Aimé Leon Dore launches in the UK – worth a visit?
There has been a fair amount of excitement in London at the opening of the new Aimé Leon Dore shop in Soho – their first outside the US.
I can understand why. New menswear stores are rare at the moment, the dominant narrative being of stores closing or brands slipping in that direction.
And ALD is one of those brands men interested in style will have followed for years (it’s older than you think), with interest among classic menswear fans funnelled from its collaborations with Drake’s and its fresh-feeling combinations of traditional pieces with streetwear.
To an extent, ALD has been a victim of its own success on the styling side. Many brands now look similar, from start-ups to bigger brands like J.Crew. We talked about that ‘no trend’ trend last year, here.
This influence also been a result of personalities moving around. Brendon Babenzien, co-owner of Noah and previously at Supreme, is now creative director at J Crew. ALD’s Teddy Santis is designing the ‘Made in the US’ line at New Balance, and you can clearly see his influence in the ‘everyman’ shoots on display in the Oxford Street store.
I’ve liked a lot of this styling, particularly as regards more casual clothing. Of course little is ever really new, but the ALD lookbooks over the past three years have always had combinations that felt inspiring – whether it was sweatshirts with polo coats or flannels with trainers.
It also helped that they were so well-executed. The models were often friends, they appeared to have their own personal styles, and the whole thing looked relaxed and fresh.
Again, this might seem more normal now than a few years ago, but it’s still a pleasant change from most of what you get from both established classic-menswear brands – with their sterile-looking models – and from fast-fashion – with its hyper-masculine posing.
However, while I liked the styling, I was usually a little underwhelmed by the ALD product.
As with quite a few new brands, behind the shoots there seemed to little more than T-shirts, sweats and caps. There was rarely that much interesting in the product, whether in terms of cut, fabric, quality or simple creativity.
There were some nice pieces, often as part of collaborations. I preferred their version of the orange-Casentino fleece to that offered by Drake’s, for example. But these sold out quickly, and what you saw people actually wearing was sweats with a logo on them.
I should say that those sweats are better quality than most. A friend sources from the same factory, knows the grade, and you can feel the weight of the jersey when you feel them in person (one immediate advantage of having a store).
They’re not the same level as premium Japanese brands, such as The Real McCoy’s. But they’re a step above most of ALD’s high-street-wear competition.
Of course, they’re also more expensive. A simple grey sweatshirt from ALD is £175. There is a clear premium there for the costs of those shoots, the shops and the people. But you’re getting something more than just marketing for your money.
There’s also a point to make about contemporary design. One thing traditional brands often lack is a sense of being current, just in little things like the rise of a trouser, the chest size of a sweater or the use of colours. And so-called uniform brands like The Real McCoy’s can have the opposite problem – focusing so much on traditional cuts and styles that the results look anachronistic.
This is where high-street brands are often better – Uniqlo, perhaps, or Cos – as readers sometimes remark. And this is something you get from ALD. If you like the look of the hoodies people are wearing which are bigger, but a little shorter, with a close hood about the neck, chances are a current fashion brand like ALD will have that, and (with them) at a slightly higher quality level.
So how does this all boil down into the store experience?
I have to say I was impressed. There was more interesting product on display than I expected, and perhaps than you get a sense of on the website.
The recent collaboration with Woolrich had some nice knits, albeit with (fishing) flies embroidered on the front. There was a range of pyjamas in pleasingly wallpaper-like patterns. And DB seersucker suits made in the US, which had a great shape to the lapel.
Much of it still wasn’t my style, but the point is there was more originality – more like the creativity you see at a brand like Bode than at the sweatshirt start-ups that are far more common.
The shop itself is also very impressive. The design is luxurious, more like a gentleman’s club than a streetwear store. You could take all the product out (and the deflated basketballs) and fill it with Brioni tailoring without it being incongruous.
It also felt – and this is hard to describe – somehow authentic. Just as the ALD shoots celebrating people of Queen’s feel more real than square-jawed models, so the shop feels like it has a genuine vision and a genuine following.
The aesthetic, the staff, the customers, they all felt part of a whole. This is the kind of thing we perhaps get used to in classic menswear – in Anderson & Sheppard or in Connolly – but I think it’s rare in a brand like this.
Interestingly, authenticity was something the brand was criticised for lacking in its campaign to launch its UK-made New Balance: the models and the American music seemed at odds with the British terraces around them. That too shows people care: it’s a brand people feel protective about.
I think other brands should be scared. Compare the feeling of walking into ALD with other stores in London – not just the walking wounded like Brooks Brothers or Gieves & Hawkes, but Belstaff or Mackintosh or Barbour.
Those brands have genuine heritage and often quality, but there’s no sense of a following, no engagement or even knowledge among the staff. (Of course, that’s why those brands often do collaborations.)
And now ALD has investment from LVMH, they probably have the backing to do anything they want. Not, I suspect, the old model of explosion into 50 or 100 stores around the world, but to do things like make films about Robert de Niro's father or build community gyms.
For me, I can see myself popping in there now and again, to see what they’ve come up with recently and try things in person. I can also see myself buying some of the sportswear, such as a pair of the perforated shorts. The colours and cuts are so much more interesting, and again the experience so much better, that the likes Nike or Adidas.
The Aimé Leon Dore store is at 32 Broadwick Street. There is a café but it doesn’t open until 11, somewhat bizarrely. In the US there is a store in New York at 214 Mulberry Street.
I wasn’t aware that ALD had opened in London – thank you for the heads up. I’ve only recently become aware of them, mainly through the Teddy Santis/New Balance connection. Most of the stuff isn’t my style, but I can attest to the quality of the product – I purchased one of the NB Made in USA core hoodies in Oatmeal and am pleasantly surprised by how premium it feels.
Are you talking about the Crest hoodie? which is made in Canada. If not, can you link to the product?
Sorry, realised my comment is probably a bit confusing – I’m referring to New Balance’s Made in USA Core Hoodie, a line that is designed/overseen by ALD’s Teddy Santis. The design/construction looks very similar to ALD’s own hoodies.
Always nice when a new name comes up…particularly in the UK…and when the quality is good…be it in tailoring, new and trusted clothing brands, accessories and the like.
Seems like a lot of brands get their sweatshirts made in Canada (ALD, Noah, Supreme..). I wonder if it’s all the same source, but varying the grade.
I believe it’s all CYC Design Corporation made
Good info, thanks. I think at the price point (from 158-175 roughly) they are all good value.
Reigning Champ also. Good sportswear options.
My guess will be they use House of Blanks
Interesting article in particular where describing the ALD position in the marketplace. I was only aware of them through the Drake’s collaboration’s until now. Interesting price point being a a fair bit less expensive than The Real McCoy’s (grey quality and agree on the points you made) and also a bit below Clutch Cafe. I personally think that’s a space worth playing in as the aforementioned shops can be a bit eye watering on price. I recognise they have some high quality items ( I have purchased from both myself) but even so ALD do offer a viable alternative.
As you say a shop well worth a visit when in town.
One thing that does strike me is how few brands get OCBD right and unfortunately ALD have not managed this either – for me it’s the standout Drakes piece.
Thanks again for letting us know about something new to us and a place to visit (after the 11th!). Look forward to more similar articles. Also really appreciate how you are varying the types of articles.
Finally are you planning anything more on Pitti?
All the best.
Cheers Stephen, I always try to mix it up, dull otherwise. Brand, styling, philosophy; about me, about someone else, by someone else.
There’s nothing else directly about Pitti – to be honest, there wasn’t that much to write about. But there are a couple of articles coming on artisans in Florence, and on clothes shot while there.
Sounds good. Thanks
With all due repspect, Brendon pioneered this style 20 years ago in the original run of Noah, and he was making custom tailoring bridging streetwear and tailoring. Teddy was influenced by him and not the other way around from the clothes to the retail setup of the current Noah iteration.
Thanks, yes didn’t mean to imply that was not the case earlier. Personally, it feels to me like the influence is the other way around now, but that’s just a consumer’s impression
Brendon was there decades before. He was doing what he is doing now in the early 00’s. If you saw the Noah store which was first, ALD took a lot of design references that were used in his build out.
Thanks, yes as I said not disagreeing with that early evolution
I notice that they’re doing the thing where they sell sports uniforms but have the brand’s name instead of the team names. Quite a few brands do variations of that.
I’m not sure if I’m a fan. It particularly rankles the sense of authenticity that you mentioned. It also draws a large amount of attention to the brand name, people around you will strain to see which sports team you support, only to see it’s a fake name. I don’t expect brands to not present their logos, but there’s a limit I’m comfortable with when it comes to the amount of attention the logo commands.
As an aside, I see that the new shop is right next to a Leon fast food place. I wonder if that was a factor in the decision!
I’ve now visited the shop and have some thoughts. The interior is very nice, but the place seemed over-staffed. Way more people working there than customers. A majority of the customers were in the cafe section anyway, although that might just of been when I was there.
I like ALD’s styling, although I feel there’s a fine line between looking like the sporty cosmopolitan urbanite of their lookbooks and an average Joe from the 90s in clunky trainers. It takes a refined eye and a certain amount of swagger to make it work I think. For a related but unique blend of elevated leisure wear I am a big fan of Ghiaia in Los Angeles. Their styling is consistently inspiring without being particularly unusual or obviously distinctive. It’s just simple elegant casual ensembles pulled together with superb judgement and just enough whimsy to make it original. Worth a look at their Instagram, if you’re unfamiliar.
Thanks Peter, yes I know Ghiaia and have interviewed them in the past. The styling is lovely isn’t it. I particularly like the way it’s on the mannequins in the harbour often. It feels quite 90s, a little like old Polo but also quite fresh.
Yes exactly, sort of a ‘new’ old Polo, somehow! Where might I be able to find that interview?
It was for a magazine and not online I’m afraid
Sorry, and yes you’re right on the ALD styling I think. It’s often best I find to take one or two elements from an outfit, or even just an idea of combination. And as I keep on saying, these combinations depend as much on proportions as more formal clothing often
What do you think about the price point here compared to the quality of the clothing? I know as ALD has some significant mainstream “hype” now they can have a good brand markup but it did cross my mind that a fair amount of their clothing seemed like it would just be better to have a tailor copy the style?
Did you see the part of the article where I talk about the quality? On the sweats in particular, but it applies to everything I think.
I doubt a tailor would be able to copy most things effectively, partly because the materials are unusual and often exclusive, and partly because the thing that makes them well designed is little aspects of the cut, which a tailor couldn’t copy unless you bought the garment and gave it to them.
Having looked at ALD’s webpage, I am not so convinced. Many of their articles contain branding and for me their logo does not even look good. There are some articles I find interesting, like the terry-clothes cardigans, but then the cost close to EUR 400 with a substantial part of nylon added to the cotton.
I’m not a fan, and their website is a bit of a junk drawer that tries overly hard. That said, I appreciate you covering things outside the realm of strictly classic menswear, and I’m sure this has appeal to the 20-something set.
I made a visit to the ALD store in NYC a year before the pandemic and it had a lovely vibe. They ran their own cafe in the same building and there was a long queue before it opened — in true New York style — with mostly young streetwear patrons whispering eagerly with the excitement of exploring something which to them was novel.
It’s really for an audience that grew up and is most comfortable with streetwear but has a more classic taste for it and wants to push further. Perhaps like a counterpoint to Drake’s which seems to go in the other direction. No wonder they collaborated! I can’t say what they’re doing is entirely new but they seem to have connected with an audience that is not all too familiar with Noah and doesn’t feel perfectly satisfied with hip streetwear or pristine tailoring.
At that time, many of the garments on display were made in Portugal and the colourblock tee I bought had a decent make in a comfy heavyweight fabric. I haven’t used it a lot but it has stood up well to washing and I certainly consider the make to be better than something from Maison Kitsune, for instance. The markups are high as with Drake’s and the fit isn’t perfect for someone used to tailoring. But I think it’s still a great entryway from streetwear to tailoring without being as preppy as Rowing Blazers (nor as good in quality). I personally wouldn’t buy a cardigan from them but got a tie from their Drake’s collaboration which is tremendously fun. There’s a place for them in menswear. Thanks for covering the London store, I had no idea!
No worries Ram, and thanks for your first-hand experiences, they’re nicely put, and put in context.
the deflated basketballs are an art piece by Tyrell Winston, an up and coming contemporary artist. I am an art dealer and have followed his career. I can understand why the piece may seem a little incongruous with the store design, but of course mixing this street iconography with the more classical is very on-brand.
I happened to walk past the London store on Saturday, which had a queue to get in trailing down the street. So it looks like it has immediately gone the way of Supreme and Palace in attracting the hype beasts. Shame, as it would have been nice to go in, have a browse and maybe try out one of their cafe’s koulourakia (I’m of Greek heritage and a place that sells a good version of those cookies would be heaven).
Not for me