It’s January in Paris, and Alexandre Mattiussi is at his last casting call two weeks before Fashion Week. He greets each model by his first name, sporting beat-up Nikes, slouchy jeans, and his signature bright red beanie. “I’ve been wearing it for 10 years without thinking it would become my trademark,” he says, taking a break to chat. “There was Commandant Cousteau, Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic, and Papa Smurf. And now there’s me!”
Another thing Mattiussi didn’t really think through was just how quickly AMI, the menswear line he hatched on his own two years ago, would become one of the most talked-about fashion labels, in Europe and overseas. “My goal initially was to create a full wardrobe for me and for my friends,” he says, adding that AMI is combination of his initials and the last letter of his name (it also means friend in French). “And then it became for friends of friends.”
In the past 12 months, Mattiussi has opened his first boutique in Paris, won the prestigious ANDAM prize for emerging French designers, and watched AMI get picked up by department stores such as Barneys, Saks, and Bergdorf. He also just launched an online store, making his relaxed, elegant designs available to pretty much anyone with Wi-Fi.
Attaining this level of success was a surprise even for Mattiussi, who made his mark at Dior, Givenchy, and Marc Jacobs before going solo. He likes to attribute it to his sincere, uncomplicated approach to menswear, which goes against the current industry trend of over-stylizing everything. “As a gay man, I like to send out an image of a man who is masculine, without creating a divide between homos and heteros,” he says. “That smooth, skinny blond boy sporting a $4,000 coat on his back? He doesn’t exist. I like the idea of AMI being for the dad who picks up his kids from school, or for the young man who goes out to buy croissants for his boyfriend on a Sunday morning. To me, AMI is about real life.”
To that point, each collection reflects Mattiussi’s own, ever-expanding “ideal wardrobe.” After starting with the basics (shirts, jeans, and sneakers), the designer is gradually introducing touches of sophistication. “Every season I open the door of my closet and I ask myself, ‘What’s missing, and what would I like to find in there?’ ” he says. His latest designs were inspired by urban melting pots, like international airports and the Paris metro, and showcase a mix of prints that have been heavily copied by retailers: zigzag-patterned coats, bird prints, and houndstooth pants worn with camouflage or tropical florals.
But despite the buzz surrounding it, AMI remains a small fashion house with a team of just 25 people, and the designer says he’s sticking to the brand’s original values of family and friendship — and its reasonable price tag. “We have to enjoy ourselves and create clothes we love and believe in,” Mattiussi says. “We’re writing our own little story without intellectualizing it too much.” His challenge now, he adds, is to live up to the hype and last. “We’ve had a little bit of beginner’s luck, but we have to grow past this momentum to build a longterm brand. It’s like in music: You know a singer is great when he’s still around after 30 years.”