Remember Paul Frank? We Tracked Down Whether Or Not The Once-Iconic Brand Is Still A Thing

From Sanrio's Hello Kitty to Ed Hardy's tattoo-like designs, there are certain brands we instantly recognize. One of the most prominent of the last couple of decades has been Paul Frank Industries and their trademark Julius the Monkey merchandise. But the company and its products are much less visible than they once were, begging the question: What happened to Paul Frank and the designs he made famous? The tumultuous history of Paul Frank Industries is rife with drama, and what transpired behind the scenes of the company eventually led to the rise and fall of one the most iconic brands of our time.

Paul Frank began making his creations in 1995, when he was given a sewing machine for Christmas. He taught himself to use it and was soon crafting original designs for his family and friends. Word spread, and Frank's products became the hip, in-demand must-haves for a whole generation of consumers. Then, it would seem, they disappeared from the zeitgeist. But things are changing, and you might start seeing Julius the Monkey once again.


  • Frank Considered Himself A Serious Artist

    Frank Considered Himself A Serious Artist
    Photo: flickr / CC0

    Paul Frank didn't necessarily set out to be a brand icon or even a fashion designer. He did, however, have a lifelong interest in art, which led him to attend Orange Coast College after graduating from high school. There he studied art, and though it took him eight years to complete his degree, Frank had always been driven by deeply creative impulses. He viewed himself as a serious artist, with something unique to contribute to the world. He took inspiration not from legendary fashion designers or even classical artists, but mid-century masters like Eames and George Nelson.

  • Frank Started The Company Out Of His Garage

     

    A post shared by Paul Frank (@paulfrankpix) on

    Frank was still living with his parents in Huntington Beach, CA, working a mind-numbing job at a newsstand, when the spark for Paul Frank Industries first took hold. After receiving a sewing machine as a gift, he became a self-taught fashion designer, piecing together original products from boldly-colored vinyl and cotton and giving them to family and friends. His first creations were wallets, but special requests soon expanded his repertoire. Backpacks, guitar straps, and other merchandise followed. Frank found the niche that would make him one of the most popular names in fashion.

  • An Investment From Mossimo's PR Manager Got The Business Off The Ground

    Ryan Heuser, the public relations manager for the Mossimo clothing brand, was one of the regular customers at the newsstand where Frank worked. The two struck up a friendship, and Frank introduced Heuser to his designs. At the time, Mossimo was a massively popular activewear designer, and Heuser knew a good thing when he saw it. He told Vanity Fair:

    "[Paul Frank] made me one of his customized wallets, and I started to realize what a true talent he was. People say they have epiphanies, and I had a moment where I said to him, 'Paul, would you like to be in business with me?'"

    Heuser made a $5,000 investment of his own money, moved operations from Frank's garage to his own, and Paul Frank Industries was born.

  • Julius The Monkey Quickly Became The Star Of Paul Frank Industries

    Though Frank designed countless one-of-a-kind items, he will always be associated with Julius the Monkey. Julius was instantly popular with certain demographics, namely teenage girls and skaterboys. But Julius had an appeal for more chic crowds as well; fashionmongers and musicians also shared an affinity for the beaming simian.

    Frank had a knack for slyly incorporating Julius into the pop culture institutions of his youth, such as Julius dressed in a California Highway Patrol outfit as a satire of CHiPs. Frank also made plenty of other designs, including plenty of other monkeys. "People went crazy," he said. "But I can’t understand the psychology behind why one monkey works and another doesn't."

    Whatever the psychology, Julius was the reason for the company's skyrocketing sales.

  • By 2005, Paul Frank Industries Was Making $40 Million In Sales

     

    A post shared by Paul Frank (@paulfrankpix) on

    In 1997, Heuser's roommate, John Oswald, became CEO of Frank's company. The trio of Frank, Heuser, and Oswald was, at least for a time, a recipe for success. After a tradeshow in 1998, the company received half a million dollars in new orders. This gigantic leap in business made Paul Frank Industries a force to be reckoned with. Sales grew exponentially with each passing year. By 2005, PFI was generating some $40 million in revenue. Not bad for a smiling monkey on plastic merchandise.

  • Tension Developed Between Frank And His Business Partners

    The triumvirate at the heart of Paul Frank Industries started to unravel in the early 2000s. Heuser and Oswald wanted Frank to be more involved in the day to day operations of the business, and they told him so. Frank insisted he was always working, even if he wasn't physically in the office. He came to resent their interference, and he didn't like that they were behaving like they were his bosses.

    "I realized they thought they were my bosses in some way," Frank said. "It was weird. They shared an office, they worked out together, and they were buddies. To them, I was just this esoteric artist."