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‘It’s a balance between looking modern and faking youth:’ An audience with Amiri

By Alice Pfeiffer, CNN

Paris (CNN) — Few cities have been so adamantly idealized, mythologized and captured on film and in photographs as Los Angeles and Paris.

Inside the majestic botanical garden of “Jardin des Plantes” at the heart of Paris earlier this week, Mike Amiri, founder of the eponymous Californian label, brought these two worlds together in a cinematic show that brought Hollywood to the legendary “Rive Gauche” of the River Seine.

Accompanied by the tunes of south London musician Yussef Dayes, what emerged was a collection about “Modern jazz, meaning both the music and and attitude” according to the show notes. Among influences, the designer references Miles Davis (who himself had a special relationship with the City of Lights), as well as Duke Ellington and his Big Band and Dizzy Gillespie, all of whom fascinated him both for their stage presence and their off-stage life.

These inspirations translated into pieces in faded, sun-washed teal, blue, gray and vintage-inspired knits. Formal tuxedos with dégradé beadings were fused with slouchier lines and flared pants as a nod to skate culture, or elevated with crystal-pinstripes. Like a golden thread running through the collection, models wore drum bags featuring a guitar pick as a lock, or music notes as brooches holding together a silk foulard.

Interested both in craft and attitude, Amiri, 47, sought to be “optimistic, not loud,” as he put it during a meeting a few days before the show. In the midst of model castings and fittings, he was calm and elegant, multi-tasking as his son Ryan, 13, came to join him in putting the final touches to the collection in a temporary studio set up near Paris’s Avenue Montaigne. Amiri’s two other children and wife were also in the city and present at the show.

Since its launch in 2014, Amiri has looked to musicians as well as Americana for a transcontinental discussion of luxury — mixing thrifting with subcultures such as rock’n’roll, garage and skate. Having grown up in Hollywood to émigré Iranian parents, two blocks away from Hollywood Boulevard, Amiri was also deeply impacted by the stark cultural differences between LA neighborhoods such as Silver Lake, Venice Beach and the styles that came with that.

Today, the designer has made a name for himself for the quality of his garments and his fluid, creative approach that walks a line between elegance and hype. The people he dresses all “want to have personality, but they don’t want to look like they’re faking young, it’s a fine balance between looking modern and faking youth” he said.

Despite the recent announcement of South Korean musician Kim Sunwoo of K-pop band “The Boyz” becoming a brand ambassador, many of Amiri’s stars find their way to the independent label organically, rather than by way of paid endorsements, the brand said.

Perhaps because the world of celebrity is one Amiri is comfortable in, having been to school with Angelina Jolie and Lenny Kravitz — who he recently dressed (alongside a diverse roster of celebrities such as like Ryan Gosling, Omar Sy, Lena Waithe and Barry Keoghan). “It’s important not to chase everything, let it be organic,” he said at the studio while examining final runway looks. “The right people find you.”

In an age of hyper-visibility, Amiri appears to be rethinking luxury — or “making ordinary things extraordinary” as he put it. This includes focusing on detail so fine it might not appear on camera, such as couture-level craftsmanship infused with DIY techniques, twisting and reworking denim, leather and seemingly mundane textiles.

To James Sleaford, editor-in-chief of men’s fashion magazine ICON France, Amiri has fine-tuned chic, offering a fusion of American cool and technical know-how: “People recognize a lot of what he does, the ripped jeans, but what you see when you look at the shows is pretty different, he is very cultured, and very into his tailoring” he said. “He has brought a real element of luxury to American cool.”

Today, with a flagship boutique on Rodeo Drive, the “Amiri Prize,” an award to “encourage, nurture and showcase up-and-coming talent,” a second retail space in Dubai and a pop-up store in Saint Tropez, Amiri is pursuing a worldwide dialogue. “In a world where everything is shared and visible, there is definitely a blending of cultures — not through geography, but the things people gravitate towards,” he said.

“If… people connect to your story, your aesthetic, maybe it’s something about them they find in there,” he continued. “Something they want to bring out in themselves.”

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