Designer for the stars
Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Bill Clinton wear LA tailor Amir's suits. Guy Adams meets a lover of luxury with friends in high places
Monday 27 July 2009
The tie is light blue, with a tiny white pattern. It was woven from the finest, thickest Italian silk. In my hands, it feels as soft as butter. Around my neck, it looks effortlessly plutocratic. There is no price tag, but when Amir breaks the air-conditioned silence to announce what this strip of material sells for, I let out a stunned gasp: it costs $650.
Then there are suits. Dozens of them. They retail for the same as your average family car. A sports jacket, hanging casually from a tailor's dummy, is $8,000 (almost £5,000). A two-piece pinstripe can fetch up to $16,000. Don't even ask how much you'd have to pay for the crocodile skin loafers sunning themselves in Amir's window.
"The issue is very simple," he explains, without a hint of irony. "If someone has to ask the price of something, that means they're not my client. It would be like going to a Bentley dealer and asking many miles the cars do per gallon. Sure, the Amir tie is probably the most expensive tie in the world. But you're not just buying a tie: you're buying an experience."
This brand of ruthless extravagance is, essentially, the prevailing philosophy at Amir Fashions, an extortionate yet extraordinary store at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles, which has for more than 30 years been the nec plus ultra of shopping destinations for the world's kings, style icons, Hollywood stars and political leaders.
Here, against a backdrop of marble floors, gold leaf furniture, and piped Elvis Presley music, is where Cary Grant ("a giant of a man") was measured up for dinner jackets, and a generation of his successors – George Clooney, Michael Douglas, Brad Pitt – still swing by to be kitted out in stylish formal wear.
Amir has dressed no fewer than four US presidents: Reagan, Bush Snr, Clinton, and Obama. The Sultan of Brunei is a fan of his silk pocket handkerchiefs. Gianni Versace used to pop round to admire his fabrics. All told, he's one of the most influential designers you've probably never heard of. He's also reassuringly discreet. This is his first ever newspaper interview.
"Pearls are priceless," he says, shaking my hand. "But only when you bring them out of the ocean and polish them do they have value. I do the same to men of power: I polish them."
Amir's clothes have provided a backdrop to modern history. Bill Clinton wore his tie during impeachment hearings; Reagan and Gorbachev lifted the Iron Curtain in his suits. Senator George Mitchell, architect of the Good Friday peace agreements, shook hands with David Trimble, Gerry Adams, and Tony Blair in his lounge suits.
"He has this expression, 'style is confidence'," Senator Mitchell informs me. "And it's true: when you wear an Amir suit you just feel confident. The quality, and the fit and the general sense of restraint about his clothes are incredible. I've been shopping with him for 12 years." Amir claims to be the first designer to operate exclusively out of a store in a luxury hotel. His bizarre, outmoded looking billboards – featuring penguins in dicky bows, swarthy olive-skinned men, and cornfields – are part of LA's civic scenery.
We meet shortly after a famous client, Van Morrison, breezed through the store, picking up a blue pinstripe number for an appearance on The Jay Leno Show (Amir's assistant lets slip that the diminutive singer, who measures 5ft 5in, has taken to wearing high heels). Later that day, another "regular" is due in. He's a businessman from Hong Kong, who has been known to drop $2m in a single visit. Amir, 54, is impeccably groomed, and holds himself like a Middle Eastern version of Swiss Tony. Cutely, he will not tell me his surname, saying: "Just call me Amir; it's my trademark, and my name." He claims just 1,400 clients, and knows all by sight. Like a neighbourhood Italian restaurateur, he has put framed, often autographed photos of his most famous customers (Clooney, Pitt, Grant, Obama et al) on the store's walls.
We discuss his career highlights. They include dressing Ronald Reagan, under the approving eye of Nancy, who thought her husband "could do better", (he jazzed up his tie collection) and offering advice to Bill Clinton, who before Amir's day used to sometimes pair black shirts with a dark suit ("For me, that is a complete no-no"). Clinton inspired one of Amir's proudest inventions: the "Amir knot", a distinctive technique for doing up a neck tie that leaves a with a rakish "bobble" down the front of it. "I invented it for Bill. He told me it took him a flight from California to Washington to learn how to do it. It's simple, clean and solid. It gives flair to the tie, and draws your eye to the face above it."
Amir's ability to "polish" the rich and famous is partly a result of his upbringing. His grandfather, Amir Bahador, was a minister in Iran during the era of the Shah. His father was a General in the Iranian army. He grew up hanging around in the country's corridors of power in the early Sixties.
"Everyone must find passion in their life, and my passion was always fashion. At an early age I just knew that I wanted to enhance men of power, and help them with their image, ever since I used to see my father go to the palace of the former Shah."
He left Iran in 1968, and, after a spell at boarding school in Kent, landed at the School of Fashion in Florence. Having graduated, he set up a small workshop on the outskirts of Florence, where four craftsmen helped craft his hand-sketched designs. Today, the same factory employs a full time staff of 80.
Amir opened his first store in a Bel Air shopping mall in 1973. By good fortune, it was next to a fashionable restaurant; regular diners like Reagan and Cary Grant would swing by after lunch. An accomplished networker, he was soon dressing some of old Hollywood's foremost "names".
"I used to meet people at parties, and then afterwards, if they were someone I might like to dress, I would send them a gift," he says. "I remember the first time I met Peter Jennings, the newsreader. I introduced myself, sent him a note, with one of my ties. He sent back a note. Next time he was in Los Angeles, he met me and I started doing his suit."
The making of his brand, so to speak, came in 1978, when Amir moved into a vacant downstairs showroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel, arguably Hollywood's most glamorous watering hole. He figured the location would give him an edge over rivals who had swamped nearby Rodeo Drive.
"At the time," he recalls, "women wore beautiful fabrics. Valentino, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent were all designing beautiful fabric. But men had what I called bulletproof suits, made out of polyester. So I introduced those men to cashmere, silk, these fabrics that you touch and it melts in your hand. It was a new market. I have always tried to do something different."
Today, extortionate opulence seems out of keeping with the belt-tightening times. But Amir's clothes are impeccable and his manner is winsome. He leaves me with a sartorial rule of thumb: "Fashion comes, fashion goes. But style always remains." On paper, this looks like a preposterous cliché. But, in Amir's air conditioned kingdom of $650 ties, it feels strangely appropriate.
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