Everyone wants to be an overnight success. The vast majority, however, do not know what it means to pursue such a dream. It's easy to become impatient, discouraged, or capricious—especially as a creative. In reality, overnight success doesn't exist. It's simply the market finally catching on to something great that has been in development for years. For Haitian-American artist and designer Sebastien Amisial, it's been a long road of self discovery, reigniting old passions, and a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. The LA-based designer's work is paying its dividends, though. Not long after the launch of his label, Sebastien Ami, the designer has found himself working with the likes of SSENSE and waking up to news of Justin Bieber in his clothing. We had the opportunity to talk about the come up, where he is now, and everything in between.
Sebastien Ami is Crafting Artisanal Garments for Creatives
A Conversation with Sebastien Ami
ONE37pm: When did you start the line?
Sebastien Ami: The line began truly back in 2018, but it was really a super early development process. I’ve actually had this company as early as 2017, but at that point it was difficult to figure out what my vision was for the brand. It wasn’t until Covid that myself and my partner Marianne Brehmer were forced to pause and we really just decided to figure out what the brand meant to us, and that’s essentially when we started.
What were you doing before?
For five years, I worked for a luxury retail gallery that was called Guerrilla Atelier under my old mentor, Carl Louisville. I worked there way back in either 2013 or 2014, with him in the arts district in downtown LA—along with our third partner, Nancy Batlin, who’s a good friend to this day, and really learned how to sell it and just be a part of that world.
Unfortunately the business had to fold, but after that I ended up working for Neiman Marcus for two years. I was on the men’s floor as a men’s specialist for Berluti for about a year, and then shifted over to working with Brunello Cucinelli for a season and a half or so until I felt like it was time to go. It was time for me to grow the brand more than I was doing already because during that period in time I was dabbling and figuring out exactly where I wanted to go with the brand, and learning more and more about quality along the way throughout this 7 year stint. I just took the time to learn about luxury on a retail level versus just, you know, buying things and doing research. I really got this opportunity to take advantage of these product knowledge mornings at Neiman Marcus to understand what it takes to design at a luxury level.
When did you first get placed on SSENSE?
This just started! Our very first season, the Spring/Summer '22 collection, they bought into that. It's a pretty wild story, actually. A good friend of mine just happened to be a fit model for the brand as well as SSENSE and he urged me to get the brand out to them. I was like, "yeah we’ll see what happens," and we just kept shooting. They took notice and then actually reached out to us directly and said, “Hey, we’d love to see your assets for Spring/Summer ‘22”.
We’re being seen, and on top of that it's happening naturally. So it speaks to the quality that we’re capable of producing in LA.
What's the ethos behind the line?
At the beginning of the pandemic, Marianne and I were traveling a lot for work. I had recently left Neiman Marcus, and we found out that we loved nature. We loved the great outdoors. I’m originally from Maryland, and we always have nature surrounding us. We get all seasons in a beautiful way, and I’ve always had that love for nature. The brand is really the connection between ourselves and our environment, and we quickly found that many other brands were moving in that direction. We wanted to find a way to hone in deeper to find out what the brand really meant to us, who our customer really is.
This led me to start painting again, and that’s kind of when I started realizing I should really be creating pieces for artists and artisans. I am one, and there’s tons of people out there that are like us, that are artisans, that are amazing at their craft—but they don’t have articles of clothing that truly support who they are internally as well as externally.
It was this evolution of the ideology and the vision of the brand that has helped to solidify what it is that we’re doing. I truly believe that this works for any archetype of an artist. We’re going to keep producing cool, functional clothing for our artisan counterparts.
What’s it been like getting a brand off the ground during the pandemic?
Very, very difficult. Honestly it’s just been a hell of a lot of drive and a hell of a lot of drive and focus. During the pandemic, the collections that we came out with were more like case studies. It was like, how do we quantify what it is that we’re doing? How do we leave an impact, but more importantly, how do we understand the circumstance of a pandemic and understand that people aren’t looking for certain things during this time. We needed to shift gears a lot, and I think that was what really helped to evolve the brand into this luxury sportswear space, with a touch of fine tailoring. It’s what I think a lot of people are starting to see and acknowledge now.
Financially, it’s obviously been very difficult. We operate by the grace of God, we have been going and going and there’s a ton of challenges that we have met and still many to this day. But, you know, We’re still a startup. We’re so young in the industry and it’s just been a crazy ride that we’re strapped into now.
Tell us about the Autumn/Winter ‘22 collection, Syndicate. The campaign imagery has a much darker, brooding tone compared to your previous work.
I wanted to create a collection that was heavy on silhouettes. They may not be pieces that a lot of people are going to like, but they are pieces that need to be introduced for future use. When it comes to story, and where Syndicate came from, the whole collection is about going after what you want without hesitation. We wanted to create this storyline that was semi-noir, like you said moody.
It’s about this detective trying to figure out why there’s four different people who don’t seem like they’re linked together, going in and out of this bar. And what’s in the bag? Why is it there and why are they transferring it amongst themselves? It’s a metaphor, really. It’s a MacGuffin, but it’s also about literally getting the bag. We wanted to use that urban terminology of getting the bag, you know?
We’re very big on a cinematic visual approach to our collections. We like for our collections to hold some weight. We want the visuals to hold weight; being able to tell a story really allows us to give an experience beyond just the product itself.
We want you to anticipate more, and bring you into the Sebastien Ami line. In five years, you can go back and see where things originated from and where the story will continue to go.
Do you find yourself creating loose ends as you work, deliberately saving them to come back to in a couple years time?
Absolutely, that’s actually what we’re doing right now. We have something really cool in store for our Spring/Summer ‘23 collection, and it’s going to help tie up any loose ends from Cruise ‘22. For Autumn/Winter ‘23, we’ll do the same for Syndicate so that’s something to expect.
We noticed that you minted two of the lookbooks on Opensea. Is that something you plan on continuing to do?
Yes, I’m really happy you noticed that! We feel right now the brand is in a space where, even though we’re young, the Metaverse is a whole other world that actually speaks to the demographic that we speak to. It makes sense to provide some kind of NFT offering now, and then as we build what we’re doing in the future people will have the opportunity to buy into images that didn’t make it, that are part of the story. Whoever buys the NFT will actually have the gap that fills in a lookbook story. We’re definitely going to do more of that for future collections. I really believe it’s a space that’s worth exploring for the brand. I have to shout out our photographer Luke Sirimongkhon, he is an incredible photographer and we’ve known each other for years.
Luke shot all the lookbooks you’ve done so far?
Luke has shot all of our look books starting in the pandemic, with the exception of one, which was shot by the talented Kris Evans. The video work, however, was done by Bradley Calder. He’s a new addition to our team, and he’s an extraordinary talent. When I introduced Bradley and Luke to each other they were instantly kindred spirits. We’ve created a great visual trifecta between the three of us, and there are some things that we’re doing in the future that I know are going to pop.
We have no doubt that anything you're working on is going to get big. Speaking of which, your carpenter pants are definitely the sickest iteration on that kind of workwear style. One of the strongest things is your use of context, for example when you use the original pants in conjunction with Timbs it feels totally different from your biker look even though they have the same cut.
At the end of the day, when you have the right pattern and silhouette it’s just a matter of finding the right fabric. We weren’t going to do the leather version at one point, but we really wanted to do a full on moto suit. It made sense to put in an iconic silhouette for us in that context. That silhouette has a lot of different design notes, and it took quite a bit of time to make it a completely unisex pant. It’s really just a matter of who likes it, and who wants to wear it. We’ll keep doing it over and over again. Obvious things people see are that twisted seam, and the j-cut. Then there’s the knee panel—which is classic—but we turned it into a little pocket. I think utilizing functionality in design is really crucial and so I’m happy that we were able to execute and have it quickly become a really popular pair of pants.
How do you feel that painting and fine art have worked their way into your design practice?
I really believe in the artistry of the product itself. It takes a lot of time to develop a print pattern and design, and because it’s just myself and Marianne who manage the business I haven’t had that much time to focus on the artistic aspect of what we’re doing. We’ll use either my own paintings and illustrations or it will definitely come in the form of collaboration. We’re really excited to integrate my illustration into the works and then develop our own printed patterns as well as woven ones. We have a lot of work to do, we've only scratched the surface but it’s coming.
What’s been your highlight of the year?
We just had a trunk show that started last Thursday and ended it on Sunday. That would have to be our highlight of the year—outside of Justin Bieber wearing the brand, of course.
We had a pull for him two months ago, and that was a major thing that just happened. We were sitting on our couch on a Sunday morning, and it just happened. It was funny, we were like okay cool. I was on my way out to get pancake mix, and then—boom—here it is. Looking back, that definitely has to be the best thing that’s happened so far.
The trunk show was really awesome, and as tough as it was, it was a labor of love. It’s not even labor at that point, honestly it’s about seeing our friends and family, and giving people unfamiliar with the brand an opportunity to get to know us. We did that well, and we’ll most likely do another one later in the year for Spring/Summer ‘23.
So far, I think the year is still young and there’s some things that are probably going to happen that I don't know yet. It’s just fingers crossed that, whatever those things are, they come to fruition.
At the end of the day, it’s a blessing to even have a platform for what we’re doing. I’ve been working at this for almost 20 years, since like middle school, and I’m 34 now. It’s always been a dream to put my work on display in some shape or form, but for the right reasons and a betterment of culture. I’m happy that I can even have this conversation with you guys and I’m really happy you decided to reach out.
The pleasure is all ours, we’d been waiting for this all week. Let us know if you’re ever in New York!
Yeah, absolutely! There is one more thing I’ll say. Everything that’s happening now wouldn’t have happened if my fiancée Marianne Brehmer didn't say, “Do it, I got your back.” I want to send a special shout out, and say, "I love you. Thank you. This one’s for you."