French designer Christian Audigier : Hollywood's new star
"Here, I'm on the same scale as people like Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren," said the 49-year-old, who counts Madonna, Mariah Carey, Sylvester Stallone, Britney Spears, Puff Daddy and Kanye West among his clients.
Arriving in the United States in 2000, Audigier first made his mark by reviving the 'Von Dutch' label. It became a "global phenomenon," he told AFP at his office in Culver City, California -- but admitted luck played its part.
"I met Britney Spears in the street, she wore the first (Von Dutch) baseball cap. Three days later, I met Justin Timberlake in a nightclub and gave him a cap to wear too," Audigier recalls.
"Three weeks later they split up and were featured on the cover of People magazine wearing those two hats."
Flushed from his success at Von Dutch, Audigier branched out on his own in 2004 with a clothing line inspired by Californian tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy.
Learning from the Spears-Timberlake episode, he sent out clothes to all the stars and used the paparazzi, hotel and restaurant staff to spread the word.
"I called everyone, I sent clothes to Madonna, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie... and it kicked off the same craze," he said.
Flamboyant and colourful, Audigier says his designs appeal to people who want to inject a little fun into their wardrobes or those who just want to get noticed -- a trait that in Hollywood, covers almost everyone.
Audigier continues to send his designs to stars for free, and occasionally hits the jackpot, such as when Madonna wore an Ed Hardy t-shirt on her trip to Malawi to adopt a little boy. All the world's press were present.
Today, he oversees four labels: Ed Hardy, the luxury Christian Audigier brand, Crystal Rock -- which was created by his 15-year-old daughter -- and Smet, a collaboration with French rocker Johnny Hallyday.
He makes 70 percent of his products in Los Angeles, the rest in China. It costs more doing it this way, but ensures higher quality and cuts down delays -- and with t-shirts selling at 180 dollars a piece, Audigier can afford it.
Last year his empire recorded sales of 115 million dollars, and he expects this to more than double to 300 million in 2008.
The designer's next venture is in France, where he has not been for two years. He is opening a shop in Paris next week, but has no plans to move back, saying: "I love France... but I have the rest of the world to think of."
by Tangi Quemener
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