Max Bonbrest On the Founding of Her Cult Label AYR

by Ashley Baker
AYR

For Max Bonbrest, co-founder of AYR, growing up on the East End was the launchpad for an extremely stylish life.

What was it like growing up in East Hampton?
Idyllic! My family has been coming out to East Hampton since the ’70s, and so I had spent summers here as a kid. It was always my happy place. When my mom decided to give it a go year-round, I was thrilled. The novelty has never really worn off: People can live like this? All the time? I could ride my bike to school, I had a Labrador retriever — which would have dwarfed our NYC apartment — and I took lunch breaks at the beach. My father was still living in NYC at the time, so I had my fair share of museum weekends and infusions of culture, good food, and city life. I truly got the best of both worlds.

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How did you spend your free time as a kid?
My family opened a restaurant in the ’80s, the Laundry, built by Norman Jaffe. It was a mecca for locals and visiting creatives. I grew up in the kitchen, and on the bocce court, eventually making my way to the service floor and behind the bar. I worked in those rooms from the time I was 14 and met so many wonderful characters over the years. It’s always been a special place, but I remember those times fondly — the regulars shuffling in every summer, moonlighting on holiday weekends as winter drew near. My grandfather and his posse started the artists and writers tournaments. There were always interesting characters around the fireplace or sitting at the bar. When I was in high school, my dad took it over, and I learned the ropes of restaurant life. It put a different spin on my perspective for hospitality. I think it also gave me a knack for connecting with people. The art of networking came in handy later on in my career, as I’m a naturally shy person otherwise.

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What did East End summers mean to you as a kid… and what do they mean to you now?
Summers at the beach were always magical. We would set up camp as early as humanly possible and stay until the lifeguards left. The jetty at Georgica was our turf. The early evening, when the sun cools off and that mist comes off the sea, is still my favorite time at the beach.

How did you end up in the fashion business?
I grew up around the business. My mom was a model and artist, and my grandmother worked for Halston. When I graduated from college, I thought I would want to be on the other side of the lens — I’ve always loved taking pictures. I worked for a bit in production, and one production assistant job led to an in-house position during Fashion Week. The rest was history — I was hooked!

What’s the story behind AYR?
After a decade or so in fashion PR, my best friend from college — now my co-founder and AYR’s CEO, Maggie Winter — was approached by Andy Dunn, who co-founded Bonobos, to concept a women’s line. She assembled a team, which included our creative director, Jac Cameron, and myself. I came onboard to help with branding and getting AYR off the ground. Six months later, in February 2014, AYR was born.

How has the brand grown since its inception?
About two years into our incubation at Bonobos, we had the opportunity to spin out and make AYR a stand-alone company. We incorporated, took on capital, and are now majority founder-owned and growing! As a digitally native brand, we had spent the first two years really focusing on a vertically integrated model and our online flagship AYR.com. We were meeting our customer, but we were meeting her predominantly online. When we spun out, we saw the real need to meet her in person and tell her our story. We opened our first pop-up in December 2017 as a three-month test. A year and a half later, we decided to make it a permanent location. We just reopened our newly renovated SoHo flagship this winter, and retail expansion quickly followed with an Upper East Side pop-up and an L.A. pop-up. This is our second season in the Hamptons at AYR Beach House in Sag Harbor, and we just opened a Los Angeles location on Abbot Kinney in Venice.

How do you manage to split your time these days?
Our headquarters and studio are in Nolita, so I’m mostly there during the week and spend extended weekends working from home in East Hampton, where my better half lives. We’ve been fortunate enough to spend some quality time in California, too. All of our denim is made in L.A., and there is a definite industry shift in the West Coast direction. I love L.A. — it’s such a perfect antidote to Manhattan and integral to my East/West balance. It reminds me of the East End in a lot of ways: Point Dume and Montauk are mirror images across the country.

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Why did you open an AYR boutique in Sag Harbor?
I’ve always dreamed of bringing my business out east, and the brand really fits the lifestyle out here, so a beach outpost made easy sense for us. I wanted to bring our brand to life in a way that is inclusive of the local community, celebrating the style and magic of the East End while providing a choice that is unique and can’t be found everywhere. I especially love
Sag Harbor because it has preserved its local integrity. You can still buy a cup of coffee and a knickknack from the five-and-dime, but there’s also a plethora of shops and style to choose from. We were able to incorporate both Hamptons style and community, using local artisans to fabricate our fixtures, which literally have beach sand in the bases, while staying true to our brand’s native New York identity. AYR has the perfect mix of city and beach vibes, and our girl can now find something to wear in both places
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