New To Us
Everything You Need To Know About LA’s New Favourite Label
How AMIRI went from basement startup to multi-million-dollar brand in three short years
Mr Mike Amiri makes garments from the world’s most luxurious cashmere, then drives out to the middle of the desert in Joshua Tree where a guy he first met in a flea market blasts them with a shotgun. In his Downtown LA atelier, his team wear white lab coats, white gloves and facemasks as they pin the denim to surgical tables in order and painstakingly customise every single jacket and pair of jeans. In the nearby Design District studio, a tailor hand-paints palm trees to order on black leather biker jackets before they are studded with individually Tiffany-set Swarovski crystals. No two AMIRI items are the same.
“We’re bringing haute couture to a rock ’n’ roll aesthetic,” says Mr Amiri. “Every piece is unique.” This is why its exclusive, one-of-a-kind products command high-fashion prices. It is also why they are worn by A-listers including Messrs Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar, LeBron James, Odell Beckham Jr and Jay Z. Mr Kayne West was an early fan of the brand.
AMIRI’s rise is prodigious, and almost unprecedented for such a new brand. Mr Amiri remains coy on specific figures, but the company now turns over “millions of dollars”. Not bad, especially considering just three years ago, then aged 37, its founder and creative director was sitting on the floor of a dank and windowless basement under a Thai restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, customising his first batch of denim himself.
The brand has grown organically through word of mouth and social media. In this film to celebrate its launch on MR PORTER as part of our Made In California project, Mr Amiri takes us back to that now disused Hollywood basement where he literally started from scratch: the table where he worked, cutting his very first jackets, is scuffed and scored. The first season’s moodboards are still up on the walls. Among the prints of rock icon inspirations, including Messrs Kurt Cobain and Keith Richards, there’s a framed refrain from entrepreneur Mr Mark Cuban, which reads, “Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you.” Early prototypes and samples hang from overhead pipes and exposed beams.
“It started simple enough in this basement with me, one sewing machine and one pattern cutter, a Russian guy called Vad, who I found through a classified ad,” says Mr Amiri. “Turned out Vad was a trained tailor who used to sew for a guy who made all the jackets for rock stars back in the day. He’s been with me ever since. We would make one jacket at a time and post a picture of it.” Instagram did the rest. “With the rise of social media, the walls that were once there in the fashion industry for independent designers were removed.”
This part of Hollywood was Mr Amiri’s stomping ground growing up. As a teenager, he was immersed in West Coast hip-hop, but also idolised the likes of Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses, which influenced his rip-and-repair aesthetic. (He outfitted Guns N’ Roses for their most recent tour.) Today, in his signature wide-brimmed hat, kohl-eyed behind dark sunglasses, wearing his own distressed jeans and suede boots, the 40-year-old looks every inch the rock star himself. For a few years, he was, albeit in South Korea, where, under the moniker Micki Eyes, he was a lyric-spitting member of the Korean hip-hop group Drunken Tiger. He was just a kid then. These days, he is a married father of three who drives a sleek black Range Rover and lives in the family-friendly Sherman Oaks neighbourhood of Los Angeles.
After working as a design consultant for various LA denim giants and international luxury brands, Mr Amiri felt it was time to strike out on his own. He understood the high-end market. He realised the stars were aligning, and many of them loved what he was designing. There are arguably no bigger influencers in the age of social media than Messrs Bieber and West. “Although I don’t think Kanye West is currently an AMIRI guy,” the designer is careful to point out. “Ironically, I see him about four times a week at the gym and we never talk about clothing.”
A Post-it note on a shoebox in Mr Amiri’s studio reads “Keith Richards”. “Yeah, they’re for him.” Celebrities evidently love AMIRI. What’s the secret formula? “Clothing expresses who you are without you having to say a word,” says Mr Amiri. “People connect to clothes that reflect them. Musicians, rock stars, athletes, they have a certain conviction about themselves and who they feel they are, a certain confidence and cool. At AMIRI, we set out to make remarkable clothing at a luxury level, and the people who are attracted to it are all in their own way influential.”
It’s working. Every couple of minutes throughout the day, Mr Amiri’s phone jingles with a notification. What is that sound? An incoming text message? An email? Somewhat bashfully, he admits that each one is a digital trill of the cash till, alerting him to every sale over a certain threshold. It is relentless. “Today has been a good day,” he smiles, switching his phone to silent.
AMIRI’s production process is uncompromising, on a par, he says, with luxury fashion houses in Europe. “It goes way beyond what most designers would do,” he says. “Is this the most economical way to make a product? Definitely not. It’s insane. But is it the best? Yes. We’re not about margins, we’re about quality. No one can copy what we do.”
The MX1 jeans have become AMIRI’s most recognisable design. They were born out of Mr Amiri’s love of patching vintage jeans as a teen, and his passion for BMX and Motocross. “I always liked how motorcycle pants had all these weird features you could take apart, so I replicated the hand-pleated leather knee articulations,” he says. The standout piece in this exclusive Made In California capsule collection is the handpainted palm tree leather jacket set with Swarovski crystals. “For MR PORTER, I wanted something really special that stops a room, but is cool at the same time.”
And then there is bullet hole-ridden cashmere and cotton terry, “destroying that which should not be destroyed”. This shotgun effect is one that several brands – high and low – have tried to replicate. “It’s amazing that this garage fashion kid with this silly idea has influenced brands from the most prestigious fashion houses,” says Mr Amiri.
He believes his brand of luxury rocker wear is speaking to a new customer. “What is luxury today?” he says. “Is it a 100-year-old fashion house, or something novel and interesting and different and experiential that you may not have heard of, but there’s a sense of discovery that you connect to – and where each piece is different, this is the only one that is just like this? To me, that’s luxury.” He is aiming high and he’s working hard to get there, to have AMIRI accepted as part of the “established luxury community”. Which brings us back to that motivational quote down in the basement. “Let me be clear,” he says. “I’m the guy working 24 hours a day to take it all away from them.”