The family photo could easily be one destined for an American Vintage advertising campaign! Surrounded by his children and nephews, Michaël Azoulay, the founder of the cotton basics brand, is radiant. At the head of a real fashion giant created only ten years ago, his fortieth birthday presents The Socialite Family with an exclusive opportunity: a visit to his apartment. A space, accessed on several levels, in which one can easily imagine oneself walking about barefoot. Each one is equally spacious and bright, each one corresponds to a time of life. High, very high above the city centre, the beating heart of the Phocaean city. This city, which saw him grow up, and gave American Vintage its unique DNA. A constant desire for changes, colours, materials. Also for light, natural and omnipresent as it is in Provence. American Vintage styles, on the other hand, erase differences. They bring people together, as Marseille does. An inclusive city with a thousand faces from which an energy emerges which is specific to the cities of the south. For the rest of his inspirations, Michaël Azoulay quotes Amancio Ortega at the drop of a hat. An entrepreneurial role model whose philosophy and action he admires. More than being a simple lesson, the work that the Spanish entrepreneur has done year after year through Zara has had a profound effect on him. American Vintage must not only be a brand but a driving force for all those who work day in, day out, to develop it. It is a “duty” towards his collaborators and the future generation that Michaël Azoulay refines day after day through various projects – artistic patronage, university campus, etc. – to create a better world. A world in which everyone can be free to work anywhere, and any time.
Michael, can you introduce yourself?
40 years old, married, 3 children, founder of American Vintage in 2005.
How and why was American Vintage born?
American Vintage was officially born four years after the founding the company. It was born of a change of direction I made after some years spent in the artistic direction of collections. Then I needed to change name of the brand, and my choice can be interpreted as a ‘thank you’, a dedication to the USA, where I was going a lot at that time. The American trend at that time was vintage.
What role has Marseille played and what role does it play now in the image, construction and development of your brand?
I think that Marseille is a naturally cosmopolitan city where there is a rich degree of diversity in terms of people, cultures, religions, etc. It is a port city, a Mediterranean city. I don’t think there’s any Marseille style. Marseille is a social link, a means of development. It’s a city that doesn’t really have any tribes. It is a unifying force, trying to bring people together. American Vintage was able to export itself and be successful very early on because it knows how to adapt to people’s differences. And then there is an exceptional light in Provence which, I think, is palpable and which can be found in our collections. Because of it, we always want more colours, more materials.
I visited this place by chance, and I fell head-over-heels in love with the potential of this building.
What do you love most about your city?
This is my city, the place where I was born, where I grew up. But what I really like is that it is a great place to live. There is the climate, but it is also in the ideal position geographically, just a few hours from the mountains or from Paris, but also from the most beautiful beaches in the region. From Marseille, it is easy in summer or winter to access incredible spots and to get away from it all. Given all these assets, it would be nice if Marseille could become a more influential city in terms of industry and economics.
How would you like to continue to develop American Vintage?
The next step for American Vintage is to continue to develop internationally, and why not by trying to conquer new continents such as Asia. At the same time, we want to create a university campus within the company where we would have a school to recruit the talents of tomorrow. To be able to better train them, to prepare them for a world where you have to be versatile about business and passionate about fashion. As far as collaborations between American Vintage and artists are concerned, we want to continue to promote them and, thanks to our international influence, to give them a place to express themselves. More than ever, we are supporting the young creators.
Tell us about this luxury mansion. Where are we, what is its story?
I visited this place by chance, and I fell head-over-heels in love with the potential of this building. My wife likes the city very much, and especially this feeling of a house with land. She feels safer, more comfortable. And then there are many amenities all around. It is still a place where we have space – because of the way it is organised. It took us a long time to do the work because we demolished and rebuilt everything, but we feel so good, and we are happy to be in the city.
In decoration as in fashion, do you have a very special choice of materials and colours at home?
Certainly, yes. The materials and the colours are really meticulously thought out. There’s a lot of wood, resin, concrete. Modern materials combined with the original elements of the building. We imagined the space as a cocoon in which we could walk barefoot, without lots of obstacles and with a warm atmosphere that is enhanced by lighting chosen to enhance the natural light. We have a lot of windows that let it flood in, it changes everything in the house.
What inspires you every day?
I’m quite observant, so what inspires me is seeing how people behave and evolve. Today, the international and the omni-channel context that we have developed feed me the company’s results. Depending on the markets and distribution channels (outlets, stands, shops in France, export, web, etc.) this helps me to better analyse and understand customer behaviour. Just these figures – which I look at and interrogate – are extremely important to me. When I’m looking at them, I project myself and try to understand the different desires at each moment of a person’s life. This means that our collections must be adapted to the long-term and not to fast-fashion. As a result, we try to work with durable products and a timeless style, fashion above all, faithful to the brand’s values. But let’s not forget that as businesspeople who love entrepreneurship, we must innovate and reinvent ourselves every week, every season.
Is there a woman or a man who has made you want to start an enterprise and whose philosophy you share?
When I first started out I didn’t have a mentor. But I had someone who pushed me to move forward by making me realise that I could create my own company using what I brought to my employer on a daily basis. It was a member of my family who taught me not to be afraid, to try. The model I really like is Mr Ortega, from Inditex. I think he is an example at all levels, in terms of people, development, business and what he has brought to society around the world through stores and a product that has allowed people to make people more beautiful. It’s ultra-social, strong as a message. Because before that, fashion was addressed to wealthy people. He succeeded in democratising it by making it accessible. His business model is an example because there are no limits. Not in terms of geographical development, nor in terms of brand universe segmentation because it affects everyone. It gives you the faith to say that it is possible. That there are companies that manage to create added value and wealth. Amancio Ortega allowed a person who works and has an average life to enter beautiful shops with products inspired by great designers. Which means that we don’t have to go into luxury to feel that we exist, and that’s huge. It pulls everyone up. This gentleman must have real values, a desire for challenge, for continual evolution. And that speaks to me.
Tell us about the latest news from American Vintage. What have you got in store for us?
There is the university campus that will allow us to work on the employer brand to be able to better recruit and strengthen our point-of-sale teams in the future. It is an important subject because the idea is to have proper training programmes to help everyone grow. I would like people to be able to say that you can come to American Vintage with a certain background and that you can change and evolve during your experience with us. It is our duty. We know that they will not stay at American Vintage for the rest of their lives, but if we can have a brand label that has successfully participated in the development of young people so that they can be free to work anywhere, anytime, that will be a success for me, because we will have a better world.
We imagined the space as a cocoon in which we could walk barefoot, without lots of obstacles and with a warm atmosphere that is enhanced by natural light.
Photography: Eve Campestrini – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily
In collaboration with American Vintage