Anyone alive during the heyday of Paris Hilton, Juicy Couture, and Myspace knows how to recognize the Ed Hardy brand: bold, loud colors; intricate, tattoo-inspired designs; and an automatic association with a certain type of guy. But the man behind the line, Don Ed Hardy, and the story of his rise are far more interesting and outrageous than the designs that bear his name. While most look back on the Ed Hardy brand of clothing as an unfortunate result of 2000s fashion trends, much of the blowback, according to Hardy himself, stems from the doings of one man, a certain high-profile reality TV dad who ran his 15 minutes of fame straight into a brick wall (more on that later).
As is the case with most extremely popular trends, Ed Hardy - the clothing line, not the man - burned bright for a couple of years only to flash out as quickly as it began. But, boy, when it burned brightest, Ed Hardy appeared everywhere, and not just on clothing. Fragrances, suntan lotion, and even energy drinks got marketed under the Ed Hardy name. Then, seemingly in a flash, Hardy's name was caught up with the images of some less-than-desirable "celebrities," and the brand experienced a massive drop in popularity. Unfortunately, unlike Britney Spears, Ed Hardy never recovered from its late-aughts meltdown.
In the mid-2000s, long before even Kanye West knew of any Kardashian other than Robert, Jon Gosselin, his wife Kate, and their eight kids held the title for most famous reality family. But by 2009, the couple announced their divorce, and Jon began frequently appearing out on the town, quickly becoming a paparazzi darling. In virtually every photograph, what is Jon wearing?
Yup, Ed Hardy shirts. They became Gosselin's trademark, a move Hardy claimed ruined his empire. "That Jon Gosselin thing was the nail in the coffin," Hardy said. "That’s what tanked it."
In 2009, as Lady Gaga grew stronger and Ed Hardy grew sleazier, one bona fide celebrity remained unapologetically fervent about her love of all things Hardy. Madonna often hit the scene in Hardy clothing, and it was even announced she inked a deal to release her own designs through the label. That deal, incidentally, was rumored to be in the six figures. After much digging, no clear evidence points to this deal being legit, finalized, or realized in any significant way.
But even if it happened, Madonna probably wants everyone to forget about it anyway.
Though easy to dismiss his namesake clothing as too loud, Don Ed Hardy - the man, not the label - is an established artist with a respected reputation. He boasts a bachelor's in printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute, once turned down a scholarship to Yale, and went on to study tattooing with Sailor Jerry Collins and Japanese tattoo master Horihide.
The influences of both of these artisans pop up all over Hardy's signature tattoo and clothing designs. Though now retired, Hardy still involves himself in the San Francisco art community and continues to create art.
Don't forget, it took more than just John Gosselin to give this brand a bad reputation. The men of Jersey Shore also loved themselves some Ed Hardy clothing. This certainly didn't help the brand's eventual fate. Comedian Nick Kroll even parodied the connection between Jersey Shore and Ed Hardy clothing.
"Jersey Shore premiered, and it was a very similar kind of guy at that time, a lot of Ed Hardy clothing," Kroll told NPR. It seems the relationship is clear.