INTERVIEW | Founder of Ami: Building a New Luxury Brand Requires 360° Vision

April 1,2021

Recently, Chinese domestic stores have told us that the French designer brand Ami is their best-selling brand. In some upscale shopping centers, Ami stores, which are still not widely known, are often crowded with customers.

Founded in 2011, this young French designer brand has not only achieved annual sales of €50 million, but also balanced growth in various regional markets. In its tenth year, 2021, Ami has received a major investment from Sequoia Capital China. The brand is gathering the momentum to open more stores, launch co-branded collections and expand into more categories.

Not long ago, Luxe.CO connected remotely with Alexandre Mattiussi, founder and creative director of Ami, who spoke with us from his office in Paris about his design philosophy, daily work, and future plans.

How do independent designers approach the business of fashion, and how do they balance creativity and business to drive organic growth for their brands? The story of Ami’s development offers worthy insights.

From a "ballet boy" to menswear designer who started his business twice

The Only "Ballet Boy" in the Town

In 1980, Mattiussi was born in the small town of Gizeux, 70 miles from Paris. At the age of four, he became the only little boy in town to learn ballet. At 14, he took an entrance test at the Opéra Garnier, an experience which taught him that dance is a very competitive profession. At the same time, he became fascinated by costumes, and his interest began to turn to fashion design.

Mattiussi told Luxe.CO about the profound impact this experience had on him: “I think it helped me when I was a kid from four to 14 years old. It really shaped my creativity in a way because I feel fashion is very close to the body, and to the consciousness of the body. What I loved the most when I was a dancer is the 360° vision around me. It was not just a dance. It was a question of how to shape and perfect it. They have the music, the set design, the theatrical idea of a show. It (the dance itself) was a show. So that's why I feel like when I moved and jumped into fashion, it was very connected in the creative process with dance.”

Menswear Designer for Several Luxury Brands

After studying for a technical baccalauréat specializing in the arts, Mattiussi studied menswear design at the Duperré School of Applied Arts in Paris.

In 2001, 21-year-old Mattiussi joined the French luxury brand Dior as an intern. Then he worked for the Givenchy menswear design team for five years. While polishing his design skills, he also gained relevant business knowledge in clothing production and management.

He then joined the menswear design team of American designer label Marc Jacobs, and began to reflect on the meaning of fashion.

Founder of Personal Brand Ami Who Failed and Started Over Again

In 2002, Mattiussi founded his own brand Ami, which was closed after only two years due to poor management.

In 2011, he relaunched Ami with the encouragement of Bertrand Stalla-Bourdillon, then Chairman of the Board and CEO of Marc Jacobs. Unlike in his first venture nine years earlier, this time Mattiussi was well prepared: a solid team was built and like-minded investors were brought in.

Speaking of the intention of starting a business, he spoke frankly to Luxe.CO:

“While working for people for ten years, I couldn't do anything else (except for designing). I always compare it with a singer. When you've been part of a chorus led by someone else, there’ll come a time when you want to sing on your own and believe: it's my turn to do it.”

Mattiussi's experience working for several luxury brands has given him a solid foundation to create his own brand and a very clear idea of how it should be positioned, as he told Luxe.CO:

“I learned how to make clothes, how to do marketing and production at a big brand. What [a personal brand] needs to do is design what your own friends want to wear. I'm not an intellectual designer or a conceptual designer; I'm targeting people who want to dress up and be classy, chic and cool. But similarly, Ami is also a luxury brand. We have our team and stores, but we're just not on the same scale, we're a smaller business, but the process is exactly the same.”

A Creative Director with 360° Vision and the Ability to Multitask

I'm the founder and creative director of Ami, and also the president of the company. I’m working with everything every day from design, production, logistics, marketing and retailing. I'm in the office and I go everywhere.

I'm not just a designer, because design is just a part of my job. It’s important to create a 360-degree point of view. So my vision is really about being everywhere. For example, when I do a piece of clothing, I want to see how it's going to be sold in retail, in e-commerce channels, and with our partners. I want to see the communication strategies.

He described his daily routine to Luxe.CO:

“I wake up at 7 o'clock. I go to bed before midnight every day. I stay at home to have breakfast or do a bit of a workout with my coach who comes here sometimes. And then I go to the office and I start my day. I have meetings, but I keep everything very fluid. My doors are always open. People can knock on the door and come to say something. I'm very quick, so I make thousands of hundreds of decisions every day.”

How Ami Stands Out Among So Many Designer Brands

-- Highly Recognizable Brand Name and Logo

Even if you don't know much about the brand Ami, the recognizable heart-topped A logo has given the brand a lot of exposure in recent years and has been frequently worn by fashion bloggers and celebrities. On Chinese social media, many people can be seen visiting the stores specifically for the logo.

The logo, known as "Ami de Cœur", means “true friend”, representing the original idea of the brand: to create the ideal closet for friends and loved ones. The origin of this symbol can be traced back to Mattiussi's childhood, when he wrote cards or messages to his friends with his signature.

And the “A” below the heart is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, the landmark of Paris, and refers to the birthplace of the brand.

-- A New “Luxury” Brand That Is Classic and Practical

Luxury brand positioning, entry luxe pricing, and daily wear style have become the secrets of Ami's rapid growth.

The point behind this was Mattiussi's reflection before relaunching the brand: what is real fashion? Even though he had worked for fashion and luxury brands, most of their clothes were still unaffordable for him and he would not wear them in his daily life.

Looking back at the collections launched by Ami since its establishment, simple, everyday clothing such as baggy pants, jeans, sweatshirts and wool sweaters can be seen everywhere, and Mattiussi himself is often dressed in a T-shirt or a sweatshirt in a simple and comfortable style.

“Classic” and “practical” have been Mattiussi's keywords in personal style and brand design aesthetics for years. Starting out with menswear, the brand's core style has been positioned as relaxing, comfortable, and fun-filled French menswear. The brand has since expanded to include women's collections.

Seven Questions About Ami

Luxe.CO: What does the latest collection want to convey?

Mattiussi: With the online launch, I want to pay tribute to the fashion shows of my childhood. Those precious moments influenced me so much that I decided to become a fashion designer.

When I was a kid in the 90s, I watched a lot of fashion shows on TV. TV was the only media and there were TV fashion shows in France. I have been in love with fashion ever since and I really loved the photographers and the good music.

Luxe.CO: Suits are featured in the latest Fall/Winter 2021 collection, and regularly in past pieces as well. Why did you choose this piece?

Mattiussi: I feel there is a certain idea of elegance I wanted to bring back in this collection. I feel that it can be very sporty, very easy, very cool. But for this particular collection, I wanted to bring back the sophistication and the texture of the clothes, because these classic elements make you feel very elegant and powerful.

Luxe.CO: We knew that being practical has always been the philosophy of your brand. How do you keep the uniqueness of your brand?

Mattiussi: I feel like I always design clothes for myself first. When I'm thinking about myself, I'm really working on this kind of mixture between something very casual in sports and very elegant. I would mix things together; for example, baggy pants have a beautiful silhouette, but use a technical fabric.

I think it is important to bring back good value for everyone, especially after what we have experienced with the pandemic. We try to find the right balance between trying to make the best clothes possible, and to present them in a very nice way, because for me, enjoying every moment in life is important.

Also, I think it's really about wardrobe. We want to work on essentials. And this collection was really about that; for example, the black coat, the black suit, the white shirt and the big trousers.

Luxe.CO: How do you see the current fashion ecology? Is it about collaboration, competition, or co-creation?

Mattiussi: Co-creation. It's important when you cooperate with someone or a brand. It's nice to have two brands connecting together. I also like to work with artists, such as video directors or photographers. I think it's really important today more than ever to reconnect.

Luxe.CO: How do you see crossover collaboration?

Mattiussi: I think collaboration is key. I think it's important to choose the right people to work with, because I think collaboration offers so many possibilities. But sometimes there are too many collaborations and some of them don’t come from a sense of purpose at the beginning, but from commercial or marketing incentives. I think collaboration has to come from passion and love. The next collaboration that we're doing will be definitely something from the heart. I think it'll be much more relevant for a lot of people, and I’m very happy to share it with you very soon.

Luxe.CO: Will you do more lifestyle products in the future, as we spend more time at home?

Mattiussi: Ami's clothes are already very comfortable. When I'm at home, I wear the same clothes that I normally wear when I go out. I don't have homewear, and I just feel much more relaxed and comfortable with a pair of trousers.

But at the same time, I feel like there is something I want to make with a kids’ line and perfume. I would love to design some objects such as furniture, because I love design and creating. I’m not sure about these but I just feel like there are so many opportunities I want to explore, so I just take my time and see when the right moment is.

Luxe.CO: In your opinion, what are the keys that drive a designer brand’s growth into a major brand?

Mattiussi: I don't know. I think it's a question of the right balance. When you're successful, and the brand is doing very well, you have to be very focused. I always say that Ami is ten years old, meaning that ten years is a lot in fashion. But at the same time, when you think about a ten-year-old kid, it's still very young, so you have to protect it. You can't ask a kid of ten years old to go somewhere when they are not ready for it. We are going very fast, but as the father of the brand, I need to protect it.

More importantly, be patient, be focused, and care about quality. The people I am working with are very nice people and we are having a very joyful moment altogether. I don't put pressure on people, so I think it has to be organic. Sometimes when you have momentum with a lot of opportunities, you need to take care, be focused, and take time to make good decisions.

I was a very impatient guy at the beginning, but now, I spend time listening to people who have an opinion before making decisions.

|Photo Credit: Ami

|By: Elisa, Jiang Jingjin


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