Interview: Fashion Designer Christian Audigier

Christian AudigierPerhaps the greatest marketing genius in the world today, Christian Audigier first became famous when he turned Von Dutch into a household name. Through his pinstripe designs, Audigier made Von Dutch Originals an international brand, most notably through his famous trucker hat, worn by celebrities and everyday people throughout the world. His ride with Von Dutch lasted a little over three years, before differences in opinion led him to leave the brand behind.

Seeking an exciting, new adventure, Audigier would find his next challenge thanks to the streets of Los Angeles. Taking notice of the flocks of people sporting tattoos around L.A., Audigier was struck with the idea of putting a "tattoo" on a T-shirt. He immediately began his research and repeatedly kept coming across the name Don Ed Hardy, while conducting Google searches and thumbing his way through countless books on tattoos.

Audigier placed a call to the man he refers to as the "Godfather of Tattoo," and soon he was granted the exclusive rights to work with the designs of the famous tattoo artist. Much like he did with Von Dutch, Audigier turned Ed Hardy into a household in no time, becoming the king of the designer T-shirt, and once again seeing his famous trucker hat worn on the streets of L.A., New York, Miami and Paris. In just two years, Ed Hardy by Christian Audigier has established itself at the top of the designer vintage tattoo category, which it principally created. Today, the Ed Hardy line of T-shirts, hats, hoodies and much more is sold in high-end boutiques and high-end departments stores such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and Macy's Herald Square.

In addition to Ed Hardy, as well as his own line, Audigier is also behind SMET, Born on the Street, a cutting-edge rock and roll collection resulting from a collaboration with his long-time friend Johnny Hallyday, the French rock and roll legend. Dubbed the French Elvis for his style and impact on the French cultural scene, Hallyday has amassed 18 platinum albums, 900 songs, 100 tours, 900 million compact discs sold and 17 million spectators at his concerts. The SMET line captures the essence and spirit of Hallyday's epic 40-year rock and roll career.

Audigier's brands — Ed Hardy, Christian Audigier and SMET — are sold globally throughout a network of distributors in over 40 countries and in over 20 branded Ed Hardy and Christian Audigier licensed stores outside the United States. Revenues of Audigier's companies have grown from $10 million in 2005 to over $35 million in 2006 and are projected at over $80 million in 2007.

A native of Avignon, France, Audigier is no stranger to the fashion world. Raised in a single-parent household, he went to work in fashion in his early teens, helping to support his mom, brother and sister. He first developed a denim collection influenced by his passion for rock and roll (he idolized the Rolling Stones) and was soon discovered by a top executive with MacKeen Jeans, eventually traveling the world by the time he was 18.

Audigier later moved to New York, forming his own company and freelancing for some of the biggest names in the denim industry like Guess, American Outfitters, Fiorucci, Bisou Bisou, Naf Naf, Kookai, Liberto, XOXO, Lee and Levi's. He would also help revamp the Diesel brand at one point.

His relationships with celebrities have helped him achieve a stature never before seen in the fashion industry. Britney Spears, who was his very first celebrity client, is part of his who's-who list of celebs that includes Justin Timberlake, Jessica Alba, Paris Hilton, Ashton Kutchner and even the "Material Girl" herself, Madonna. Audigier makes no secret that he has achieved cult-like status thanks to owning the thickest black book of A-list talent in Hollywood.

As I enter Audigier's Los Angeles headquarters for our interview, I immediately notice his young, hip and attractive workforce in the building, most of which is sporting one of his trademark Ed Hardy T-shirts. The sounds of French can be heard in the building as I wait for the 49-year-old Audigier to wrap up a meeting with his attorneys. We soon settle into his office, which is not-surprisingly stacked with rock and roll and celebrity memorabilia. His work space is more like a home, with a large dining table and a couch. There is no sight of an office desk, or even a phone for that matter. As I begin my interview with the eccentric French man known simply as "Le Vif" (the fast one), I soon see the humble and courteous qualities that have endured him to celebrities and everyday people alike.

BCC: Are Friday's always this hectic?

Audigier: It's always busy. There's always energy — and there's always new things going on.

BCC: It's hard not to notice everyone walking around in your trademark clothes.

Audigier: You've got to market the product!

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Interview: Fashion Designer Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy Clothing - page 2

Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy, clothes, clothing, fashion, designer, SMET, pictures, picture, photos, photo, pics, pic, images, image, celebrity, dress, fashionBCC: You became involved in fashion at a very young age while living in your native France. What was your childhood like?

Audigier: It was just my mom and brother and sister. I was the one taking care of my family at a young age. I wanted to help my mom and make her dreams come true. You want to make happy your mom and your family, and you want to make happy your friends and your employees. This is the way I live.

BCC: That was a lot of responsibility for you at such a young age.

Audigier: I was a big boy for my age, you know. It was a different time than it is today. It was more easy, maybe. There were less boundaries then.

BCC: You developed a strong passion for music and entertainment very early on.

Audigier: I wanted to maybe be a singer. I loved the Rolling Stones. And I watched a lot of movies, people like Dean Martin, James Dean.

BCC: Did you always have that feeling that you wanted to do something big with your life?

Audigier: I was coming to America every year on vacation. I was always feeling sad leaving California. I was always dreaming about coming over here. I tried to make the dream come true, and this is what I did. I had my first design at 16.

BCC: Shortly after you made that first design, you were you discovered by MacKeen Jeans. How did they find you?

Audigier: I was an employee at a retail store and we were selling the biggest amount of jeans. And the owner of this company came to the store to see what was going on — why were selling so many jeans in a small city. It was more than Paris. Because I was a teenager, there was a lot of enthusiasm and I was a bit of a trendsetter in my city, so I had a lot of friends, you know. I was selling more jeans than anybody else in the city because I was going out and people would see the brand and say, 'I like this product.' They decided pretty soon to hire me as a designer. I was 16 when they hired me, and by 18, I was a businessman, dealing with big companies.

BCC: You eventually decided to follow your dreams and move to New York, freelancing for some of the biggest names in the denim industry like Guess, American Outfitters, Fiorucci, Bisou Bisou, Levi's, Lee, and Diesel.

Audigier: I always said yes and I never said no to anybody. I like to do a lot of things at the same time. I am not stopped by anything. I like to be busy. I like to work under an emergency.

BCC: You managed to become a household name once you landed at Von Dutch. How did your relationship with them originate?

Audigier: I met a guy who was writing a movie on Von Dutch. Talking to him, I decided to do a line with Von Dutch. I became the head designer of Von Dutch, and a vice president too. I was able to create a phenomenon in three years.

BCC: It's fair to say that you put Von Dutch on the map.

Audigier: The time with Von Dutch was a great moment, you know. I was doing my one-man show over there. It was a really little company when I started and we created this phenomenon.

BCC: That phenomenon seemed to start the day Britney Spears ventured into your store on Melrose in L.A.

Audigier: She wanted to do a line with me, but we were too busy with Von Dutch. I put a cap on her, and another one on Justin Timberlake. At the time they were split up. It was in all the magazines, all around the world, sporting the Von Dutch cap. This is how a phenomenon starts.

BCC: So what made you leave Von Dutch?

Audigier: We were not on the same page and I wanted to start something on my own.

BCC: So there you are, in your 40s, looking for a new challenge, and suddenly this new venture pops into your mind.

Audigier: I was looking at all these people on the street with tattoos in California, and thought, 'Why not do a T-shirt with tattoos?' This could be done, you know. So I called the 'Godfather of Tattoo,' Don Ed Hardy, and bought all of his archives from him so I could start a new regime and a new phenomenon, three years after Von Dutch.

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Interview: Fashion Designer Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy Clothing - page 3

Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy, clothes, clothing, fashion, designer, SMET, pictures, picture, photos, photo, pics, pic, images, image, celebrity, dress, fashionBCC: What led you to Don Ed Hardy?

Audigier: I had started doing research on tattoo artists and his name was coming back every time, so I just decided to contact him. I was not even sure if he was alive or not. I contacted him and he called me back and here we are today.

BCC: Where we are today is your brands — Ed Hardy, Christian Audigier and SMET — are projected to surpass $80 million in revenue this year. What makes the Ed Hardy line, in particular, so unique?

Audigier: Our clothes are comfortable, they're good looking, and they are always fresh. We are doing 2,000 pieces each time. If you have the 'Love Kills' in black, we started at 2,000 pieces distributed around the world. You have sort of an exquisite T-shirt. Maybe the rest is delivered to Japan and the rest in Spain and you're going to have 600 pieces in this country. You're not going to have to change at the club for wearing the same clothes as your friend.

BCC: How have you been able to take the Ed Hardy brand to such great heights so quickly?

Audigier: Focus. I believe in focus. That is the most important. If we work, then we all produce every year. The art work that we reproduce every year, the energy of this company, and the friendships that we have with so many celebrities. Look at this magazine for example (he picks up and flips through the pages of People Magazine). They are branding the name, you know.

BCC: You certainly have a long list of A-list celebs wearing your designs. Is there anybody out there that you still covet?

Audigier: The Dali Lama. I would like to put a shirt on him.

BCC: Every designer hopes that their clothing finds itself onto a celebrity, but yet you seem to make it look simple.

Audigier: They don't have the friendships that I have to get the celebrities. We have a big book now. We are nice to these people and they're looking good in our clothes and they come back to us, because I believe we have a better product than the other ones. We don't pay Madonna, for example. She's wearing my stuff every single day of the week. I believe we don't have to push these people. When you give away your shirt, you are not sure if that person is going to wear it to a premiere or on the street. But today what I see is the celebrities like the stuff. We are doing a lot of new stuff. Every two weeks, there's a new collection. Basically, it means they keep fresh, they stay trendy. And Madonna is so much in the press, she needs to look good.

BCC: It's Von Dutch all over again.

Audigier: I always follow the same rules as I always have — taking care of my friends and celebrities, and sending them my stuff and inviting them over here.

BCC: Do you know in advance or are you ever surprised by who is sporting your trademark clothes?

Audigier: I pretend that is not a surprise, you know. But with Madonna, we have a special relationship. What I know very well is she is wearing these shirts because she really loves them and she's asking for more all the time.

BCC The stars seem to have aligned for you. People want to wear what they see on their favorite stars, and the fascination with pop culture and gossip has never been greater.

Audigier: I'm using that, you know — 'In Gossip We Trust' — that is my new logo. 'In Gossip We Trust' — that is the sum of my success. Because without Britney Spears or without the amazing Madonna and all of that...I'm just blessed by God.

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Interview: Fashion Designer Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy Clothing - page 4

Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy, clothes, clothing, fashion, designer, SMET, pictures, picture, photos, photo, pics, pic, images, image, celebrity, dress, fashionBCC: The paparazzi are certainly doing a great job for you, getting your clothes featured in every magazine, as well as throughout the Web.

Audigier: Every one of them has a picture of Madonna wearing the shirt. It's just crazy and amazing. There is no such thing as bad publicity and in gossip we trust. The people fighting, or getting pregnant, or being drunk or on drugs, suddenly it's on CNN. That is good advertising for me. Gossip and the Internet are really important today. This is the new world — the one that I don't understand. I don't even know how to go onto a computer myself.

BCC: I noticed that about your office. One might say that you have a unique approach.

Audigier: It's very simple. I don't have a desk. I don't know how to use a computer. I don't have any phones and my cell phone is on silent. I check my cell phone every two hours.

BCC: That system seems to work very well for you and has provided you with a lot of success.

Audigier: Because I know my job very well. I know the way to do it. I know what the public is waiting for, and I'm looking at the competition, you know. And that is the most important, like in sports when you look at the tape of the opposing team to see how they play. Life is a big contest. You have to win to get better, and for that, you have a lot of competition that you need to pass and be better than to get into first place.

BCC: Are you competitive by nature?

Audigier: Life is a big fight. I learned that in America, you need to be the best. You cannot be number two or number three. You need to be the top notch. And with Von Dutch and Ed Hardy, I proved that I can do that, two times. Three times with Christian Audigier. Today, I am the creator of the word marketing. What I did in fashion is revolutionary. Putting my stuff on celebrities and making a brand huge, nobody did that. That is my claim to fame.

BCC: That passion to win is something you seem to instill in your employees.

Audigier: We need to win. We need to make our customers happy. When you are going to shows, you need to be the winner. When you're doing a runway, you need to be the best. When you're selling to department stores, you need to have the window. We need to always put forth the effort to be the best.

BCC: Despite your will to win, you still manage to maintain a normal life at home.

Audigier: I am a family man outside of this. I have a wife and three kids. I'll have fourth kid in September. I start work at 7 a.m. every morning and I try to go back home by 6 p.m. This is my life. I have to take care of my kids when they say, 'Papa, papa.' I need to spend the most time that I can with my family, you know. I have two jobs, one is to be a father and the other is to be a businessman during the day. My family keeps me stable.

BCC: How would you describe your personality?

Audigier: I don't know, they call me Le Vif. Le Vif means the fast one in French. The fast and the furious. I'm driving fast, you know, and you have to run after me. And I just have a passion for my work. And today my work changed because I was a designer, and now I'm a businessman. It's still really fun. I'm just really blessed. It's fun to come to work every day.

BCC: Do you have a fear of failure that keeps you on top?

Audigier: I stay on top because of a lot of people. I don't stay on top because of myself. I believe to the sales people, to the people delivering the goods, to the people selling on the phone, and the people at the financial office, they all walk in with a lot of passion. They know that we have something, and that this is a bigger opportunity for all of us.

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Interview: Fashion Designer Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy Clothing - page 5

Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy, clothes, clothing, fashion, designer, SMET, pictures, picture, photos, photo, pics, pic, images, image, celebrity, dress, fashionBCC: How do you react to the critics who say that some of your clothing is over priced?

Audigier: I have a license and a license fee, so I need to pay the artist — that is one thing. On top of that, our products are made in America, which is not the same price as producing in say, China. I have a quick delivery service, I pay that too. And there are other costs. I am not the most expensive. My T-shirts are $65-$120, maybe for a long-sleeve or stuff like that.

BCC: Your critics are limited, because it seems as if the world is in love with the Ed Hardy brand.

Audigier: There's a lot of energy. This brand is more than a brand, it's a lifestyle. It means it's something that people want to be a part of, like you see when you come into the office. That is the community, that is the lifestyle. That is what people want to be a part of. We are fun people. We like to make people happy. That is what this company lives for.

BCC: In addition to your will to win, you are also very passionate about cars and motorcycles.

Audigier: I have six motorcycles. I like cars also. Fast cars! I became passionate about cars and motorcycles at a young age. Again from watching this freedom in America, you know. My collection is more from the '60s and the '70s than 2000. I am old school. Watching those movies like 'Easy Rider' gave me a passion for bikes. It was the America way of life.

BCC: What about your personal brand? How would you describe it?

Audigier: Christian Audigier is more free. It's my brand, my name. It means I am a freelancer in the designer world.

BCC: Who are some of the people in the fashion world that you admire today?

Audigier: There are a lot of people that I respect in this business. People like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfilger. I have a long list.

BCC: Thanks to your early start, you have now been involved in fashion for more than 30 years now. How have you changed over the years?

Audigier: America changed me. Over here, I learned a lot of things from people like Ralph Lauren, who told me a designer here is different than in my country. Over here I learned to become more of a businessman. I'm following the footsteps of those people today.

BCC: When you reflect back, is there anything that makes you want to pinch yourself?

Audigier: I don't know. Receiving a phone call from Madonna, for example, asking for more shirts because Lourdes, her daughter, was stealing her shirts. These are the things that just get me amazed. Or having six windows on Fifth Avenue. Nobody has done that.

BCC: This has been a long journey for you. How would you like to be remembered when it's all said and done?

Audigier: As a hard worker. And I would like to be remembered for my trucker hat, because coming to America, you take a trucker hat and put that on a zillion people all over the world. That is my claim to fame. I did it, you know. My dream came true.

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