As French brand American Vintage opens its first London store, founder Michael Azoulay talks 10 years of T-shirts and the evolution of his label into a global brand.
Founder of American Vintage Michael Azoulay
In 2005 Frenchman Michael Azoulay launched a line of womenswear T-shirts. A decade later, American Vintage has expanded to sell full women’s and men’s ready-to-wear collections and accessories. It has 52 own-brand stores around the world and 1,310 wholesale stockists, 82 of which are in the UK. Accounts include Matchesfashion.com, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and The Dressing Room in St Albans, Hertfordshire. It has just opened its first UK store in Westbourne Grove. Wholesale prices for the spring 16 collection range from £15 for a cotton T-shirt to £50 for a cashmere top.
How would you describe your brand?
American Vintage was started as a T-shirt brand. Now, after 10 years, the design has grown to become a complete collection and a huge wholesale, retail and export business.
What does your job entail?
75% of my work is now with the design team, working to build the new collections. I’m in the office and factory every day, but I also share my time with the logistics department and commercial marketing. I try to give myself to each aspect of the business to give my team direction and help with development in every area. It’s busy as we’ve now grown to 450 people.
American Vintage recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. What did the brand do to celebrate?
We celebrated with a big party in Paris; it was fantastic. We also collaborated with 10 designers to create a limited selection of lifestyle objects that we sold through American Vintage stores.
What did you do personally to celebrate?
Nothing as yet. One of my sons is also 10 years old, so of course this is a family celebration.
How did you evolve the brand so successfully from a simple T-shirt label?
We increased the retail percentage of the business and introduced a bigger collection to each category, keeping the original DNA with the special fabrics and colours. We’ve also introduced more fashion-led separates to complement the original basics.
Where did the name American Vintage come from, considering you’re a French brand?
I have family in the US and have travelled a lot there. I like the crossover of American and French culture. I like that in America they dream big and anything is possible. I wanted to build a brand with this philosophy. I wanted to mix the European culture with the US spirit. America also has great T-shirts.
American Vintage store, Westbourne Grove
You just opened a store in London’s Westbourne Grove. Tell us about it.
It is a joint venture with Malene Majlund of [sales agency] Inexcess Fashion, who we have worked with for a long time. This is our first shop in the UK and we hope to develop more in the future.
You’ve got several other stores around the world. Which is your favourite?
Paris Étienne Marcel is great; it’s like an aquarium with its high windows. And it was our first in Paris.
You also have a big wholesale business. What are some of your favourite stockists around the world?
Liberty and Selfridges in London and Loft in Florence.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
That I have grown the company to 450 people. I have also loved the experience from growing the wholesale and retail sides.
You travel a lot for work. Which are the best cities for shopping?
Tokyo, Berlin and Copenhagen.
What one fashion trend do you wish would disappear?
What are your current favourite fashion brands?
I love Scandiavian brands like Acne.
If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Simple jeans and white T-shirts. My T-shirts!
What do you think makes the perfect T-shirt?
The fabric, the wash, the cut and the finish.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
In life and in business, be straight and good and not afraid.
American Vintage store, Westbourne Grove
If you weren’t working in fashion, what area would you be working in?
Boutique hotels. I love them.
What do you do to switch off from work?
I love sport; I run and box. Of course, my family help me to switch off too.
Who else in the fashion industry do you admire?
Amancio Ortega of Zara. He has made fashion accessible to everyone.
Tell us something not many people know about you?
I’m a mean chef.