Friday, July 10, 2015

End of An Era. Now, It's History. There's more to Christian Audigier than Ed Hardy and Von Dutch.

By Laura Medina

This is the first and probably one of the very few times this scribe will use first-person but it has to be done to explain the significance of a great fashion marketer mastermind, Christian Audigier.

Christian Audigier smoked like a chimney when he granted me my very first "celebrity" interview.  He just died today, while under-going cancer treatments for Myelodysplastic Syndrome.

His parties were legendary.  The 2000's version of "The Great Gatsby" but in the 2000's and in his way.  Those were his American Dream, to be make it big in Hollywood because Hollywood was America to this poor, working-class boy from Avignon, France's idea of a small, bumpkin "redneck" country town.  He was a working-class hero, an inspiration for all the little boys dreaming to break out of their own small town.

I was so nervous interviewing him, not so distant eight years ago, that I didn't remembered if I turned on or off my recorder.

He sensed I was a nervous jelly of nerves because he was cool as a cucumber, in a French way, because he gave me his life story.

A boy babysat by the TV while his mom was canning sardines in a factory.  While waiting, he fed on old Classic Hollywood movies, Brigitte Bardot, and Sophia Loren which later fueled his iconic Guess ad campaigns that he was the marketing director for.

Yes, it was he who mastermind those legendary retro-Hollywoodsque Guess ads that launched a many supermodels' career into the stratosphere.

Before he was marketing mastermind, Christian was a boy genius.  At fourteen, he was working in the local boutique, retailing, window display, and eventually designing denim and jeans.  It was the right time, late sixties/early seventies when rock n' roll fully bloomed into a fashion/lifestyle/aspirational category.  It was rightfully so, that this teenager was dreaming to be a rock star.

A New York "garmento" executive spotted something at that boutique then asked who did this.  It was Christian.  

Knowing this is his big break, his mother signed a permission for him to get a visa to move and work in the United States.

This wunderkid worked in and out then up and down in New York's fashion business, learning the whole scope of things, from construction to fabrication to shopper research to the almighty and very important power of marketing, basically aspirational branding.

Soon, he landed in the city of his dreams, Hollywood.  Actually, the rough and tumble of Los Angeles' Garment District.  No problem, he made it work.  As the marketing head of Guess, he reached back to his childhood then used his boyhood Silver Screen Sirens...the Brigitte Bardots, the Sophia Lorens, "model" jeans and bustier tops.  The epitome of what Christian called, "sexiness," pairing fifties lingerie with All-American jeans, late Eighties/early Ninties MTV sexiness.

Once that era is over, Christian was hunting for the next fashion trend.  One day, he came across artwork from this impoverished, underground artist with a fanatical streak and the master of the car pinstripping, Kenneth "Von Dutch" Howard.

Good thing that racist custom car painter just died.

Christian saw something in that "Flying Eyeball."  Being a good business man he was, Christian bought out Kenneth's portfolio for pennies from his family.

Being a wise marketer that he was, Christian took that "Flying Eyeball" and that nickname, "Von Dutch," and put them on simple, wearable tees, tanks, and trucker caps and purses that he gladly doffed on that time's hottest hotties for free, product placement, much to Kenneth's chagrin.  

Speaking of racism, Kenneth Howard let it be known for his disdain for Jews and minorities.  That old coot must had been spinning in his grave when Christian put his mythical "Flying Eyeball" and his moniker on people he hates.  Mind you, Kenneth Howard died poor, weird, and hated.  Christian grew rich.

Once Von Dutch died down, Christian was trend-hunting again.  He noticed all these cute, sexy people were beginning to ink themselves.  He thought "why not put those tattoos on clothes?"

He tracked Don Ed Hardy, an influential tattoo artist.  Again, Christian bought out his portfolio and copyright for pennies.  the cycle begins again but it was bigger and better than before.

Soon, people too scared to ink themselves, were donning tattooed tanks and tees to be "cool."  He ramped up the "luxe" factor by bedazzling them in rhinestones.  Soon, copycats, like Afflication, jumped on the bandwagon.

These made Christian millions, enough to launch a self-named line and magazine and Crystal Rock for his daughter.

Soon, he was lifestyle empire, magazines and that Crystal Rock for tween girls.

I remember the climax when he had his own trade show at Caesars Palace.  Others called it "riffing" on the romance of the American West but I understood it more than anyone else, it was another extension of his "American Dream."  He made it out West. 

Yes, it was hoot and a giggle when he jumped on stage with Dave Stewart then started singing honky tonk.  Bust a giggle.

Yes, his parties were legendary and grand in scale.  Obviously, I was glad to be a witness to the spectacle but to learn about his hard scrabble childhood and his marketing mastery was another.

Sure, along the way, he earned his fair share of enemies.  But, artists had no one but themselves to blame.  Kenneth Howard never learned his but Don Ed Hardy did.  He bought back whatever is left of his name and portfolio; and now has full ownership and is gradually marketing his own designs on consumer products in Asia.

Whatever is hot must cool down.

Five years ago, Christian Audigier and partner departed the US on questionable grounds and let the brands die quietly.

It was only today that I learned of what happened to Christian.  He was back in Los Angeles, suffering from bone marrow disease and undergoing painful cancer treatments for that next big comeback.

True, the fashion elite snobbed him but I remembered real New Yorkers dreaming of him, as their aspirational lifestyle brand in Times Square when I first covered New York Fashion Week.

He was the boy from Avignon who made his dreams real and lived life bigger than any American could ever imagined.

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