Welcome to The Window’s “A Drink With…” series, where each month, photographer/writer duo Justin Bridges and Sean Hotchkiss sit down with an influential person(s), breaking the ice with their host’s refreshment of choice. Last month we hung out with the director of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Philippe Vergne, and this time around the guys caught up with designer Mike Amiri, who has recently expanded his eponymous line to include womenswear.
The Window: What are we drinking?
Mike Amiri: Tsingtao. It’s a big Chinese beer. I think it was on special. [Laughs.]
We’re practically in your backyard, right?
I grew up four blocks from this restaurant, TOI. My friends and I would run around here on Sunset Boulevard, and down on Hollywood Boulevard. My brother went to Fairfax High on Melrose Avenue.
And the older kids you’d see were your first inspiration for the line, right?
Exactly. The kids going into the clubs.
Set the stage a little for those uninitiated on the ‘80s and ‘90s L.A. rock club scene.
Back then Sunset was crazy—The Roxy, Whiskey a Go Go, The Viper Room. All iconic places and, of course, my friends and I couldn’t get in. But all these older kids would be standing out front of the venues waiting, smoking, whatever. They were 18, 19, 20 years old. And they’d all be dressed in a certain way: flannel shirts around the waist, messed up biker jackets, crazy, big hair. They looked heroic to me. Like slow motion heroes.
And that silhouette became the thing for you.
It became the base, yeah. I recently went to Coachella and, through a random turn of events, ended up meeting Axl Rose. We talked for a while about that whole scene that was happening at the time. He was joking that I stole his style. He goes: “You owe me a check!”
I was geeking out. I mean, when I was younger I would go pick the same flannel shirts from vintage stores that I saw Axl was wearing. I know Eddie Val Halen’s favorite leopard pattern. I would archive them in my brain. As a designer, I don’t have to go out searching for inspiration. I went home to my parent’s house recently and opened an old drawer and pulled out like thirty old pieces—there was my color palette for spring.
And this Thai spot, TOI, has a significance for you too?
Yeah, I had a little space downstairs. That was my first studio. I’d love to open like a secret store back there, where you had to walk through the kitchen or something. [Laughs.] But upstairs has a cool pedigree. Tarantino wrote Pulp Fiction here. He still writes in here. I’ve seen him over there by himself in the window.
Obviously you had a passion for clothes, but how’d you actually get into the business?
I had no idea what I wanted to do after college, so I enrolled in law school. And my school was in the middle of the Fashion District in Downtown L.A. During breaks from class, I’d walk around to the different factories and mills, drop in on sewers, and go to fabric shows. I wanted to make denim.
Why start with jeans?
I used to customize my own jeans when I was younger. I would kind of take them apart, see how they were made, and tweak them. Because I was into buying vintage clothes, I’d seen every type of rip, tear, or stain imaginable. So I knew exactly where these details should go. I was patching my own jeans by hand, so I knew what an authentic patch looked like.
There’s a grass roots mentality to L.A., right? The production is here, so you kind of have no excuse not to discover it.
Totally. You have to go door to door and figure it out. We have some of the best artisans here, and now that they’re raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles, a lot of people who make more mass-market items can’t afford to keep making things here. But I’m happy to pay for amazing work.
And you get what you pay for…
Like the top Parisian houses, we’re using the best fabrics in the world, but we’re making everything in the line in Los Angeles. People have their versions of what L.A. style is, or whatever. And it’s made in Italy or made in Paris. But I think it’s unusual to have a Los Angeles-based designer executing at the level of a Parisian house, with Italian fabrics, but with a true L.A. perspective. It’s kind of backwards.
Everyone is looking to L.A. right now.
I was talking to a friend recently, who is French. I said to him: “Man, I really hope people get the aesthetic.” And he said: “Think of it how we might think of it over here. To us in Europe, L.A. is a fantasyland—the girls, the sunshine. There is this mythical place called Los Angeles, and you were born and raised there.”
Is it easier to get your stuff on celebrities, being a local guy who is plugged in?
For us, it was all product—Let’s make the best product, let’s make sure people love it, that they’ll freak out. And the rest happened organically. L.A. is a funny place. I feel you have to have six or seven personalities to really thrive here. I tend to look out for the people who maybe use a few less. [Laughs] If there’s someone who everyone is like ‘That guy knows everyone’—don’t trust that guy!
Can you ever distress something too much?
Absolutely. There comes a point where things become vulgar and inauthentic. One thing we did that I felt was kind of a novel way to distress something was our shotgun holes.
Did you take any flak for that? Pun intended.
Not really! A lot of people thought it was cool. I was worried that maybe there were kids out there shooting guns at their clothes trying to figure it out, but the way a shotgun can distress cotton is so cool—you can’t really replicate that. They’re all so different.
I bet people wearing them get approached a lot.
I think modern luxury is all about making something a conversation piece. I try to be thoughtful and create a story you want to share.
The boots you’re wearing are like that. I’ve never seen boots that look like that.
After you wear any kind of boot for a while, it starts to look like this. I just exaggerated things a bit. It looks kind of like a Shar Pei [Laughs]. I always think of people walking by a counter at a boutique. I ask myself how I could get them to stop. They could either say: “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” or “That is WEIRD.” But if you can get people to pause and look, you’ve done something special.