NYC streetwear brand (and LVMH investee) Aimé Leon Dore may have been founded eight years ago, but the brand feels far older, thanks to founder Teddy Santis's love for the past. In its earlier years, ALD was small — an upstart that made graphic T-shirts, collaborative sneakers and loads of hats and hoodies. But it quickly became more than that: a mood board (Leon Dore), a coffee shop (Café Leon Dore) and a cultural pulse check, at least for one NYC neighborhood.
The brand's campaigns featured Santis's friends, nods to his favorite sport, basketball, and the places he grew up, Queens and Greece. Its second brick-and-mortar, a trendy, wait-to-get-in type of establishment on Mulberry Street, features crown molding meant for a posh Paris apartment, a retail setup that makes the showroom look like a living room and the aforementioned coffee shop...which probably makes as much profit as the retail wing.
Every visit feels like a trip to another planet. Even a half-block away, you can feel its pull. There are people hovering to better understand where the lines starts (or what's even inside). The brand has a similar effect on the Internet, too: When a lookbook goes live, everyone takes a gander, whether to drool over pieces they'll probably never afford (or be fast enough to buy) or lust over the remote locales where they're shot.
If nothing else — because fashion folks are pretty opinionated on ALD's designs — its founder is an excellent world builder. Fans of the brand know where he's from, what he likes and what matches the Aimé Leon Dore aesthetic. They know its Polo, not Lacoste; New Balance, not Adidas; Marlboro and Camel, not Newport; and L.L. Bean, not Patagonia.
For a while, though, these allegiances only manifested as collaborations, which resulted in new product. Now, with the brand's third vintage collection, installments Santis calls Leon Dore, Aimé Leon Dore is bringing the old back to life. And the model is quite simple: source vintage items that clearly serve as inspiration for the brand, mark them up a little bit, style them the ALD way and sell 'em. But Joseph Einhorn, co-founder of The Archivist, a technology company that wants to help brands take control of their own vintage inventory, doesn't think ALD is doing this solely for profit.
"[A] thrift store is buying or consigning goods for the purpose of selling and making a profit. ALD, on the other hand, they are not doing this for profit. In fact, their pricing on vintage Polo has been well under market, thus providing an opportunity for collectors to enter," he says. "[And] I think it’s great and necessary. They are paying homage and showing love to those who came before them, and they're telling their own unique ALD story at the same time."
Einhorn's right. They do strike a unique balance few brands prove capable of. Instead of copycatting pieces from other brands' archives, ALD is upfront about its reference points, choosing to, rather than simply recreate them, showcase them as is, often as one of ones.
"Compare this to others who will just rip off the vintage that shaped them," Einhorn explains. He believes ALD is also getting a jump on brands who might be eager to re-release these designs if interest picks up again. "Keep in mind, if the brands themselves retro these old styles they are caught between a rock and a hard place: Doing a great job on recreating these pieces means you destroy collector’s value. Do a bad job and people will say they disrespected the heritage."
But these vintage drops also do a good job of attracting folks who otherwise wouldn't shop at ALD, whether because it's too expensive or simply out of reach. Vintage is more universal — everyone loves roving the aisles of a fully-loaded flea market — and they can load the collection with "smalls," cheaper items folks will be less hesitant to add to their cart, whether they be an old Jay-Z record, a Wheaties box with Michael Jordan on the front, a Polo frisbee, an Hermés ashtray or Yankees's in-season programs.
"They are doing this to tell their story in a way that is open and clear," Einhorn says, praising it as prophecy. While L.L. Bean, Banana Republic and Levi's have all started reselling their own vintage, no one else had taken this approach yet — at least not on this scale. "This is the future of storytelling in fashion. The excitement about NFTs as it relates to art was about provenance. ALD has found a brilliant way to achieve provenance in fashion."
Leon Dore Installment III
Aimé Leon Dore's third vintage collection, which features the pieces above but also hundreds more, drops on July 15th at 11 am EDT.