By  on June 22, 2007

The president and chief operating officer of the Christian Audigier Cos., Henry Mandell, has an audacious plan. It is, simply, "to build an empire.''

Founded in 2004 by Christian Audigier, who designs the Ed Hardy collection and a namesake brand, the company's sales were $7 million in the first year; Mandell estimated volume will reach more than $80 million in 2007.

Audigier, who was the creative force behind Von Dutch, left the denim brand three years ago after being granted exclusive rights to work with the tattoo art of Don Ed Hardy.

"The product Christian creates is resonating with the consumer," Mandell said. "It's fun, expressive and slightly edgy. People are looking to make a statement and they're not making a statement with a preppy look. This is urban and vintage tattoo."

The first Ed Hardy store opened in 2004 on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Last July, an 1,800-square-foot unit bowed in Manhattan's Meatpacking District. A third store is located in Tucson, Ariz. This month, Manhattan experienced a one-two punch with the launch on June 9 of a 5,500-square-foot Ed Hardy store at 49 Mercer Street in SoHo, and the opening last Saturday of a 1,300-square-foot Christian Audigier unit at 273 Lafayette Street.

Mannequins posed to look as if they're casually hanging out populate the main floor of the Mercer Street Ed Hardy unit. In fact, it's sometimes hard to tell them apart from customers with their lifelike faces and outfits, such as a long-sleeve raglan tunic, $62, and athletic Kicks, $88, styled down to the last detail with black seamed knee-high stockings and fishnet elbow-length gloves. There also are rhinestone-studded Ts for $105; jeans with a tiger's head embroidered across the back pockets, $150, and hand-cut laced tunic dresses, $549. Tattoo-inspired art, including a fearsome three-dimensional tiger and a skull with the words "Tattoo you," decorate the walls.

Smet, a new rock 'n' roll-influenced collection designed by Audigier in collaboration with the performer Johnny Hallyday, occupies 2,200 square feet on the lower level on Mercer Street. "We think it has great potential," Mandell said, noting that the brand is sold on its own Web site, smetshop.com."Within six months we expect to be running at a clip of $10 million on an annualized basis," Mandell said of the new Ed Hardy unit. Already, the Audigier store on Lafayette Street is "doing business comparable to our Melrose Avenue store, in less space," Mandell said. "We hope it will ramp up to $5 million on an annual basis."

On Lafayette Street, clothes hang in white fixtures shaped like round-edged rectangles and squares, which give the Christian Audigier store a Mod look. One area of the store has a black wall, white leather chair and a pillar covered with huge black tiles that look like a quilted Chanel handbag.

More stores are in the works, including Ed Hardy units at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles in October, and on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach in August. The company is looking for real estate in Atlanta, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston and Orange County, Calif. A site is also being sought in Los Angeles for a megaflagship for Ed Hardy, Christian Audigier and Smet.

In addition to Ed Hardy eyewear, knitwear and watches, the company is developing Ed Hardy fragrances for men and women for an early 2008 launch. Home is a possible category for the future, Mandell said. For now, he and Audigier are trying to get consumers to buy more of their existing brands through "an affinity program so our best customers can be drawn in even further with exclusive events," Mandell said. "We use Myspace.com and Web marketing. We're creating a community and way for our consumers to interact."

Mandell left little doubt that there will be a brand number four in the future. "We always have things on the drawing board," Mandell said, declining to be specific. "Christian's launched three brands in two years. Fashion by its nature is cyclical and part of our strategy is to develop new brands to stay in touch with our customers."

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