Within our latest OUTDOOR ISSUE, we presented different outdoor brands that are trending at the moment. One of them is Aimé Leon Dore. The New York menswear brand is generating big buzz in streetwear and cool kid circles thanks to the unique aesthetic of its founder and designer Teddy Santis. That hype is bound to heighten this fall when it reveals its collaboration with one of the best-known names in the outdoor sector.
It’s appropriate that Teddy Santis, 32, founder of the four-year-old New York–based cult menswear label Aimé Leon Dore, likes to talk about his “vision” and creating the brand through his unique “lens.” With no fashion background whatsoever, this son of Greek immigrants who was raised in Queens, NYC, initially entered the design field by opening an optical store in Manhattan with a childhood friend in 2010 while continuing to work at his parents’ coffee shop on the Upper East Side. Many of the clients at the shop there worked in fashion and as he recalls, “Everybody told me I had a very specific eye” and encouraged him to launch his own project.
In June 2012 he planted the seed for that by deciding he wanted to create a brand called Aimé (“loved” in French) and screenprinting a sweater with a “janky, horrible” logo he created using Illustrator. He showed it to his good friend Ronnie Fieg, who now runs the famous Kith streetwear brand and stores, while they were traveling together in Greece and Fieg decided to share a picture of the garment on social media. “He said, ‘I’m going to post a picture of this sweater on Instagram right now and if it gets over 500 likes it’s a hit,’” Santis recalls. “So he puts it up on Instagram and we’re walking to the beach and he’s like, ‘Yo. This is a thing. People are texting me and asking: what is that?’”
Six years later the excitement and buzz about the label is palpable both in the devotion of its legions of in-the-know streetwear fans and Santis’ own and continually enthusiastic feelings about it, which he loquaciously shares in his characteristic rapid-fire, very New York way of speaking. He says honesty and authenticity are foundations of the brand. The latter is even reflected in its name. Santis added the “Leon,” his father’s nickname, and the “Dore,” the final syllable of his given name Theodore, after being denied a trademark for just Aimé. “When I explain to people what it means it kind of doesn’t mean shit but it sounds amazing,” he laughs.
It all comes down to the emotion we give you as a brand
However, what is truly at the brand’s core is its founder’s distinctive aesthetic, which blends his family’s traditional European background with his 1990s upbringing in the city. It’s a very New York mix of high and low, classic and cool–hence the wide product assortment that ranges from trousers and blazers to graphic tees and hoodies. Spending every summer with his grandparents in rural Greece “gave me that European DNA in my body. He adds: “I grew up in Queens, which is the biggest melting pot in the world. I also grew up in an era that was extremely rooted in hip-hop and art and break dancing and DJing and music and all these great things so I always loved two very extreme sides.” Even today, he says, he will lovingly tend to the plants on his balcony a la his farmer grandfather while blasting Tupac songs. “The goal was fill that void because if I’m a guy who loves [both things] there are other guys who love it too. And I feel that that specific void that we set out to fill is what people love about us today.”
And people certainly do love the brand. Its concept store on Mott Street in SoHo has become a hangout for the city’s cool kids and although the brand has very limited wholesale distribution, it is now known worldwide. In fact, its growing reputation recently prompted Andrea Canè of Woolrich Woolen Mills to approach Santis about creating a collaborative capsule collection of outerwear. Dropping in November and heralded in Paris by buyers and editors at a preview earlier this year, the 50-piece collection was designed in just three days and is the latest example of blending outdoor with urban streetwear–but with a decidedly contemporary twist that has no whiff of traditional lumberjack looks.
So what does the future hold for Santis’ and his company? “My goal is direct to consumer with own retail in every major city in the world. But I can guarantee it’s not just going to be clothes,” he says. “I tell everybody that if I were to open an Aimé Leon Dore restaurant across the street tomorrow I guarantee that it would be successful because the brand stands for something. It all comes down to the emotion we give you as a brand so if you walk into our shop right now and pretend there are no clothes in here I can point out ten definitive moments that give you some sort of nostalgia or bring out some emotion. And I can translate that into any product that I want.”
He continues: “To be completely honest, I don’t even know what this is yet. As of right now I love what we are doing and I love that we have a very definitive lane when it comes to the product that we are making and how we are promoting it and talking about it. But the reality is I feel like we can take it in any direction that we want.”
Have a look at our brand new Outdoor Issue and read more about the booming segment.