Every so often, someone can come into your life and change the way you look at the world and the way you feel about yourself. Although I never met Christian Audigier—the fashion designer who sparked the Von Dutch trucker hat trend and helped expose the world to the beautiful tattoos of Don Ed Hardy—he was one of those special people for me. Unfortunately, Audigier died from cancer at 57 on Friday.
Since end of the dystopian Bush era, the public has treated Audigier's post-9/11 designs as a joke. Mocking Jon & Kate Plus 8 star Jon Gosselin's endorsement of Don Ed Hardy became a tabloid stapl e. And America has come to regard Paris Hilton and other starlets' Von Dutch hats as the Guantanamo Bays of the 2000s style—a disgusting example of the pop culture-hungry neoconservatism that took over America after the Twin Towers fell. Today, Audigier's designs seemed vapid, empty, and gross to many. But this perception is completely wrong—Ed Hardy and Von Dutch matter.
I first discovered Von Dutch in my mother's tabloids. Somewhere around 2004, all the girls—Britney, Paris, Nicole—rocked Von Dutch hats in US Weekly, so I knew trucker hats well. My parents owned a very successful puppy store in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and our puppy truck drivers wore trucker hats, naturally. Those hats were a symbol to me of my family's work and what I represented in my community. You see, everyone made fun of me for belonging to a doggy dynasty. At Catholic school, nobody respected my family's wealth because they associated our pet store with dog shit and trailer trash.
Then came Audigier. He took trash symbols, like trucker hats and gaudy men's shirts covered in sparkles, and turned them into something to be coveted and desired. Throughout the mid 2000s, Paris Hilton—an old money heiress—was wearing fashion inspired by new money and working-class culture. Suddenly, my family's new money doggy dynasty seemed chic, or as Paris would say, "hot."
Audigier's reinvention of trash started when he helped Von Dutch owner Kenneth Howard take the then-struggling fashion brand and turn it into a national icon. All it took were some of Audigier's celebrity friends to rock Von Dutch, and trucker hats became hot, trashy fashion items. Everyone from bros like Justin Timberlake to Paris wore his hats, and Von Dutch became a must-have for both ultra masculine bros and hyper feminine women.
After leaving Von Dutch, Audigier moved on to Ed Hardy, where he created an even gaudier, more masculine brand. He crafted a new style for Ed Hardy, comprised of thick, mens shirts covered in sparkly materials mixed with the legendary art of Don Ed Hardy. The clothes often looked like Lisa Frank approximations of subversive biker culture, but bros adored it and wore it to clubs as if it was Armani. Brilliantly, Audigier made them think wearing a shirt with animals and glitter was as wild as actually getting a sleeve tattoo and riding a Harley. And in a way, it was. Audigier appropriated trash and sold it for millions of dollars. He was tacky, he was audacious, he was a genius.
As I write this, I am crying, wearing a vintage Von Dutch hat and an American flag shirt, and listening to Paris Hilton's "Stars Are Blind." The early 2000s sucked (wars typically do), but Christian Audigier symbolized all the aspects of the early 2000s that allowed trashy people, new money kids, and other culturally-mocked people to shine. Although Audigier was French, he understood America more than anyone, and he embodied everything great about America while living in the age of the Iraq War and freedom fries.
He gayified bros and broified homos and their idols—women like Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Britney Spears. With trucker hats, the power of glitter, and his keen eye, he took symbols of new money and trailer trash and, for a brief time in the early 2000s, transformed them into a style that even old money had to wear to seem trendy. Whether you're a puppy mill princess like me or a drug baron's new money daughter, you probably owe your self-esteem to Audigier's designs. And for that, Christian, we will always be thankful.
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