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The Music Man

Mikkel Eriksen is the red-hot producer creating chart-toppers for Rihanna, Beyoncé and Katy Perry. Now he’s out to make a men’s fashion label a hit.

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Menswear issue 03/21/2011

Turn on the radio today and chances are, within a few songs, the DJ will cue up a Stargate smash. The production duo, comprising Mikkel Eriksen and Tor Hermansen, has racked up five inescapable number-one hits in just the past year: Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” and Rihanna’s “What’s My Name,” “Rude Boy” and “Only Girl in the World.”

This story first appeared in the March 21, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Eriksen and Hermansen are the can’t-miss producers of the moment. Their other recent chart-toppers include Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” Jordin Sparks’ “Tattoo,” Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” and Beyoncé and Shakira’s “Beautiful Liar.” Hailing originally from Norway, the two are now based in New York, where they’ve formed a joint-venture record label with Jay-Z called StarRoc. Its first artist is the budding talent Alexis Jordan, whose infectious “Happiness” went to the top of the dance charts in the U.S. and was a top-five hit in the U.K. and Australia.

Beyond that, plenty of potential hits are in the pipeline. Eriksen and Hermansen produced four tracks on Khalifa’s upcoming album, Rolling Papers, set for a March 29 release, and also worked on tracks for Mary J. Blige’s upcoming album, LuvHer. “And we’re always working on new material for Rihanna. “She’s our girl,” says Eriksen. “When we make a great song, we keep it for her.”

While music is Eriksen’s first love, he has also branched out into fashion. In 2009, he came across a fledgling Norwegian label called Johnny Love and sought out a meeting with its designer, John Vinnem. The two became business partners and this year signed a U.S. showroom, Black Dog 8, to launch the brand in the U.S.

“I loved his designs, and I got so many comments when I wore them,” says Eriksen, 38, during a break from work at Roc the Mic studios in New York, the production facility owned by Jay-Z where Stargate is headquartered.

Johnny Love is a full collection with particular strength in outerwear. Coats and jackets meld military-inspired silhouettes with functionality and comfort. Upscale Italian men’s wear fabrics are infused with nanotechnology to make them rain and wind resistant.

“I like the masculine vibe, and it’s also very tailored and fitted, with a lot of nice detailing,” says Eriksen, who is studiously low key and avoids the spotlight when possible. His wife, Hege, is a third partner—and professional acupuncturist—who helps oversee the business aspects of the growing fashion company.

Johnny Love remains based in Trondheim, Norway, which is Eriksen and Vinnem’s hometown. Vinnem oversees design and production, with most of the product made in Romania and Portugal. The transatlantic partnership means lots of Skype calls and e-mails.

“Music and fashion are closely connected—there is a synergy between them,” says Vinnem. “This gives us something special. We make a good team.”

The line is currently in about 100 stores worldwide, with a global volume of $5 million. In the U.S., stores include trendy doors such as Ron Herman, Riccardi, Moda and George Greene. Jackets and outerwear in the line retail for about $480 to $625; knits and shirts, for $165 to $240, and bottoms average at $195.

Artists with whom Eriksen works—such as Usher, Ne-Yo, John Legend and Enrique Iglesias—have worn Johnny Love pieces at red-carpet events and have been photographed walking the streets of Hollywood and New York in the designs. “Usher can wear anything he wants, so it’s pretty cool that he’s worn our brand,” says Eriksen. “He’s even asked me for some more stuff.”

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