Nine has always been AMI Paris founder and designer Alexandre Mattiussi’s magic number. Factored into significant dates in his life, when it came time to celebrate his brand, founded in 2011, the tenth anniversary was out of the question.
“Nine is everywhere in my life the meetings, the big success and love stories all have something to do with 9,” he said. Despite the challenges of the last six months, 2020 hasn’t been a total wash for AMI Paris, said the French-born with Italian roots creative director and brand president. Both the designer and CEO Nicolas Santi-Weil agree it’s led to opportunity.
SPRING 2021: A LOVE LETTER TO PARIS
Paris Fashion Week – however, altered due to social-distancing regulations – rolled on in the French capital despite ominous threats of another Coronavirus shut down in a more somber mood. Some designers infused some energy, joy, and romanticism with celebratory runway shows. Mattiussi followed suit with the latter, hosting a cocktail and runway show on banks of the Seine, debuting during the women’s calendar.
In-person guests viewed the spectacle from a peniche, the barge-style boats that cruise the famous waterway. The set up allowed for social distancing – even if the crowd chose to mingle closely – masks offered and hand gel given as a show gift. The designer carefully balanced the festive event’s exuberance by acknowledging the pandemic and other global woes’ presence. “I don’t want to pretend everything is ok with the world,” he assured.
Inspiration comes from the codes of his beloved Paris – the romanticized version depicted on souvenirs in tourist shops as well as his love of theater cultivated when danced ballet as a child. “My narrative is like an old French movie,” he said pre-show. “Fashion is telling a story; As the film director and writer, AMI’s story is a big book I write season after season with a new chapter,” along the way, strengthening Mattiussi’s work. He likens his designs to characters that appear and reappear from time to time. This chapter’s characters were ready for Spring in the city with a more relaxed yet sexier-than-usual silhouette. Separates topped off with cropped leather jackets and a bevy of rain-worthy overcoats while barely-there crisscrossed halter tops and bra tops peeked out from with louche tailored pieces. Oversized Bermuda shorts and layered knits and voluminous shirt dresses allowed for a collection perfect for any shape, size, or persuasion.
The show marked a first for AMI, which means friend in French and plays on the founders’ initials. It’s the first time he has shown on the women’s calendar having felt the collection was ready to show on its own. The designer forewent the usual July men’s fashion week presentation citing reasons that it didn’t ‘feel right’ at the time. “FHCM (Federation Haute Couture et Mode) called in July to say that September fashion week would take place with a live-shows; we seized the opportunity to combine the show.”
Mattiussi, who recently turned 40, said his biggest present came when Hermes, who usually takes the 8 PM Saturday time slot, moved their show to 3 PM. “I love the night show energy. With a morning show, everyone is rushing off to the next show.” The show was live-streamed for those watching from home. The designer estimates that nearly 50-60 percent of the industry couldn’t travel to Paris this season, making the task to edit his usual 900 people show to 140 guests easier. “The Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Americans, Russians, Brazilians, the English; these commercial agents and press aren’t coming. Nor are other Europeans such as Italian, Danish, Germans, or even French buyers from the South.” Mattiussi is welcoming the smaller format but doesn’t expect to abandon the live runway altogether.
“It’s like inviting people to dinner for a meal cooked for months. Now it’s ready to enjoy sitting at the table together. You can’t eat something on Instagram,” he reasoned, adding, “I like the taste of a live show; you sit, the lights go down, and the music comes up, and the first model steps out, it’s the magic of the moment.”
The brand followed a trend in production arising here due to the limited travel for models—street casting. But with a 21st-century approach, via Instagram where Mattiussi’s team found about 15 of the models who walked the show. The designer said he’d hit his stride with the women’s collection after two years. “It was L’homme pour la femme,” as he initially adapted menswear for women but has added skirts and feminine details, “It wasn’t a political statement to dress them in menswear styles.”
NINE IS A MAGIC NUMBER: A NEW STORE AND MAJOR AD CAMPAIGN
I caught up with Mattiussi ten days out from the show as he explained despite the crisis, the brand was moving full steam ahead. The brand had just opened its ninth store in Shanghai (another reason to celebrate on his 9th year!) the night before in the Reel Mall, a luxury concept shopping experience. The designer was pumped but disappointed he couldn’t be there due to COVID-19 travel concerns.
He would have loved to see the OOH (Out of Home) advertising building wrap that sits across the street where brands like Dior and Gucci have come before. “To be honest, we got a great price during this economic time.” Ditto for the deal he brokered to live stream the fashion show on a screen in NYC on Sunday, October 4th. He will also launch AMI’s ad campaign on the Paris tour buses and has a billboard presence in Shoreditch, London, this fall. “My clothes are real and how people in the streets dress; seeing the ads outside as they live their lives makes sense.”
Shanghai marks the third AMI Paris store on mainland China with Hong Kong and Tokyo outlets as well. Shanghai opening has been so successful they already had to restock by shuffling existing stock and reproducing other looks.
During the lockdown and store closures, AMI’s E-comm sales shot up 90 percent. Tmall sales in August performed nicely too. But the brand is committed to further brick and mortar expansion. NY and LA are 2021 retail store goals. The team is currently scouting Soho and Melrose locations, respectively, finding good economic opportunities due to the market downturn. Their first foray into the US markets was Barneys New York, now defunct. Jeffrey’s was another partner no longer operating.
Mattiussi maintains the need to discover AMI’s physical world to understand the collection and brand philosophy. “Entering the store is like entering a movie scene; the way the clothes are merchandised, how the sales manager addresses you, the lighting, the scent. This is how to discover AMI,” he said, referring to the details of the clothes as well, “My clothes are very simple but simple is complicated to do.” He predicts resistance to shopping luxury online.
“Now more than ever, the customer needs to connect with the actual garments; to touch the materials and have a live person guide and advise you.” He lives and witnesses some wise words from a fashion mentor, “You are successful in fashion when customers are in the store.”
The season marked a first for his ad campaign shot by Paolo Roversi. The designer admired his work from afar and was thrilled Roversi was willing to return from his country home in France to Paris to accept the job. Planned over Zoom, the images were shot in the Italian photographer’s natural light studio.
SUSTAINABILITY AND BEYOND
Sustainability is essential to Mattiussi, also in the form of his team. “I have a responsibility to the 160 people who work for us,” he said. The designer is actively involved in all aspects of the brand function and is not relegated to the design room. From an environmental POV, he recognizes that you can’t ignore becoming more sustainable. “It’s too big not to make it happen. But you need to set yourself up to make the changes gradually over time and keep evolving.” Already they are on track to remove all plastic bags form garments by next years; they consolidate shipping to help offset carbon emissions, choose fabrics differently, remove plastic water bottles in the offices. “You have to change the employee mindset and change little by little. It can’t be radical and overnight to succeed.”
The designer knows he is lucky to be in such a good place when so many brands are struggling. “I wake up every morning and think, wow how lucky I am to do that job!” calling out his incredible team and the natural wardrobe he offers. And his independence as a small, self-owned brand that he controls. “For a designer, less pressure, there is the better the design.”
He is also keen to maintain both professional and personal aspects of his life, having witnessed those who came before demise. “Everything is so well balanced in a way I can’t have a better life.”