How an eight-year-old L.A. brand broke into American fashion royalty

July 6, 2022

Los Angeles’s Rodeo Drive may be among the toniest stretches of luxury real estate in America, but it features very few U.S. fashion brands. The handful includes timeworn titans like Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren—but also on the block is one eight-year-old label that has begun nipping at their heels: Amiri, reports The Wall Street Journal. 

The Los Angeles brand is one of the fastest-rising businesses in American luxury fashion. According to its 45-year-old founder Mike Amiri, the label will do $250 million in sales this year—a 56% increase from the year before. In 2023, it is projected to do $320 million in sales.

A Los Angeles native, Amiri made his name early with Viper Room fare like bravura Cuban-heeled boots and Saran Wrap-tight jeans. At the brand’s minimalist Rodeo Drive outpost (opened in 2020) that core rock-chic gear still makes up much of the assortment.

But also on offer are restrained staples like double-breasted sport coats and logo-lite white sneakers, indicators of the brand’s broadening aspirations.

“I think the years before were building up to this point,” said Amiri during an interview in the Rodeo Drive store in May. The brand, he said, is now reaching beyond “little articles about the L.A. brands that are doing good, [to] more a take on modern luxury.”

The company has around 150 employees and four retail shops in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Las Vegas; with plans to open five more this year in Tokyo, Shanghai, Dubai, Atlanta and Chicago. Its products are carried by roughly 160 boutiques and department stores worldwide. In 2019, OTB, an Italian luxury conglomerate that owns Diesel, Marni, and Maison Margiela, took a 20% stake in the business.

Amiri, who is both creative director and CEO of the company, founded it at 37, a relatively mature age in the youth-obsessed fashion world. Before the brand, Amiri crafted stage attire for stars like Axl Rose and Steven Tyler. He repackaged that showy sensibility at Amiri. “I started adapting that [style] to civilians who want to just get that attention in a different way,” said Mr. Amiri.

Early design techniques included blasting slinky jeans and Italian cashmere sweaters with a shotgun. Amiri’s first office was in the basement of a Hollywood Thai restaurant not far from the rock clubs that shaped his tastes. The brand has looked like “Sunset Boulevard in the ’90s because I grew up on Sunset Boulevard in the ’90s,” he said.

The turn-it-up-to-11 approach clicked: Amiri was picked up by esteemed boutiques like Barneys and Maxfields in Los Angeles.

Mike’s “deeply steeped in the [rocker] lifestyle, the music influences. So, it reads as incredibly authentic and that’s what I think resonates for people when you see the brand,” said Bruce Pask, the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. According to Pask, the brand is one of the top performers at both department stores—selling especially well for an American label.

Amiri has found particular purchase with today’s equivalent of rock stars: rappers and athletes. The father of three found his brand getting name-checked in rap songs alongside Gucci and Prada.

Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and skateboarder Ishod Wair all have worn Amiri gear. About a month ago, on his 23rd birthday, Chinese Formula One driver Zhou Guanyu posted an Instagram photo showing him holding a cake with a fondant version of one of Amiri’s skeleton-patterned sneakers.

Brian Barry-Austin, 35, a medical device salesperson from Greenbelt, Maryland, said he learned of Amiri through rap songs and not too long ago purchased a black logo hat from the brand. “It’s made very well,” said Mr. Barry-Austin, “the front of it is just very stiff and is very sturdy.”

And recently, the industry has started to acknowledge Amiri. He was nominated for the menswear designer of the year award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2019 and in 2018 was given a spot to show during Paris Fashion Week. 

The runway shows reflect  Amiri’s ballooning business. The last one, held just over a week ago in Paris’s Jardin des Plantes, advanced Amiri alongside the Diors and Louis Vuittons of the world. Standout pieces included flowy multi-pleated trousers in baby blue, baggy leather shorts, peak-lapel double-breasted suits and embroidered varsity jackets with a Pegasus motif. Of the 50 looks, not one featured a pair of shotgun-scorched jeans or a tattered Kurt Cobain-flannel shirt.

“You can easily pigeonhole yourself by taking things extremely literally,” said Amiri of his move beyond the exacting grunge look. He now thinks of Los Angeles as a loose reference point—a land of relaxed clothing and look-at-me energy—rather than something to copy exactly.

“Rock and roll is palm trees and guitars!’ you know, I’ll leave that for other people to do,” he said. L.A. is now “more of a mind-set.”

Research contact: @WSJ