AMIRI an LA story
Mike Amiri grew up a few blocks from the Sunset Strip, the son of émigré Iranians who did well enough in the antique rug business to eventually rent an apartment in Beverly Hills so their kids could go to high school there. But Amiri would forevermore gravitate to the Strip. As a kid, he’d seen those wraith-like creatures of rock ‘n’ roll, wearing ripped-up jeans and flannel, long-haired and lolling outside clubs like the Viper Room and the Whiskey a Go Go. Those were his heroes and he never forgot them, so naturally, he was terrible at high school, preferring to skip out and smoke cigarettes with like-minded rock degeneracy-inclined classmates like Angelina Jolie. Still, he was the son of immigrants, so he tried. He rehabilitated himself academically at Santa Monica Community College so he could get into UCLA, then dutifully enrolled at Loyola Law School. But a funny thing happened on the way to conventional lawyerly success. Loyola is located near LA’s Fashion District, where Amiri increasingly found himself immersed in the art of making clothing, which was way more fun than legal codes and something for which he had a natural feel. Amiri had always been a flea market vintage clothes hunter; he’d distressed his own jeans from the time he started going to clubs (he had his first fake ID at age 13). Now, inspired by the Sunset Strip aesthetic of the 90s, Amiri began designing clothes that represented his idea of California. His ethos was simple. “How do you make the world feel like rock stars?”
But he wasn’t designing for rock stars; they came to him, not the other way around. Through a mutual acquaintance, Amiri began styling for Usher and Steven Tyler, leading a double life between law exams. After law school, Amiri rented a little studio under TOI, a rock ‘n’ roll-themed Thai restaurant in Hollywood only four blocks from his childhood home. There, with one room, one table, and one chair, he became a full-time designer. In 2014, he took his work to Maxfield, where head buyer Sarah Stewart immediately recognized his talent. That year, Amiri’s first collection launched at Maxfield, and the rest is history. The brand is now one of the most influential in the world, going head-to-head with the great fashion houses of Paris, but resolutely still designed in, and of, LA.
On creativity. As a creative, you are constantly looking for inspiration and just kind of living up to your own gift and exploring what that is. So most of my time is spent in pursuit of being in a really great creative state….I think for most creatives, your inspirations and your best energies are not something you can turn on or off; it’s circumstances that you learn really help bring that out of you. And for me, it’s usually an atmosphere of peace and positivity. With a little bit of music and some coffee.
On his goals. My goals, as just a person, are to make others feel good, and be happy. And usually, that gift is like a compliment, or it’s just an acknowledgment of a person’s specialness…I really believe in a person’s energy and how they hold themselves. I am really attracted to confidence and positivity.
On runway vs. retail. When you are designing a collection that is not only for shops, it’s like a whole story, and the runway becomes a part of that. It’s making sure that everything makes sense, from the point of inspiration to the music to the styling to the design and executing the vision so everything really just makes sense together. The retailer is just as important as the runway because each is a moment for someone to understand your world.
On Maxfield. Maxfield plays such an important role…not only now, but also since the beginning of the brand. The shop is famous for discovering young talent and fostering that talent. It’s not only about big giant brands but it’s about big visions and ideas that they believe in. So getting behind a designer and showing the entire collection and giving it that space on the floor and having those customers who trust the store and want to learn about the brand simply because it’s at Maxfield, really helped create a lot of the momentum for Amiri.
On his new collection. From the latest collection, the pieces that really made me step back and really take a breath were how well tailoring played into the collection. Amiri is known as being innovative, but a bit of DIY-meets-luxury collection from LA. So you expect ripped jeans and t-shirts…I wanted to take that conversation further, and what that looks like when you clean it up a little bit but still keep that casual cool. It was like a rebirth, in a way, of the original conversation.
It’s important to be a holistic designer and not look at things in such a narrow way. The world of a collection should be well-rounded. It’s not just one thing or one item; it’s more of an energy. And what does that energy look like as a suit? What does that energy look like as a pair of jeans? What does it look like as something sport related?
I noticed as I was kind of designing the collection, bits of it might be about the casual cool environment on the patio of the Chateau Marmont, and also the song ‘California Dreaming’ and the Bobby Womack interpretation of that song. It just created a mood, and I saw the first look of the runway just listening to that music, before that look was made.
On perfection and art. I think the understanding that perfection is unattainable when it deals with creativity and art is a strength that is necessary when you are making things out of nothing. You have to understand that there is no finite ending to something creative. There is no perfection; just the existence of an idea from a thought into reality is itself perfection.
I think as you start creating a collection you are creating a world. And one of the biggest things about that world is learning about yourself, and the discovery of what your own values are, and what your own vision is. A lot of that is just kind of editing what you are not, and understanding what that is first, and then narrowing it down to really what you believe in and creating those parameters of your vision and your style.
On who is Mike Amiri? Mike Amiri really is the aggregate of the people around him. A person can only be their best, or live up to their full potential, if the people around them support that vision and support that person’s ideas. So I think the one thing that you really learn is that no one has ever created anything great by themselves. As soon as you understand that, you are vulnerable and in need of people’s special gifts, and not just your own, to create something amazing. And it becomes easier to make those things into reality.
On timelessness. For me, it’s always been classic icons and artists or musicians that have been able to be timeless with how they look. A lot of times you could look back on things and they seem ridiculous or they seem contrived, but the ones who are able to create something simple and timeless to me are the most attractive.
On seeing things that aren’t there. As you grow as a creative you learn what you are not good at, and what you are really good at, and you try to focus on those strengths. And if I had one [strength] that I really rely on a lot, it would be vision — seeing things that aren’t there, but seeing it in your head, and understanding the pieces you need to put together to make that vision reality.
I often use the example of puzzle pieces that start out all blank. You have an idea of what the big picture looks like but it’s not a very clear picture. Your job is to draw on every single piece of that puzzle, one by one, knowing that they are going towards this one idea. And then at the end, when you put them together, it all makes sense.
On Amiri the brand. I think the interesting thing about Amiri is what I represent and how I came to be. In modern fashion, it’s just as much as the person, the designer…Their story is their collection. When I started, I was literally designing in a basement by myself. The first store that I went to was Maxfield because for me it represented the discovery of talent from around the world. I felt that I had a place in there, and I was fortunate enough for them to see that I actually indeed did have a place in there. So my relationship with Maxfield is just as important as my relationship to Los Angeles and growing up here. Because this is the place where the best from around the world exhibited their work, so for me, it is fitting that Maxfield is in my home city, where I started. It is almost like the hero of your city finding the young talent and giving them a platform. It’s created that feeling of possibility for young designers around the world. When they look at my brand, it’s not just the clothes, but also the story.