Ed Hardy’s tattoo-inspired clothes and T-Shirts have practically dropped off the face of the earth in the past few years, and Ed Hardy himself traces his brand’s decline back to Jon Gosselin (and Christian Audigier, who licensed Ed Hardy’s designs for a vast array of products, and courted tabloid celebrities like Jon to wear the merchandise in public.)
In 2009, fresh off of his divorce scandal, Jon appeared on a yacht in Cannes with Christian Audigier wearing the Ed Hardy shirts, and soon Jon, who was constantly trailed by paparazzi at the night, barely wore anything else. He was definitely a hot commodity when it came to celebrity news, but according to Ed Hardy, Jon’s infamy had a negative impact on the brand in the end.
“That Jon Gosselin thing was the nail in the coffin,” Ed Hardy said in an interview with the New York Post. “That’s what tanked it. Macy’s used to have a huge window display with Ed Hardy, and it filtered down and that’s why Macy’s dropped the brand.”
Hardy also blames Christian Audigier for diluting his brand because he was too obsessed with celebrities at any cost. “Christian worships celebrities so much, he will get next to anyone who is famous for anything. If he could have gotten Charles Manson in a shirt, he would have.” The 68-year-old designer says people came to believe that there actually wasn’t a real Ed Hardy behind the brand.
But there IS a pretty fascinating man behind this “accidental” brand that became synonymous with “douche.” He details his life in a new memoir Wear Your Dreams: My Life in Tattoos.
Ed Hardy (full name Donald Edward Talbott Hardy) got a degree in print-making in 1967 from the San Francisco Art Institute, and was offered a full-ride scholarship in Yale’s MFA program when he discovered tattoos, and never looked back. “I thought I could always go back to grad school,” he reasoned, and traveled the country learning more about the art of tattooing, and finally studying under tattoo master Sailor Jerry in Honolulu.
He eventually set up shop in San Francisco after studying Japanese body art in Japan, started a magazine called Tattoo-time in 1982, and experimented with painting and other art forms. He didn’t dream of launching a clothing line until some people in the industry scouted his art in a magazine, and approached him with the idea. In 2005, Christian Audigier saw the shirts and wanted to help license the designs and build the Ed Hardy brand. “Christian wanted me to be the figurehead, telling me I was going to be famous because he was a guy who worshipped bling and fame and he lives in that world. I didn’t even know who these [celebrities] were. I said, ‘Nah, that’s cool, just pay me.’ It got surreal. I would go into a store to get a magazine and see an Ed Hardy lighter. At one point, there were 70 sublicensees.”
The brand ballooned, pulling in $700 million in 2009, but Hardy got concerned when Audigier started changing the designs and colors, and putting his name on the shirts more prominently than Ed Hardy’s name. He decided to take legal action to regain control of his brand, and now he and his wife Francesca have complete control and are pressing forward.
Not only is Ed Hardy jaded by the experience of celebrity branding, but he’s jaded with the current tattoo culture. “When I first started, I think there were 500 tattooers in all of North America. Right now there’s about 5,000 in LA County,” he laments. “Tattooers are so full of themselves now. They’re so much like rock stars, as if they were sprung from the womb like the savior of mankind. They’re just tats. There are more serious things in life.”