MILAN — Renzo Rosso’s latest investment is in Los Angeles.
The Italian entrepreneur’s OTB holding, owner of Diesel, has taken a stake in the luxury brand Amiri, founded by Mike Amiri in 2014, and now with a who’s who of celebrity fans including Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, Keith Richards, Taylor Swift, Michael B. Jordan, Alicia Keys and Post Malone.
“It’s 100 percent my world and my mentality in luxury,” an upbeat Rosso told WWD in an exclusive interview.
He was speaking of the founder and the rock-‘n’-roll-inspired, born-in-L.A. luxury brand, which sells men’s and women’s $1,250 hand-distressed Japanese denim, $650 shotgun-distressed knits, $1,100 palm-tree-painted trucker jackets and $1,390 bandana-buckle boots inspired by Axl Rose at stores including Barneys New York, Maxfield and Mr Porter. Amiri is also up for the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year award at tonight’s CFDA Awards.
“It’s what I would have dreamed to do and I found it ready and done by Mike. I am very happy to be his partner, to have a supporting and strategic role, and I want to help him grow the brand by bringing my 40 years of experience to the table,” added Rosso.
He declined to disclose financial details, but said this was a minority investment.
“It’s a great story, I have been following him for a long time and Amiri has become one of the most interesting shows in luxury. I like how he interprets luxury sportswear with a distinctive voice. We’ve been meeting for a while, we’ve been talking about a million things, and we have a great relationship — our partners get along, too. He is honest, lovely and very modern in his approach,” touted Rosso.
“Mike and I are very similar, but in addition he sketches. He is a rare creative talent and passionate entrepreneur at the same time, a lawyer son of lawyers — he knows how to negotiate and discuss contracts,” laughed Rosso, referring to the designer’s background making one-off jackets for rock stars while he was a Loyola Law student. “But we understand each other right away and make decisions quickly.”
“We had never sought out any outside partnership,” Amiri said of his business, which employs 65 people at a 25,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown L.A.’s Arts District, and expects to generate sales of $60 million in 2019. “I met Renzo during a visit to L.A. a few years ago, kind of organically, and we talked more about product and creativity than anything. He always was there as a sounding board, encouraging me to shoot off questions. It was an easy friendship. We spoke a few times a week, and had dinners with our wives. When the discussions of having him be a part of what we’re doing came about, it wasn’t a hard decision.”
Amiri is looking to Rosso for help opening his own retail stores as soon as this year, he said, as well as broadening his offerings into tailored suiting and accessories, which will likely be manufactured in ateliers in Italy “with an L.A. spirit.”
“As we scale, I struggled with how do we expand globally while maintaining our integrity. He has a lot of experience scaling product but maintaining a spirit of creativity,” said the designer. “It’s a minority investment. We still retain full control of the company and independence. As we begin to move toward our own retail and broader category selections within the collection, it only makes sense to have someone who has 40-plus years’ experience in retail and creating luxury products on our side and as a voice in the room.”
When asked about L.A.’s ascendence as a creative capital, Amiri said, “It’s encouraging to have so many eyes on Los Angeles because I believe there is lots of great talent here who have never before had the opportunity to get in front of the right people. But the art movement and development in downtown L.A. has also validated talent that has always been here. I hope Amiri and our expansion opens doors for other designers who have global aspirations.”
Rosso praised Amiri’s ability to build a solid brand that has quickly garnered market space and a loyal following. “There is no need to change it, the brand will continue to be true to itself, but it will be able to tap into OTB’s assets and production development — it’s a win-win situation. We have started to talk about distribution and we have decided to open stores but we will have to fine-tune when, where and how. The brand’s sellouts are incredible and Amiri is available at the best stores around,” he said.
At a time when collaborations are the new black, asked if Amiri could perhaps work with Rosso on Diesel, the entrepreneur did not go into specifics, but said: “That would be great.”
For Amiri, Rosso’s integrity won him over. “He’s very family-oriented. His organization is much bigger than ours, but the relationship he has with his team resonated. I watched him in his headquarters, he has his hands on product still. I aspire for that kind of enthusiasm and energy when I have 40-plus years in the business.”
Considered a marketing whiz and a talent scout with a true passion for creative design, Rosso oversees and supports the ITS talent search in Italy’s Trieste, is mentor to the winner of this year’s ANDAM main fashion award, and he is also jury president of Milano Moda Graduate. Asked to comment on the future of the traditionally trained designer, following the news of the partnership between Rihanna and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Rosso said “people who have great sensibility and strong contact with the public, who understand beauty, add a lot to fashion,” citing Kanye West and Virgil Abloh as other examples.
Fashion in any case “remains anchored in the great touch of the designer, someone that makes the rules, someone with real and pure creativity, like Margiela or Galliano, and then someone with different characteristics. It’s very much up to the intelligence of a person to surround themselves with the right people.”
In April, OTB chief executive officer Ubaldo Minelli revealed the group was eyeing some M&A activity.
As reported, OTB has been eyeing an investment in the Roberto Cavalli company. OTB’s manufacturing arm Staff International is Just Cavalli’s licensee, and its parent company presented an expression of interest with a recapitalization of 164 million euros, according to a court filing to request a restructuring plan with creditors presented by Cavalli.
While last year revenues decreased 5.2 percent to 1.44 billion euros impacted by the performance of the Diesel brand, the group’s main business, Minelli emphasized the strength of the group’s net financial position, totaling 111 million euros, up 32 percent compared with 2017 and net equity, which stands at 885 million euros.
Based on these financial resources, a more efficient structure and a simplified and integrated organization, the group will invest 200 million euros in the next three years on an industrial development plan and, in particular, the company pointed to the expansion of the current perimeter of OTB through M&A operations.
While growing Diesel into a global sportswear brand over the years, Rosso has been building a diversified fashion group under OTB. Rosso purchased a majority stake in Maison Margiela in 2002, famously tapping John Galliano to helm it in 2014. In 2008, he acquired a majority stake in Viktor & Rolf and in 2012, he bought Marni, in 2015 taking full control of the brand, which is now designed by Francesco Risso, after the exit of founder Consuelo Castiglioni in 2016.
The group also controls manufacturing arm Brave Kid. Staff International, based in Italy’s Veneto region was bought by Rosso in 2000, and produces and distributes collections for Dsquared2, among others.
In 2016, OTB bought accessories company Paula Cademartori.