LOS ANGELES — Von Dutch Originals, the car culture-influenced apparel line that hit full throttle two years ago, is suing its former designer, Christian Audigier, his nephew and three sales representatives in an alleged scheme to extort millions of dollars in kickbacks from suppliers.

The company is seeking $3 million in damages. Audigier denied the allegations.

In the lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court on June 14, Von Dutch said Audigier was paid $1 million annually yet “concocted a scheme’’ to “extort millions of additional dollars from Von Dutch suppliers by requiring’’ them “as a condition of…being hired’’ to pay him “a significant monetary kickback.’’

Audigier left Von Dutch 10 months ago and launched Ed Hardy, a line of tattoo-based denim, jeans and trucker hats. He had been hired by Von Dutch owner Tonny Sorensen in May 2002.

The lawsuit alleged that Audigier was assisted by the nephew and the independent sales reps and used the money to pay for his new licensing venture with tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy. It did not name the suppliers.

Audigier, whose résumé includes stints at Diesel Men’s, XOXO and Bisou Bisou, said he would file a $6 million countersuit for breach of contract.

“I’ve never taken anything from the company,” Audigier said in an interview. “I built his empire and it’s been going down since I left, and he’s upset.”

Von Dutch has turned to a design team headed by Sorensen to reinvigorate the brand with more toned-down looks. Last month, it opened its ninth store, in Milan, and Sorensen has said the line reached about $70 million in 2004 sales.

A Von Dutch spokeswoman declined to comment on the litigation.

Sorensen has been involved in a string of lawsuits in the past two years. Last year, he settled with two of the company’s other co-founders, Vince Vaughn and Michael Cassell. In February 2004, he won full ownership of the company through binding arbitration of a dispute with Cassell.

This story first appeared in the June 20, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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