is at a time where new ideas are really accepted and independent young designers who aren’t formally or classically trained are now being recognized as disruptors who can shift culture and shift business, so a brand no one’s ever heard of can sit on the designer floor of Barneys next to Givenchy and Saint Laurent and Gucci. I’m a product of that new world and that new thinking. A lot of designers from Los Angeles didn’t really dare to think as big as they could be. It was like, ‘Let me have some crumbs off the table and build this little business for myself.’