Mike Amiri vs. Hedi Slimane: Battle Of The Fashion Ballads
Mike Amiri. Photo: CFDA
Amiri vs. Slimane: Battle Of The Ballads
— Written by Nick Ainge-Roy
Since he first launched his eponymous label in 2014, Los Angeles designer Mike Amiri has been called many things - savvy businessman, breakthrough star - but there is one title that has dogged him throughout: imitator. This is of course a comment, though it is intended as an attack, on the stylistic similarities between Amiri's designs and those of Hedi Slimane. The comparisons are apt in many ways, as both Slimane and Amiri ply a hyper-focused take on that timeless 'Los Angeles Cool', but their validity is overshadowed by a case of right place, wrong time.
When Amiri first stepped on to the fashion scene five years ago, Slimane was two years into his appointment at Saint Laurent Paris and reaching his creative crescendo, delivering some of the greatest hits of his turbulent tenure at the house. Collections such as his inaugural Fall Winter 13 show set the standard for what rock 'n' roll style should look like in the 21st century, while Spring Summer 16 ‘Surf Sound’ and Spring Summer 15 ‘Psych Rock’ respectively stand as near-perfect embodiments of LA thrift store looks, and the style of Bob Dylan crossed with the bohemian psychedelia of the Beatles in India. At this time, Slimane's Saint Laurent man was the ultimate mix of grunge and glamour, and when Amiri arrived with his shadow plaids and shredded jeans, it was hard not to be reminded of the times when I would repeat my older brother's jokes, hoping for the same laughs.
Saint Laurent Paris, Spring Summer 16 Runway. Photo: Novembre Magazine
But as the years have gone on and the fashion landscape has changed - most notably when Slimane stepped away from Saint Laurent in 2016 - Amiri has stayed wholeheartedly himself, ignoring the jabs and jeers of his detractors as he leapt from success to success. Last year the Amiri label had revenues of US$40 million, and is projected to reach US$100 million in the next three years; this allowed Amiri the man to recently sell a 10% stake in his company to Renzo Rosso's Only The Brave group who are set to invest about US$223 million over the next three years, without sacrificing any creative control - a relative rarity in the fashion world, and something that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. This year, Amiri will open his first flagship store, on Rodeo Drive no less. His real success, though, lies beyond the eye-watering numbers that circulate their way around every article from the LA to the Financial Times.
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While the early collections may have had a sense of déjà vu about them, each year has expanded the Amiri look and added a deeper sense of identity to the house as a whole, cementing the designer as so much more than the B grade Hedi Slimane that many Saint Laurent Paris acolytes insist he is. While he single-handedly brought back the rock 'n' roll style, Slimane did so with a softer touch, designing clothes that were better suited to lithe, obscure indie artists than the super-celebs of the world, though they found their way onto both.
The same cannot be said for Amiri. Slimane is for those who want understated elegance, the type of designer who makes a $5,000 jacket for someone who doesn't want people to know it's a $5,000 jacket. Amiri, on the other hand, says to hell with elegance, we want extravagance - the type of designer who makes a $5,000 jacket for someone that wants people to think it was $10,000. If Slimane is the finery of the Arc de Triomphe on the frame of the Eiffel Tower, then Amiri is a Michael Bay movie, filmed on top of the Hollywood sign; if Saint Laurent was Mick Jagger in clingy velvet, then Amiri is Axel Rose in oil stained leather, a sweaty, bombastic, All-American response to Slimane's subdued and effete French fashion.
And if the maximalist tendencies aren't enough to dispel further comparison to Slimane, consider this next point. While some may think to dismiss Amiri's work as unoriginal and derivative of Slimane's, the truth of the matter is that, although his work exists in a space that was largely carved out by Slimane, Amiri himself is the original inspiration, a true Hollywood bad boy. Growing up in the 80’s, Amiri spent his teen years listening to rock music, cutting class and sneaking into legendary establishments like The Viper Club, and it was these experiences that inform his output to this very day. In his own words, Amiri is "dedicated to all the vampire rock and roll youth I would see on Sunset Boulevard when I was just a kid."
With that in mind, it begs the question, who is really the imitator? The LA rock kid telling the story of his youth, or the 50 year old Frenchman intent on revisiting the same references over and over and over again. Yes, Amiri owes a great debt to Slimane, but it does not mean that he is eternally in his shadow, and if the past few seasons are anything to go by, it would seem that he has now surpassed the great innovator. It could be because his clothes are more visible, flaunted as they are on the backs of athletes and entertainers, but I believe that Amiri's true appeal rests in his authenticity, and the fact that, quite frankly, customers are tired of Slimane's shtick.
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Take the most recent Paris Fashion Week for example. Although Slimane veered away from his favoured pencil silhouette to explore looser shapes inspired by the 70’s, the flavour was still the same: there were pinstriped suits and skinny ties, and shirts and jackets that were identical to those he produced at Saint Laurent. Beyond all that though, it was just boring, and certainly didn't look like clothing worthy of the price it is sure to command.
AMIRI Spring Summer 2020 Full Collection:
And then there was Amiri, a collection inspired by Woodstock, and clothes that looked as natural today as they would have 50 years ago. Pastel suits in velvet and printed Paisley sat alongside the usual offering of drainpipe jeans and pointed boots, while up top, tie-dye shirts and denim jackets with hand-painted pictures of Hendrix demanded just as much attention as the floaty flares and green croc skin jacket that preceded them. Both designers explored similar eras, but Hedi made it look as good as your dad with a perm and a polyester suit, while Amiri sent out a sensual and psychedelic ode to the olden days.
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We all hate to admit when artists are out of style, and though there is no denying the impact Hedi Slimane has had on men's fashion, it might be time to accept that his run is up. And there is no shame in that, few people in any field can hope to remain on top for 20 years, let alone forever. His legacy is secured, and it has a new disciple now, a man who has seen what Hedi started, and is taking it to the next level. A man who brings the same artistry and elegance as the fabled French houses and turns it up to ten, who sees that the time for quiet clothing has passed, and is ready to bring confidence, bravado and an LA attitude to his work. Hedi may have heralded a new era of expression for men, but there is a new regent of rock 'n' roll style now, and his name is Mike Amiri.
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Author: Nick Ainge-Roy