LOS ANGELES — Every struggling singer needs a way to feed his music habit, so Erik Hart did what any rocker with a sense of style would do: He started his own clothing line.
Never mind that Hart had never studied fashion, or screenprinting or even worked in retail. Less than two years after creating Morphine Generation, Hart, now 25, is already projecting 2006 wholesale volume to surpass $8 million. The line of mostly distressed T-shirts, sweaters and tailored suit jackets screened haphazardly with his logo and other Hart-rendered artwork sells to more than 300 accounts domestically, along with retailers abroad such as Barneys New York Japan, Joyce Hong Kong and Co Star in Stockholm.
“I started this mainly as a way to support my music,” said Hart, who can play every instrument required in a rock band, but, not surprisingly, prefers the front-and-center role of lead singer for his post-punk, Goth group, Suicide Club. The band will be backing Morphine Generation’s foray onto the runway Saturday night at Miauhaus studios here.
The runway show will display the brand’s expanded offerings for spring such as tissue-thin cashmere, tailored jackets and shorts.
“I was always dressing up the band for shows,” Hart continued. “People would ask, ‘Where can I buy it?’ The more I got these requests, I started messing around with spray paint and razor blades.”
It’s the logo — a crest with “Ms” and skull and cross bones, usually screenprinted in a cracked black or metallic — that has made Morphine Generation a coveted brand.
Hart scrolls his lyrical ruminations on everything, from the backs of T-shirts to the wall in the store that fronts his two-level headquarters in Hollywood.
Hart said William Burroughs is the primary inspiration for his clothing and song writing — which invariably leads to the name. Hart volunteers an explanation, in a way suggesting the countless times he’s had to explain its meaning, “The name isn’t about drugs. It’s about the numb, detached society we live in today. Everything’s over the top, more excessive, more extreme.”
With a silent backer, Hart continues to carve his path his way. Against conventional advice to move the company downtown so he could be closer to his sales showroom and manufacturers, Hart chose to hang the Morphine Generation shingle on a street off Hollywood Boulevard dotted with the area’s edgier bars, eateries and playhouses. “I’ve got to be where it’s creative — around my scene, around my friends.”
The former industrial building boasts 20-foot ceilings and exposed brick and beams — an anomaly in these parts. The small designated shop, crowned by an enormous chandelier, is, like the rest of place, utterly neat. Among the merchandise are one-offs — wool military coats, leather jackets and tattered T-shirts that Hart personally stitched, studded and screened. These items are priced much higher than the collection, which wholesales from $38 for a basic T-shirt to $175 jackets to $275 cashmere sweaters.
Hart plans to open additional shops, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Tokyo, with the same idea. “I never really want to open up as full-time retail. I don’t want to compete with the stores I sell to, and I want to keep doing the one-of-a-kind stuff.”
But first, he’s focusing on building the company, strategically but quickly. Of the 13 employees, eight came on board in the last couple of months. Swim — including tiny briefs for men and women, as well as board shorts, a beach towel, beach bag and flip- flops — should be ready before summer. Sunglasses are being considered. White denim will arrive by summer, followed by a full denim collection for fall. There also will be jewelry and, possibly, footwear.
Morphine Generation is entering the music business as well. As a label, its first album will be, natch, “Suicide Club.” “That’s part of making this a lifestyle thing. I can do anything I want creatively under Morphine Generation,” he said.
Retailers such as Lorenzo Hadar, owner of H. Lorenzo in West Hollywood’s tony Sunset Plaza, and Hart’s first account, believe Hart has only just begun. “He’s really on the pulse,” said Hadar.
“I’m trying to pace myself, but I think the time is right to hit. I need to keep myself entertained,” Hart said.