A Conversation With... Teddy Santis at Aimé Leon Dore

3 May 2019

Authentic New York streetwear with a sophisticated edge.

Dubbed 'NY's answer to A.P.C.', Aimé Leon Dore is one of the most original streetwear exports coming out of the US fashion capital over the past few seasons. Masterfully synthesising Big Apple nostalgia and contemporary sensibility to create elevated urban essentials, ALD's exploration of sophisticated streetwear reaches a level of luxury not commonly seen from independent design outfits.

Built upon a core philosophy of authenticity, ALD opts to subvert the oft-shallow obsession for hype product in favour of fostering close relationships with customers that go beyond exceptional garments to tell a story soaked in Queens' heritage.

To mark the launch of Aimé Leon Dore's SS18 collection, END. sat down with the brand's founder Teddy Santis to talk about his inspiration, plans for the future, and to get his take on the current streetwear market...

The name means nothing if we aren’t staying true to why we are doing this. Nobody wants to wear anything today unless they believe in what it represents

END: Tell us a bit about your background, and how the concept for Aimé Leon Dore came about?

Teddy Santis: I was born and raised in Queens, NY by immigrant Greek parents who believed in hard work and making sure we never forgot where we came from. That is definitely obvious in my aesthetic and I think that’s also why the brand has been so well received overseas. In my teenage years, I was immersed in graffiti, breakdancing, DJ’ing, basketball, hip-hop and house music, and music as a whole was a major influence while growing up in Queens. Fashion for me, in one way or another, always complimented every aspect of this culture that I enjoyed. So essentially, I was attracted to anything that looked or made me feel good with whatever I was into at the time. This route took me to a place where I started to meet people who enjoyed the same things I did and for all the same reasons. With the brand, apparel was never the main initiative. I felt that there was some sort of void and that was the biggest push behind the product but the main goal was to create a platform I can share with people who appreciate the same things I do – whether it be apparel, storytelling, spaces or just something with strong core values, I wanted to share it my way. Having a unique approach that was completely authentic gave ALD a voice that I never planned. And here we are today...

END: Where did the name Aimé Leon Dore come from?

Teddy Santis: The name for the brand was initially just aimé because I loved what it meant and how it resonated with me, but I couldn’t trademark it. We then added Leon, meaning lion, which was my father’s nickname as a kid growing up in Greece. Dore is the last syllable of my name, Theodore. When I was going through these trademark issues my wife Denise, who is my creative therapist, shot me a few options based on our conversations and I loved it. It felt grand and elegant at the same time which is exactly what I wanted. It was the best mistake that could have happened in the initial stages of the brand. People all over the world express how much they love the name which is always refreshing because of how honest it is and what it means to me.

END: New York is one of the most defining aspects of the brand’s identity – what is it about NYC, and particularly Queens, that drives the inspiration for ALD?

Teddy Santis: NYC and Queens are just what I know. I’ve always said that streetwear is New York and in Queens, we have our own unique approach to it. I’m sure everyone feels this way about where they are from, but the music that came out Queens and how streetwear tied into that when I was growing up, is still my biggest inspiration behind the brand. It was a timeless era that can never be recreated which is why I try and keep this influence on the ethos of the brand so we can continuously tell this story and compliment it as we evolve. I’m 31 and its crazy to see how this specific era is responsible for what everyone loves today. It puts me in a place where I feel responsible to make sure the kid who loves ALD today, understands this and what it really represents.

END: You’ve spoken in the past about the connection between streetwear and basketball, do you think the two are still as intertwined as they were?

Teddy Santis: Yes, but maybe not as much as I wish they were. I don’t like that the beauty behind the sports aesthetic has been diluted in the past couple years. Everyone who is doing it, in my opinion, either stole it from our backyard here in NYC or its completely off with what it should stand for. This is the main reason behind SONNY which is the basketball component of ALD. I’m trying to keep it as authentic as we can so we eventually have the audience we want for the opportunity to completely tie both of these worlds together seamlessly. NYC street ball and streetwear I believe definitively speak to each other. The dialogue, lifestyle and overall essence of the game has an undeniable life to it that I think is similar to streetwear. I always said that my approach to styling these collections has a huge street ball influence because of what my eyes saw growing up. I hope to be taking the right steps with this side of the brand so we can create something people like myself appreciate and want to be a part of.

END: Aimé Leon Dore likes to keep away from the 'hype' side of the streetwear industry to build deep connections with customers based on the brand’s values rather than just the ALD name, why is that important to you?

Teddy Santis: That’s what I believe creates authenticity and longevity in a brand like ALD. The name means nothing if we aren’t staying true to why we are doing this. I believe we are storytellers more than anything and the product comes second to that. Nobody wants to wear anything today unless they believe in what it represents. The people who don’t care, I don’t want that consumer. They are short-term and more than anything will hurt the brand because of that reason specifically. That’s streetwear for you today. Half the people wear something because everyone else is doing it. Not because of what it really stands for or because they genuinely like it... With today’s market, trying to do what we set out for is really difficult but if you stick to your guns long enough because you really believe in something, the gap between where you are now and where you want to be is just a matter of time, hard work and an honest approach. The internet has given the consumer an opportunity to find out the facts and how brands like mine control that is what is going to determine long-term success. To be honest, I’m not a fan of where streetwear is right now which is why I’m excited to be in the position I’m in.

END: You’ve mentioned that the decision to open a physical space in New York was to do with being able to convey the brand’s identity in a way that goes deeper than experiencing the products. If you had to translate the experience of the ALD space into a few words, what would they be?

Teddy Santis: We try and create multiple moments that hit you with a ton of emotion when you experience them at the same time. Every single detail is taken into consideration when building out these spaces.

END: What were your main sources of inspiration?

Teddy Santis: I’m always looking back at my childhood and what inspired me then and how I can translate that today. I also wanted to build on the offering while maintaining the cohesiveness everyone loves from us. Another very important initiative with this collection was to show our loyal fan how we truly are in our own lane and we are going to continuously come correct season after season with what looks effortless but deep down has a ton of detail and substance that they can relate to.

END: What’s next for ALD?

Teddy Santis: That’s the best part of this whole thing. There is no definitive plan or end game. We’re just going to keep rocking…