At the risk of putting myself out of a job, the history of fashion is really just the story of stuff getting bigger and then getting smaller. Jeans get baggy, then they get skinny. Suits are enormous, then they get slim. Sometimes the bigness is macho and sometimes it’s vulnerable, but the motives are the same: change in fashion, in clothes, if not the culture around it, boils down to shape.
Mike Amiri, the Los Angeles fashion designer, is synonymous with the slim cut. Perhaps that’s putting it too gently: his pants, specifically the shredded moto jeans for which he’s most famous, are skin tight, cost $900, sell swiftly at Mr. Porter and Ssense, and are widely beloved by rappers, basketball players, and the creative director types who should technically live in New York but “just can’t” leave LA (“man”). Back in 2019, Amiri said he was on track to do $100,000,000 in business over the next three years; his jeans are the backbone of his brand. They hug the butt and bunch at the knees—a metalhead’s idea of physical affection, and surely the result of a childhood spent idolizing Axl Rose and Motley Crue. But now, rather than expressing white-hot rebellion, Amiris represent the trendy status quo in men’s denim. There may as well be a sign at the West Hollywood Soho House stating that guests are required to wear them. His is one of the most-mentioned brand names in rap. Even as designers are loosening the fit of trousers and pants, Amiri’s jeans remain unquestioned by even the most fashion-forward celebrity dressers. They have a skinny-fit vulcan mind meld on many American men.
So imagine my surprise when the single pair of jeans shown this week in Amiri’s Fall 2021 collection was…bootcut. And a baggy, almost oozy one at that. It is only slightly overstating it to call this history in the making. “We went totally big!” Amiri said in a Zoom call earlier this week, his hair carved into a fresh, heroic wedge. It was mostly practical, he explained—a way to be fancy without losing the comfort men grew used to during a year of wearing sweatpants at home. “People want to dress up [again], and you want to show your best self,” in our fingers-crossed-soon-to-be-post-pandemic world, he said. “Seeing people head to toe is something interesting. And I think people want to express themselves [but] still feel the same way they did within the last year, in their own homes.”
So Amiri’s looser fit is not the famous oversized ’90s Armani cut that evokes a spirit of admonished humility—the one picked up lately by designers from Evan Kinori to Jerry Lorenzo, and which looks so good in part because, as I wrote last spring, people like Jared Kushner have made the skinny suit look so silly. Amiri’s new fit has a grittier richness—inspired, he said, by his memories of working out of Downtown LA when he first launched the brand. (His accompanying video, well choreographed and soundtracked with a few songs by The Roots, had a nice Drive vibe.) And let’s face it: maybe his customers just aren’t too keen on a super-skinny fit after spending the year indoors, even in health-conscious LA. “The boiled wool or beautiful cashmere trouser could almost replace the idea of a comfortable French terry,” he said. He kept things fitted on top—there are some svelte pieces of outerwear, and several zaddyish knits and shirts with pool hall motifs.
Still, I wondered if Amiri worried about alienating his devotees by introducing the new silhouette. “I think I would be scared if I kept doing the skinny jean, you know what I mean? Something that works for you is a great foundational item. It was really connected to my youth—Sunset Boulevard and those early things that I remember.” But, he said, “there’s a responsibility to your own following to lead them. Because having that support is really earned, and that comes from not always being safe, and always presenting a discussion with your consumer.”
It’s true that Amiri is less interested in creating highly merchandised joints than conjuring a kind of person. “I don’t design pieces,” he said. “I design into a spirit. I’m thinking about the emotion I want someone to take from the pieces.” It’s the globetrotting man curating and creative directing his life, taking pictures for his hot girlfriend’s Instagram, attending Coachella and escaping to Tulum. One wonders if such characters had a particular existential crisis this year, since they couldn’t travel. You know the millennial-age old question: if a man can’t post an Instagram from Joshua Tree about being #blessed, is he really #blessed?
But that might be too reductive. Amiri, along with a handful of other brands like John Elliott and Jerry Lorenzo, have made Los Angeles fashion into a codified sensibility with a global appeal, one that social media has cannibalized and turned into e-boy style. (Hedi Slimane has added several terrifically confusing plot points to this transcontinental exchange of fashion trends with his TikTok-themed collections.) “It’s easy to kind of plug things into, ‘Oh, that’s an LA brand.’ And I’ve never looked at myself as an LA brand,” Amiri said. “I saw myself as a global brand that’s headquartered in Los Angeles, that’s super inspired aesthetically by Los Angeles. And I think as the collections have evolved, a lot of people watching the brand have now kind of said, ‘Oh wow, this is a real global thing.’ And it’s amazing. LA is a real place for fashion. I’ve always felt that, but you’ve gotta earn, little by little, that credential.”
Will next season’s tunnel fits become a bit more relaxed? Will Lebron show up in bootcuts? He’s daring enough to try it—the real test is whether NBA and Amiri obsessive James Goldstein will adapt.