PARIS — Ami is making a big leap into retail.
The buzzy French men’s wear label designed by Alexandre Mattiussi is slated to open three freestanding stores before year-end — in Paris, Tokyo and London — adding to the existing two stand-alone units and 277 wholesale accounts worldwide.
“More than 80 percent of our business is achieved abroad,” said Nicolas Santi-Weil, Ami’s chief executive officer, over a cup of hot milk and honey at Paris’ new canteen, Maison Plisson, a stone’s throw from the company’s Marais headquarters.
“Ami started as a wholesale brand, which was a pretty sane strategy because it limited the risk — we only produced what we sold beforehand. But it’s time now to focus on retail in order to get our message across and get direct feedback from the client, which I consider a key factor in building a brand. We are young but very international,” said Santi-Weil, who joined the firm in 2013 from The Kooples, a fellow French label he helped launch in 2008.
France still represents 20 percent of Ami’s annual turnover, but the next Paris boutique has its sights set on tourists flocking to the Saint-Honoré district and the area’s high concentration of luxury brands.
Tucked in between APC and Missoni on Rue d’Alger, where Talbot Runhof used to be, the new unit is twice as big as the brand’s Marais flagship, stretching more than 1,700 square feet and containing a mix of wooden floors and marble furniture designed by Studio KO.
The shop, which Santi-Weil expects to be profitable within two to three years, is slated for a soft opening mid-June and an official opening cocktail during men’s fashion week later this month.
The executive said opting for a side street to the ritzy Rue Saint Honoré, one of the most expensive retail strips in Paris, not only saved him between 50 and 60 percent in rent and key money, but allowed the company to stay in tune with the brand’s down-to-earth philosophy.
“We have no desire to be that obvious. We like to be unexpected. The biggest challenge for an independent brand is to grow while staying true to its roots, and Ami is still a label for the guy next door,” he said, mentioning the firm’s penchant for street casting.
“We would sometimes have a coffee with Alexandre [Mattiussi] and he would spot someone across the room, jump up and ask the guy to walk in his show,” Santi-Weil said. “It works most of the time. He’s very intuitive that way.”
Next stop is Japan. The country represents the brand’s largest market, accounting for 27 percent of sales.
“We will open a store in the Gyre building on Omotesando Street in Tokyo on Sept. 9. That’s an important figure — 9-9. It’s Alexandre’s lucky number and he is very enthusiastic about it,” noted Santi-Weil.
Near to Comme des Garçons, Maison Martin Margiela, Chanel and Delvaux, the new venue will be the brand’s first store in Asia, where Korea in particular is quickly picking up speed. Also in September, Ami is to inaugurate its first corner at Hankyu department store in Osaka and Tokyo.
The label’s fastest growing market, however, is the U.K., where it plans to set up shop on Duke Street in Mayfair this fall.
“It’s one landlord who takes care of the whole street; he wants to revamp it like they did with Mount Street, and make it into a [hub] for advanced contemporary fashion,” including outposts of The Shop at Bluebird, Laure Apsit Livens and Penelope Chilvers, said Santi-Weil, assuring that the brand has no intention of “killing its wholesale business.”
“We just don’t want to have thousands of clients. We prefer to work with a few trusted partners such as Saks, Mr Porter, Corso Como or Harrods, where we achieve our best sell-through worldwide.”
Although the executive would not reveal the company’s annual turnover, he said sales in 2014 doubled, of which the online business — having launched in December 2013 — has much potential. “We want to start click-and-collect before the end of the year — at least within our own stores,” he noted, adding that the timing could not be better.
“Men are going through an emancipation period. They travel, they read about fashion, they are eager to discover and spend money. ‘The man is the new woman,’” says Sunny Diego of Saks, and it’s true. Business-wise, it’s interesting for a brand like Ami, which creates clothes people want to wear, because men are more loyal clients than women,” he said, suggesting that female customers tend to follow trends and bloggers’ comments, while men stick to what they know and what works for them.
That perhaps explains why a simple Oxford button-down shirt is a perennial Ami bestseller, along with the label’s signature three-button camel coat.