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By
AFP
Published
Sep 6, 2009
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Celebrity designer out to conquer his native France

By
AFP
Published
Sep 6, 2009

PARIS, Sept 6, 2009 (AFP) - Celebrity Hollywood designer Christian Audigier is all over Paris this week, talk-of-the-town in the media, splashed on buses and looking out from giant billboards placed at strategic fashion hot-spots.

Christian Audigier
Christian Audigier

The self-made multi-millionaire with the Midas touch is out to tackle his last frontier -- conquering his native France.

"France is the world's toughest market to crack, they're experts, connoisseurs," he told AFP. "I had to make it in America before I could return home."

Audigier could well be dubbed the "Cinderella" of fashion.

A poor boy from southern France who dropped out of school in his teens and became a shop assistant, the 51-year-old friend to Michael Jackson and a host of other VIPs, currently estimates his worth at a cool 250 million dollars.

Wearing red Gucci pants and shoes "I think are Balmain", the hyperactive deep-tanned fashion mogul smilingly says as a driver dusts down his luxury Maybach limousine: "I am proud of my history."

In Paris this week he opened a four-storey showroom, bought a flat on one of the posher streets, rolled out his lines at a key fashion event -- and confirmed his purchase of Michael Jackson's (more than 30-million-dollar) last LA home as a tribute to the "King of Pop".

A film he loaned a prime TV network shows Jackson at Audigier's 50th birthday saying "You're a wonderful human being and the King of Fashion."

Yet Audigier was a 40-something nobody who had lived in France and Bali and had a taste for fashion when he hit Los Angeles in 2000.

"I had talent but didn't exploit it properly, I used it to survive and live a peaceful life," he said.

"But when I arrived in the United States, I had to get down to work. Insisting is existing, and that's what I did."

Audigier first made his mark by reviving the "Von Dutch" streetwear label and turning it into a global phenomenon, partly through luck.

Meeting Britney Spears in the street, he gave her a first Von Dutch baseball cap and a few days later hoisted one on Justin Timberlake in a nightclub. When the pair split up weeks later, they featured on the cover of People magazine, wearing the caps.

In 2004, he branched out on his own with a line inspired by Californian tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy. Learning from the Spears-Timberlake episode, he sent out clothes to stars and used the paparazzi, hotel and restaurant staff to spread the word.

"Americans, who then dressed very conservative and very corporate, liked the colour and my European twist," he said. "And marketing the brands through celebrities who are known worldwide was how I operated."

Before long his flamboyant streetwear was a hot favourite with Hollywood stars. He boasted Madonna, Mariah Carey, Sylvester Stallone, Puff Daddy and Kanye West among his clients.

Audigier continues to send designs to stars for free, occasionally hitting the jackpot, such as when Madonna wore an Ed Hardy t-shirt on her media headlined trip to Malawi to adopt a little boy.

Could he have made a similar fortune overnight in France? "No. France is a very small country," he said, "with celebrities who are lesser known worldwide."

"It is the immensity of the country in the US that gives you the chance to expand a brand. You have to learn how to produce and deliver on time.

"You can go faster, do better, and do nicer there," he added.

Self-made man Audigier, who is investing two million euros in his France launch and plans to open several boutiques, already has outlets in Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.

His brand, which also makes champagne and wines, has a yearly turnover of 600 million dollars after only four years, he said.

"I'm not going to be looking for celebrities to help launch in Europe," he said. "I've become a celebrity in my own right. The product will do the rest."by Claire Rosemberg

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