Founder Michaël Azoulay talks American Vintage and its conquest of the US

It has been quite a journey for the brand from Marseille, France, inspired by the American lifestyle. Founded by Michaël Azoulay in 2005, American Vintage now employs 850 people worldwide, both directly and indirectly, and has “a turnover of 140 million euros, 130 brand shops and 1,500 retailers worldwide”.

Having emerged “stronger” from the Covid crisis and ready to face today’s uncertainty and inflation, the brand with its beautiful basics infused with a casual and relaxed style, already very well established in Europe, has now entered the United States. Michael Azoulay tells FashionUnited about this new adventure and his new projects.

FashionUnited: American Vintage is very well established in Europe. You recently decided to enter the export market, via the United States.
A bold move, knowing that many French brands inspired by America have not succeeded in this “reversal of perspective”.

Michaël Azoulay: Yes, that is true. 60 percent of our turnover is now generated in Europe but outside France, between Germany, Switzerland and Austria, the Benelux countries, Great Britain, and to a lesser extent, Spain and Italy. It was during the covid-19 pandemic, in 2021, that we opened our first boutique in New York. A bold move you could say as the American market scares me to death. It’s the graveyard for many European companies. But we remain cautious. Our approach is not planned in a systematic way, we are taking it easy. In retail, we would like to open about ten points of sale within two years, once again in New York, but also in Boston and Austin, for example. When it comes to B2B, we have two showrooms, one in New York and one in Los Angeles, and we are satisfied with how the launch is going.

But our strategy is first and foremost to reinforce what already exists: Europe, and therefore what we have started in North America. Then to approach markets where we think there is potential for the American Vintage brand, in particular: Israel, the Emirates, and Singapore.

You continue to move forward, despite being faced with various crises, how do you deal with them?

After Covid, which continues to cut us off from the Chinese market, we moved on to the war in Ukraine and its economic impact: inflation, the energy crisis, and the rise in raw materials. We as a business are moving on. When it comes to the increase in raw materials, we were obliged to reassess our supplies, to buy in larger quantities in order to have more stocks, which gives us stability. As for the supply delays, which were challenging for a while, I would say that things are now getting better.

The Covid crisis has brought us, and shown us and other companies, a capacity for resilience. In our corporate culture, we know how to handle emergencies. We are reactive and flexible. We have digitalised the company extensively, with access to important information everywhere, in real time. The teams have a 360-degree view, which allows them to anticipate better. I also chose to take on many managerial responsibilities directly. We are a great company that includes all the internal professions: logistics, supply chain, merchandising, etc. The fundamentals of the business are with us. This is important, and that’s why we are able to train our teams ourselves, both at the company headquarters and in the shops. We employ a lot of young people, and it all goes very fast. Evolution is part of the DNA of the company and I consider it a strength. I know from experience that it is important to be a completely self-taught person. People reveal what they are really like on the job.

The American Vintage stores in New York (left) and Bordeaux (right). Images courtesy of American Vintage.

What are your next projects on the product side?

Despite everything, we are regaining confidence. We are performing better than in 2019 across all our distribution channels. We are very pleased with the launch of our children’s line in October, which we have positioned in a selection of about 40 points of sale in Europe, premium boutiques and concept stores. This line is something of a focus on our brand DNA, and we took advantage of its novelty to design it in an almost entirely sustainable way, since we had to start the process from scratch. Generally speaking, this is progress for us. Today, 15 to 20 percent of our adult collections meet the main CSR imperatives in fashion.

While women represent the vast majority of our sales, we are increasing our men’s business, which contributes 10 to 15 percent to our turnover. We are opening men’s shops, the most recent ones being in London and Bordeaux. We are also planning to open a shop in Copenhagen and to renovate our shop in Cannes and transform it into a men’s store next to the women’s store.

Finally, where do you stand in the market? What is your level of range and your added value?

We are closer to a company like Inditex than to a designer, but our beautiful materials, we have somewhat of a purist approach to materials, as the fine details, such as frayed collars, and how people wear our clothes, make the difference. Finally, we have a very agile supply chain that allows us to make daily deliveries to our outlets.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR and has been translated and edited into English by Veerle Versteeg.

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