Friendship might not be a typical reference point for a fashion brand, but it’s a theme that permeates Ami, an advanced contemporary men’s wear label founded by Alexandre Mattiussi.
After spending his 20s hopping around the halls of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — he started at Dior, moved to Givenchy and ended his stint at Marc Jacobs — Mattiussi was ready to create clothes for his friends that filled the gap between fast fashion and luxury.
This story first appeared in the April 2, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I couldn’t afford the things I was designing,” Mattiussi said. “I wanted to bring this luxurious feeling into something more accessible.”
So in 2011, he launched Ami, which are his initials and also means friend in French. Nicolas Santi-Weil, Ami’s chief executive officer who had cofounded French contemporary brand The Kooples, joined the business in 2013. The two met through friends and Santi-Weil said he was drawn to the 34-year-old designer because he had a knack for business and a clear vision for the brand.
According to Mattiussi, that vision isn’t anything deep.
“I try not to intellectualize it too much,” Mattiussi said. “When I think about my experience before, the way we were designing was sometimes not so right. It feels like the only thing that interests me is the way a guy is going to wear my clothes.”
Instead of approaching each season with a theme, Mattiussi asks friends what they want to wear and then creates their ideal wardrobe. He plays with proportions and fabrics to produce modern men’s wear staples, which are made in Europe. Unlike the women’s market, which churns out fashion pieces each season, Mattiussi doesn’t feel the need to play that game.
“I have the temptation [to design more fashion pieces], but I feel like it’s not the right time to do it. The guy who is wearing Ami is not about being fashionable,” Mattiussi said.
He also doesn’t play the celebrity game, although he was pleased when David Bowie wore an Ami trenchcoat in his 2013 music video “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).”
“He’s still wearing it,” Mattiussi laughed.
That same year, Mattiussi won the ANDAM Fashion Award. He was the first men’s wear designer in 25 years to receive the honor and he used the prize money, about $268,500, to stage his first runway show last February. The show, which replicated a snowy street in Paris, was a turning point for the brand.
“I wanted to put the story of my guys and my collection into something that’s very realistic. It feels like this is a reality, and I wanted to tell the story of a street in Paris during winter with the snow falling at the end.”
Although his fall show featured five women wearing Ami looks, Mattiussi said he has no plans to work on a women’s collection. Instead, he’s homing in on his men’s collection, opening two more stores this year, one in London and another in Paris, and maintaining his 300 points of sale worldwide. Ami operates two stores in Paris and is sold globally at retailers including Barneys New York, Harrods, Galeries Lafayette and Saks Fifth Avenue. According to Santi-Weil, 80 percent of the brand’s business comes from outside of France.
While at The Kooples, Santi-Weil oversaw the opening of 350 stores, 100 of which were outside of France. Although Santi-Weil is taking Ami’s expansion slow, he said it’s important to open more stores.
“Even if most of our business is abroad, to be able to open our own stores is to be in direct contact with our clientele,” said Santi-Weil. “[We can] tell our own story and have the feedback as well.”
Another way to connect with this customer is through Instagram, a platform that Mattiussi frequently uses. Aside from telling his brand’s story and showcasing his friends wearing a red beanie — Mattiussi’s signature hat — on the app, it allows the designer to see how his customers interpret Ami product.
“This is the best window on what’s happening. Every day I have the chance to see someone wearing Ami. I feel like the success of the brand comes from the people who are wearing your clothes.”
Customers also communicate with Mattiussi on Instagram and send direct messages with design suggestions, which sometimes include altering silhouettes or producing pieces in additional colors. Mattiussi takes these comments seriously.
“I have ideas, but I don’t say I’m the best designer in the world. I don’t say I’m going to revolutionize fashion. I just say I have ideas and I want to share them with as many people as I can,” he said.
When Mattiussi and Santi-Weil were asked how big they wanted Ami to be, they were reticent to give projections but positive about the future.
“It’s like a friendship; we want to develop it first. It’s just the beginning of the story, so I cannot give you a precise figure,” Santi-Weil said.“We do believe, like our friends have said, that men are the new women. We do believe that there is a huge potential in this segment.”