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How Aimé Leon Dore Became a Cult Brand

How Aimé Leon Dore Became a 
Cult Brand

Selling a Lifestyle rather than mere apparel

In the fast-paced world of fashion, few brands transcend trends and seasons to become enduring icons that redefine customer perceptions of ‘cool’ and how to shop it. Aimé Leon Dore, or more colloquially 'ALD,' is one such brand. Founded in 2014 by Teddy Santis, a Queens, New York native, ALD merges the realms of luxury and streetwear, blending traditional men's fashion with a touch of 90’s and 2000’s hip-hop influence.  

Differentiating from its peers, ALD strategically avoids oversaturated fashion weeks and runway shows, maintaining a global presence through its online platforms and carefully curated stores in New York and London. Against this backdrop, the question arises: How has this relatively young and audacious fashion label garnered the widespread recognition and fan base in today’s competitive world of fashion? 

About Aimé Leon Dore 

The appeal of ALD is largely attributed to its founder, Teddy Santis, a first-generation Greek immigrant. Growing up working in his father's New York City diner, Santis developed hospitality skills and meaningful customer relationships, shaping him into the successful designer and label owner he is today. The brand name, ALD, pays homage to his father by combining the French word for love, Teddy's father's name (Leon), and the last syllable of his own name (Theodore).  

ALD blends hip-hop and sport-influenced street style with a touch of preppy polish, embodying New York’s urban culture across its loungewear, sportswear, and tailored apparel. Influenced by Ralph Lauren, which sparked ALD’s inception, Santis maintains a contemporary interpretation of the ‘Ralph’ aesthetic, incorporating rural Greek and 90’s Americana influences.  

“I’m super-inspired by Ralph, but I feel like there was a void that didn’t exist within Ralph that I thought I could speak to, which was my starting point.” - Teddy Santis, Aimé Leon Dore Founder 

This approach has garnered cult following from menswear editors and fashion aficionados globally, especially in New York and Japan.  

Furthering its prominence has been ALD’s notable collaborations with brands like New Balance, Timberland, Porsche, and English menswear brand, Drake’s. Santis’s designs have resonated both creatively and commercially, leading to a minority stake investment by LVMH luxury ventures in 2022.  Before the pandemic, ALD was sold in 160 stores worldwide, including top-tier stockists like Mr Porter, Ssense, and Kith. However, in 2022 following the capital infusion from LVMH, the brand opted to exclusively offer its products DTC through its two storefronts and online, withdrawing from other retailers.  

Becoming a Cult Brand 

Crafting an Identity 

At the core of ALD's cult brand status lies its unique identity, unmistakable aesthetic, and its nostalgic storytelling. In addition to drawing inspiration from Ralph Lauren, Santis admired labels such as Supreme and Stussy. He observed not just their style, but also how these skate and surf brands went beyond clothing, becoming integral parts of their consumers' identities through compelling storytelling. It is this idea of identity and telling a narrative through clothing which can be seen across the ALD collections.  

“When you’re buying into ALD, you’re buying into a world — you’re buying into a perspective more than a garment.” – Teddy Santis, Aimé Leon Dore Founder

The brand's seasonal lookbooks, crafted by Santis, have become emblematic of its ethos. Consistent in treatment, tone, and styling, these lookbooks are eagerly awaited by the brand's fans. They transcend a mere catalogue, unfolding as compelling stories for each collection or collaboration. In 2022, ALD partnered with academy award winner Robert De Niro to produce a short film titled “In the Past Goes Far.” This intimate portrayal recounts the life of De Niro Sr., a painter, filmed in his Queen’s studio. De Niro Jr. delves into the complexities of their relationship, sharing unheard anecdotes of his father’s life and work. This collaboration exemplifies ALD’s appreciation and commitment to storytelling and history, extending beyond fashion to create a space where nostalgic and creative stories can be told.  

“If you don’t really represent it, people can see right through it. We’re representing that era through product, we’re doing it through visuals, and we’re doing it through film, but we’re not trying to recreate it.” – Teddy Santis, Aimé Leon Dore Founder 

While ALD’s style incorporates streetwear references and carries a niche or subcultural allure, its style of nostalgia resonates with a wide spectrum of consumers. This appeal extends to menswear enthusiasts, streetwear stylists, and women alike. 

The status of brick and motor retail is ever-changing. Physical stores were declared dead pre-pandemic, but were quickly revived post, with consumers yearning for that in-store experience again. ALD has leaned into this offering, providing its customers with a physical representation of the brand though its storefronts and café concept.  

After parting ways with stockists and retailers post-pandemic, ALD focused on its retail footprint, opening its first international location in London’s Soho neighborhood in 2022, and remodeling its flagship New York store in 2022/23.  

The stores are often compared to members’ clubs rather than typical shops, attracting the style-savvy and creatively famous who come to hang out, drink their freddo espressos, and shop for all things ALD. The store's design mirrors the themes of the clothing it houses, adopting different styles and narratives throughout its large, airy rooms. Alongside clothing and accessory fixtures, Santis has curated an art collection worthy of visiting alone. For example, a wall installation of found old basketball by Tyrell Winston, a close friend of Santis, reflects the brand's history and central influences. The shop itself narrates the story of the brand and Santis's personal life while maintaining an inviting allure for anyone stepping into the world of ALD. 

Café Leon Dore, their in-house breakroom, stands out as a captivating space that has garnered significant attention. Aligning with ALD’s nostalgic identity, the walls of Café Leon Dore proudly display an array of Greek coffees and confectionaries from Santis’s family’s home country. Additionally, it serves as another space to sell Café Leon Dore memorabilia, alongside its offerings of teas and coffees. 

The café has evolved into a lively hub, where ADL enthusiasts and Santis himself have been known to gather to discuss style and creativity, reminiscent of the Parisian cafes frequented by the writers of the Lost Generation in the 1920s. Widely documented by viral TikTok’s, the café provides visitors with a space to relax and unwind, encouraging conversation and communication. This emphasis on community and communication seamlessly intertwines with the brand's narrative, adding another layer to the ALD retail experience. 

Manifesting Brand through Physical Retail

Building hype through Limited Releases & Collaborations 

ALD generates a strong sense of desirability and urgency among its followers through limited releases and collaborations. ALD strategically launches collections in limited quantities, dividing them into installments to prolong anticipation. This intentional scarcity fuels heightened demand, creating excitement and forming a community among fashion-forward consumers eager to be part of the latest looks.  

Drop culture, now common in streetwear, gained popularity in the mid-2000s with Supreme's hyped collaborative releases. Streetwear brands like ALD have transformed how consumers access clothing, fostering a shared enthusiasm among like-minded individuals working together to obtain the newest looks.  

“More than with any brand since Supreme, the ALD experience extends beyond clothes into how to navigate acquiring those clothes, and what worlds wearing those clothes will associate you with.” - Christopher Lee, The New York Times 

These highly anticipated drops are boosted across ALD’s impressive social presence as well as the collaborating brands, often driving attention to a broader and more diverse audience. The drops become a cult-status IYKYK item, gaining virality with streetwear and fashion-savvy influencers alike. For instance, the brand’s annual capsule with Drake’s, which started in 2019 and last year launched in Dec (2023), generated substantial excitement, with the two brands posting the 5 look capsule images to their combined 1.4m IG followers, stirring excitement in the comment section, and filtering to passionate Reddit threads, with one writer stating; “I have nothing but respect for a company like Drake's and the fact that they collaborated with a quote unquote streetwear brand gives ALD respect in my book”. These collaborations add another layer of allure to the brand's already magnetic appeal. 

Fostering community through authenticity 

ALD's status as a cult brand derives from its steadfast authenticity, evident in its marketing strategy that employs storytelling to portray ALD as a genuine lifestyle. Each season introduces a campaign centered around a lifestyle, emphasizing the brand's ethos rather than simply selling product features. A recent collaboration with Parisian multidisciplinary artist, Franck Pellegrino, explores his love for sailing and antique badges. The collection incorporates Franck's reimagining of classic ALD silhouettes and handcrafted products. The accompanying campaign video highlights Franck and his wife, Garance, in his Parisian workshop, offering a glimpse into their daily lives that seamlessly complement the ALD lifestyle. 

The brand’s authenticity is personified in its founder, who maintains a low profile and seldom grants interviews. Instead, he employs a drip-feed approach, sharing news and imagery of upcoming releases through the brand's social channels. This choice mirrors his belief that the brand should not be synonymous with his personal identity. 

ALD remains true to its vision, steering clear of the transient "hype" in the streetwear industry and refusing to compromise on values and design principles. Despite exclusive collection drops, a hallmark of streetwear, the brand positions itself as a storyteller rather than just a product dropper. This commitment to authenticity resonates deeply with loyal supporters, fostering connections based on shared values rather than just the brand name as a symbol of status.  

“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.” – Teddy Santis, Aimé Leon Dore Founder 

Ultimately, the brand’s understated presence has proven irresistible to fans, who buy into a community aligned with the brand's aesthetics and values, priding themselves on being “in the know”.  

Final Take-Aways

Aimé Leon Dore exhibits distinctive traits that distinguish a cult brand: a unique identity and aesthetic, coveted limited releases, a retail haven, a dedicated community, and steadfast authenticity. Teddy Santis has crafted a signature style that seamlessly blends heritage, sportswear, and contemporary elements. Beyond mere apparel, it encapsulates a lifestyle that embodies community, art, and culture. With an unassuming approach and reluctance to chase trends, ALD sets its own trends. This results in deep connections with a community of loyal customers, bound by shared values, beliefs, and lifestyles rather than mere brand allegiance.  

Its identity and community’s sense of belonging that transcends fashion and contributes to ALD’s longevity and enduring cult status. Unsurprisingly, these attributes have labeled the brand the ‘future of menswear’, so stay tuned for what they do next.  

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