The Triumph of Christian Audigier
From Von Dutch to Ed Hardy, the French stylist has transformed street wear into “it” wear thanks to a great sense of observation, a lot of audacity, and one motto: “insisting is existing”
Fashion is simple: there are those who make it and those who follow it. “I am one of the makers and my clients are those who follow,” says Christian Audigier, the French stylist who has conquered American fashion with his distinct style, plainly. With a business that generated 600 million dollars in 2008, the 51-year-old entrepreneur boasts over 150 derivative products, 72 boutiques, 35 distributors, and a presence in over 140 countries.
Starting from scratch and now with 30 years experience in the industry, he is open about his success. “I worked much harder at earning the first 600, 700, 800 thousand dollars,” he says. “The earnings come much easier and faster after the first million. It’s a logical process: business is based on the re-orders. The more you produce, the more the orders increase. It is a normal occurrence.”
The czar of street wear keeps up with orders by constantly staying on top of trends. “I come from the streets,” he professes. “I do not have an haute-couture education. I never had any formal training. The three things that inspire me most are the people that I observe, the magazines that I open and the films that I watch. These are the things that allow me to adapt to the market—based on the people’s demand.”
He also closely monitors his products’ performance, which he analyzes via sales reports he receives daily. “I take the top-five selling items and use them to readjust the collections, collections which are all inspired by the American style. I customize trucker caps, jackets, t-shirts, jeans, etcetera by adding my French twist, creating colorful clothes that are full of life and express the message of ‘enjoy your life.’”
According to the stylist, the Christian Audigier brand is first and foremost a lifestyle, an art de vivre. Now four seasons old, the brand is created by a team of 25 young, full-time designers and several freelance designers, all of whom are overseen by Audigier, who holds the title of artistic director.
“The fashion industry is not the same as selling spaghetti or as the food industry. It is more exciting. You have to fight. You have to be in the spotlight. If you are unknown, no one will come to you,” he says. He has made this assertion his mission; as he says, “insisting is existing.”
“I believe it is extremely important to be audacious,” he opines. “It is the most effective way of marketing a brand or a product. You need a leader to create a following. I placed myself as the frontman to attract my clients. I established the ‘wild marketing’ by giving my clothes to celebrities that I was fortunate enough to bump into.”
Audigier was able to exploit these chance run-ins to his advantage, transforming his clothes from a street wear positioning to that of celebrity wear. Early celebrity followers like Madonna and Britney Spears ushered in a vanguard of A-list Audigier devotees.
Of course, Audiger’s spotlight-craving tendencies and over-the-top self-promotion—he has a huge tattoo of his logo on his back, for example—have garnered him criticism as a fashion world megalomaniac. “Some say I am an opportunist. I do not take this as a criticism,” he responds. “I am a business man. I like doing business—it’s in my blood. I am a true salesman, and when there is an opportunity, I seize it. If I need to speak up and because of it people accuse me of being a megalomaniac, once again, I have no problem with it.”
While he is quick to brush off criticism, he also points out that many of his critics are European in origin. “The French are critics by nature, as opposed to Americans, who are much more free-spirited. My dream was to live in the United States. I love everything here: the movies, the actors, the music. It is a country of discovery,” he says.
As his beloved country has wrestled through the recent worldwide recession, the au courant designer has had to shift gears. In particular, he has been focusing on Europe— France in particular. “I surf like everyone else,” the French stylist says metaphorically. “When there are waves, you have to ride them, so I am trying to diversify myself. I am opening up boutiques and licenses where the markets seem most promising.”
Consequently, Christian Audigier has just signed on five new franchised boutiques in France as well as a franchised lounge/bar in Paris. Meanwhile, he continues to live out his American dream on American soil, despite cancelled plans to move into Michael Jackson’s former residence. “I was supposed to rent the house and I then decided not to,” he reveals. “It is huge—way too big for me and my family.”