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Why selling the dream still matters in fashion and retail

Amid the discussion of the decline of DTC brands, one retail brand is going from strength to strength. While the fortunes of EverlaneGlossier, Inc. and Outdoor Voices, are uncertain, in 2022 Aimé Leon Dore Inc. took on investment from LVMH as part of the conglomerate’s luxury ventures, opened a flagship London store that has customers queuing up and looks set to continue to sell out of its iconic collaborations with New Balance.

Aimé Leon Dore Inc. isn’t an overnight success story – it was founded in 2014 – the same year as Outdoor Voices and only 4 years after DTC poster child Everlane. But whilst Everlane built its business on reason – higher quality products for a lower price by cutting out the middle man, Aimé Leon Dore a text book study in the slow burn success of pure emotion via classic lifestyle branding. 

Taking prep style and inverting the traditional philosophy of assimilation, Aimé Leon Dore Inc. celebrates diversity, specifically the immigrant experience of Queens in a playbook that has more in common with Ralph Lauren that its DTC peers. Specifically, the brand has built its success on 4 pillars of traditional lifestyle branding:

1. Sense of place – putting classic prep style into a deeply personal vision of 90s New York and references to his Greek heritage, Teddy Santis crafted a visual world that is both aspirational in its authenticity and accessible its references.

2. Genuine connection to culture – basketball is at the heart of the brand, and teaming up with New Balance to restore the Masaryk Community Gym demonstrated that the brand gives back to that culture as well as drawing inspiration from it.

3. Association with a genuine community of people – from celebrities like Action Bronson to childhood friends and NY locals, Aimé Leon Dore Inc. is suffused with real people, with real connections. 

4. A real world experience – whilst some of fashion’s biggest names are focussed on the metaverse, Aimé Leon Dore Inc.‘s New York and London stores are a testament to the unparalleled appeal of real world experiences. Despite the brand not having a TikTok presence, the ALD stores and cafes have generated millions of views on TikTok, and hundreds of thousands of its Freddo cappuccinos alone (another nod to the brand’s Greek roots).

When brands are chasing influencer deals, podcasts and viral social ideas, it’s worth remembering that the job of those exercises is to bring consumers into the brand – and once they’re there, there is no substitute for emotional storytelling to capture their hearts. That starts with crafting a compelling and ownable visual world.