Christian Audigier dies at 57; fashion marketer popularized Ed Hardy, Von Dutch

French-born fashion mega-marketer Christian Audigier, who used connections with celebrities to promote $100 trucker hats, $200 rhinestone-studded T-shirts and a variety of other flashy products, died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to the hospital. He was 57.

Audigier, who lived in Los Angeles, was being treated for cancer, said his former publicist, Michele Elyzabeth.

In his prime in the 2000s, Audigier got Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and many other celebrities to wear the motorcycle-, truck- and tattoo-inspired fashions he represented. When paparazzi photos of stars wearing the clothing showed up in fan magazines and on TV shows — with the company name prominently displayed — it helped build brands such as Ed Hardy and Von Dutch into international powerhouses.

“I believe celebrities are the best driver for trends,” Audigier said in a 2007 Times interview. “The more they wear my stuff, the more it is going to be seen by the people.”

He said his celebrity promotions began when he spotted Spears and later, Timberlake at a Von Dutch store. He gave them both the trucker caps that became the hallmark of the brand.

From then on, his quest to get branded clothes to celebrities became a crusade.

“Christian worships celebrities so much, he will get next to anyone who is famous for anything,” said tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy in a 2013 New York Post interview. Audigier licensed Hardy’s imagery for use on products.

“If he could have gotten Charles Manson in a shirt,” Hardy said, “he would have.”

Clothing was just the beginning. Once Audigier (pronounced “oh-duh-ZHEY”) got a design — such as Hardy’s distinctive tattoos featuring skulls, dragons and geishas — identified with a brand, he would put it on a staggering variety of products. There were Ed Hardy shoes, sunglasses, lighters, air fresheners, wallets, perfume, hair products and even wine.

It didn’t stop there. In 2009 he announced he had a deal with “celebrity dentist” Eric Fugier to create an Ed Hardy line of toothbrushes, mouthwash and dental floss.

“He owned the licensing rights,” said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Assn. in an interview Friday. “And he would put those images on everything conceivable — anything that moved.”

The perpetually tanned Audigier was unabashed with his methods.

“The marketing is more important than the products,” he told GQ magazine in 2009. “People are followers. They want to be attributed to a certain style.”

He actively cultivated himself as a celebrity, palling around with Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum and others in places where photographers would be.

“I promote myself to sell my brands,” he said in a 2009 interview with the London Observer. “Because now I am a kind of celeb. I am in a different world than the fashion industry. I am with Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Madonna.

“I build me as a celebrity.”

Audigier lived the life he wanted people to admire.

“He always had the fanciest car, the yacht,” Metchek said. “He was a larger-than-life figure, very flamboyant.”

But he wasn’t often seen wearing his own products.

“For him, it was Rolexes and luxury products,” Metchek said.

He was born on May 21, 1958, near Avignon in France and raised by a single mother. In interviews, he said he went to work for the French jeans company Mac Keen while a teenager.

His up-and-down early career included work for about 20 brands, according to the GQ profile. There was a bankruptcy at one point, followed by a five-year recovery period in Bali. In 2002, at the Magic apparel trade show in Las Vegas, he was hired to work on the Von Dutch line.

“I was dreaming all my life of America, of the blue jean, of Marlon Brando,” he told GQ, “and the trucker hat.”

Audigier’s association with the two brands with which he had the most success ended badly. He has said in interviews that he quit Von Dutch or was let go. The split with Ed Hardy was especially bitter, leading to a lawsuit that was settled out of court.

In 2007, while still putting out Ed Hardy products, he announced his own line of clothing called Christian Audigier. It did not stray far from his previous work — the line included a T-shirt displaying a pair of crossed car pistons that was priced at $143.

He had a word for it: “sexpensive.”

“Bling-bling and sexpensive,” he said in the Times interview.

Among Audigier’s survivors are four children, Elyzabeth said.


Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


7:24 p.m.: A complete version of this obituary has replaced an abbreviated version published at 12:45 p.m.