Things in menswear move a bit more slowly when compared with the frantic pace of women’s fashion. This can be a good thing, because menswear is still relatively immune to the vagaries of trends typical of fashion, at least when it comes to the regular bloke on the street; men’s designers don’t have to churn out a new collection every two months to please their product-hungry customers.
It also means, however, that it takes a bit longer for men’s fashion to catch up with womenswear, which is why the idea of a well-priced and well-made men’s brand coming from Paris is still not that common. While on the women’s front labels such as Carven have pioneered that market, the men’s category has until recently lacked a more affordable Parisian brand that still had a luxury feel and was designed with customers – not press or celebs – in mind.
This changed five years ago when Alexandre Mattiussi – back then a 30-year-old designer with previous stints at such labels as Dior Homme and Givenchy – started Ami, a purveyor of men’s staples such as well-tailored coats, printed sweatshirts and basic-looking sneakers.
It didn’t take long for Ami to gain a loyal following among guys who may not know that much about fashion but want to look good without trying too hard. If you think about it, it’s a relatively untapped market, since most men tend to be either Silicon Valley types who love their hoodies, baggy jeans and flip-flops, or a few fashion-aware males who go for the top labels.
Frustrated by the status quo, Mattiussi felt that he didn’t have many options when looking for high-quality but interesting pieces that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. His friends felt the same way, too, hence the name Ami.
Since founding the label, Mattiussi has stuck to his guns, quickly amassing an enviable group of wholesale partners, from Mr Porter to Barneys and Lane Crawford, and building a retail network that now encompasses boutiques in Paris, Tokyo and London.
On a beautiful afternoon in January, two days after the show for his autumn/winter 2016 collection, we met Mattiussi at an outdoor cafe a short walk from his studio in the Marais district of Paris. As neighbourhood acquaintances kept stopping by to say hello and chat, Mattiussi acted like an unofficial mayor of the area, greeting friends and talking to local shopkeepers left and right.
Take me back to the early days of the brand and its major developments so far.
What I was saying in 2011, at the beginning, about menswear, was that the way I designed clothes was really honest and sincere, and we showed our collections in a very nice way, very easy, friendly – not pretentious. I was trying to show things that are realistic and make people relate to the clothes in a normal way, because fashion can be very intimidating when you think about a fashion show.
It was important to stick to my point of view because it’s the beginning of my story. I used to work for big brands before and you don’t really know why you’re making clothes at the end, just to please the press. We have to show that we’re creative, we have ideas and we want to grow, but I never forget my clients; they’re the most important thing. I design for myself, my friends. We’re a young team and we’re always asking ourselves, “Would we wear this, are we going to be able to afford it?”
You stand out in Paris, a city of couture houses. Why did you decide to make the label approachable and relatively affordable?
My problem was to make something affordable in terms of price, and accessible in terms of aesthetic. I know it’s not super affordable but it’s much more affordable than Dior, Givenchy ... We have very good distribution along with them. For me, success comes when people are wearing my clothes; you can be very successful in terms of image and press, but if you don’t sell, you don’t exist. I don’t mean to be pretentious but I see someone wearing Ami almost every day; it’s very alive; it’s existing so that’s important for me. I don’t compare my brand to other brands. It’s a balance with creativity. It’s not easy to do, because when you think about basics you can just do a navy jacket, but you have to try to bring something else too.
Your collections tend to feature menswear staples.
It’s always a wardrobe. When I started, I felt like it’s not really about telling a story, though I’m very narrative during the shows, like I did with the airport, the metro, the market in past seasons. I tell a story but it’s a realistic story and when I design clothes I don’t refer to a fairy tale or movies or something like that, I just focus on the clothes. So we start with a jacket, with a piece of fabric, because at the end this jacket is going to be in a man’s closet and he’s going to wear it with a sweater, a pair of shoes and he just wants a nice jacket. Sometimes I have the temptation to be more fashionable and I try things like the glitter pants and coat this season, which was unexpected.
You’re also involved in the business side of the company.
This is my company; I created it and founded it, so I have to be. I’m not a businessman and I don’t have those skills but I always had this idea of building a company and making it practical; from the very beginning, I knew that if I wanted to make it in the market, I had to build something that had a strong commercial side. You have to be organised when you start a company. I have my business partner who takes care of the business side and a production guy, a commercial and marketing team. From the beginning, I knew it was a puzzle and this is the kind of advice I give to young designers: don’t start if you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle together.
How did your previous experiences working for big Parisian brands help you?
I met very interesting people who helped me find my way and taught me things, so I’m very grateful, but I couldn’t recognise myself in that system. The freedom I get from my company makes me super happy. At the end of the day I do my own thing and even if I’m wrong it’s OK, it’s me.
Did you always want to be a fashion designer while growing up?
I grew up in the country, in Normandy, and I used to be a ballet dancer from four to 14, so I was really into classical music and opera, and it gave me the energy. It helped me understand that I love the theatre of things: the show, the music ... I was 14 and I realised that it was hard for a boy in the countryside; I wasn’t playing football or judo but dancing in the village, so it wasn’t easy, but it was the best experience because it gave me structure and discipline, even if I was just an amateur. It’s about movement, breath, your energy. It’s very special and it helps me today too; it’s very strong. When I was around 16 or 17 I felt that fashion was the field that was for me. I was watching Mugler, Gaultier shows and I was very impressed; then when I was in my 20s and working at Dior and then Givenchy, I really liked the idea of making men’s clothing, menswear, actual clothes.
In your shows, you always show signature items, such as camel coats, and models who look like regular Parisian guys. How does that fit with the philosophy of your brand?
That’s why I opened the show with a camel coat. It’s important to show my identity because I will always have something like a camel double-breasted coat. I built the autumn/winter show with all the pieces that are very me, like the white trainers, the beanies, the double-breasted coat, the big pants in wool, things that make us a bit different, but then when you look at the pictures it’s stylish but very simple. The guys in the show are not your typical models but guys who can just walk on the street just after the show. In the end, I’m not choosing my customers; it’s the customers who choose me, but the guy I want to see in my clothes is the guy who’s walking over there, not on his boat. And nowadays you can mix an H&M sweatshirt with a beautiful Ami coat and a pair of Stan Smith Adidas; that’s the way we dress.