Sometimes a handy way to evaluate any experience, or even to approach any experience “before it happens” (well, the journey there is part of the journey, ha ha — in fact, it’s ALL a journey — every moment of living is part of the BIG journey) is to try to imagine it through the eyes of J.G. Ballard. Therefore you would be alert to his key concept, “Sex Times Technology Equals the Future” and basically always be aware of the dark, technological, sex-driven foundation of everything. You would be aware of how much the libido is the invisible driver in the dark, inflecting (if not dominating) every interaction, decision and action. And we knew that clothes are a melding of technology and sex.
Saturday night, March 8, 6-10pm: ED HARDY STORE opening at 60 Grant Avenue/Market St, San Francisco. Li Alin came over and walked Marian Wallace and I there — perfect weather, not even any wind — we admired Grant Avenue (Chinatown) block by block, down to our destination. From a distance we saw a brightly lit facade with a crowd of people which included our host, Don Ed Hardy. People outside were chatting and moving around, looking each other over. Thunderous music emanated from the interior. Immediately we spoke with Ed who said, “Yeah, it’s crazy inside — that’s why I’m out here.” We took a photo of Emiko Mori who had made an early (the first?) documentary of Ed Hardy, over thirty years ago, titled “Tattoo City.” She was with Wendy Slick — the pair had made the “vibrator” film playing currently at the Roxie Theater, “Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm.” She gave us a postcard which quoted Margaret Cho: “I loved this movie almost as much as I love my vibrator!” Hmm. (Vibrator = sex + technology)
Then Mary, a tattoo artist working in Ed’s studio, showed her brand-new 10-megapixel Lumix w/Leica lens she had just purchased, on my recommendation — better than the 12-megapixel version I’d bought, cuz it takes RAW files and has a better telephoto lens. A gorgeous female model and a stoic male model were gyrating and looking bored (with the absurdity of their situation?) in the store windows to each side of the red-carpeted entrance. It turned out you had to be on a guest list to gain admittance. A beefy doorman held a clipboard with a guestlist, and readily let us in through the gold doorway, which was topped by a large skull with red eyes. The store is small but very colorful and stimulating, no matter where you look. To the right some stairs led to the basement store area, with a storeroom behind a door (where the window-dancing models retreated to).
First we went up the left stairs to the mezzanine, passing on the right a DJ playing “techno” vinyl (complicated setup: mixer, turntable, laptop, other electronics) in front of a u-shaped display of Ed Hardy shoes and baseball caps. It was loud, so we retreated to the basement (passing a wall of photos of “designer” Christian Audigier posing with “celebrities”) and found a large black leather armchair to crowd onto. Solicitous humans in black brought us champagne in flutes, bubbly water in flutes, shrimp dim sum, endive with cream cheese, polenta with pesto, bruschetta — we were hungry so the next 15 minutes were spent avidly, with concentration, “having dinner.” That over with, we could people watch.
The crowd was a mix of older people (mostly in black), skate-punk-looking young men, trailer-trash hotties, porn star lookalikes, Eurasian beauties in skintight capris and tops, fashionistas out of a Prada or Marc Jacobs ad — most of the under-30-demographic were wearing at least one item of Ed Hardy logo clothing. Tattoos and elaborate hairdos (some spectacular) were everywhere. One young man wearing a “Punks Not Dead” undershirt sported a perfect mohawk and Iban-style arm tattoos; another blonde woman had a grid-pattern mini-mohawk and jeans with artworks stitched on the back pockets. There was a lot of cleavage, bare arms and tanned leg to look at, if one were into looking at that sort of thing.
We went upstairs and finally ran into some “real” people — tattoo artists Bill and Junko Salmon [featured in our MODERN PRIMITIVES book] and his tattoo partner Filip with companion (the other “real” people were all of Ed’s tattoo crew at Tattoo City, Mason/Lombard in North Beach). After greeting them (it was too loud to carry on a conversation, but Filip told us he had just seen our Counter Culture Hour interview with Lyle Tuttle on Cable TV), we left the mezzanine just in time to watch a performance art piece (sort of): “Custom T-Shirt Cuts by Adam Saaks,” a young man with a holster hanging on his belt holding a long pair of industrially-manufactured shears — a form of sophisticated technology indeed. Very swiftly and adeptly he artistically ventilated t-shirts and capris on three well-built young woman, producing see-through patterns secured by braiding he devised. He made his cuts quickly and surely and everything ended up looking perfectly done. (It must be harder than it looks.) With his back to the window stood Ed Hardy, receiving one person after another — in this age of digital photography, everyone in the store must have posed with Ed at some point or another, and he received them all graciously. (Who WERE all the older people in the store??)
By then we had had enough of the loud music and left — the same music which is supposed to make people STAY makes us LEAVE. I asked Li Alin what she thought and in her usual no-punches-pulled French-Canadian style said, “Most of those girls were wearing makeup half-an-inch thick, with their” (gestured to indicate cleavage) “out to HERE — you look at THAT for three seconds, move your eye downward and it’s all SEX — that’s IT. It’s that fake Reality TV eclipsing Real Life. No poetry. No culture. No books. No depth. Nothing to inspire you. No inspiration. It was like a big vacuum that sucks the inspiration out of YOU. The women with huge hair — it’s the trailer trash aesthetic, the Cheap Whore look. Skin and cleavage everywhere — just bling, bling, bling.” (Well, it’s still kind of dazzling to look at, but … is that all there is? to paraphrase a song from the fifties)
The funny thing is that Ed Hardy has been possibly the world’s most accomplished and knowledgeable tattoo artist for the past forty years, branching into painting, sculpture, etc while getting an enormous body of work executed on paper, canvas and epidermis. About four years ago he met a “French marketing genius” Christian Audigier who had just finished reviving the brand of pinstripe custom car artist Von Dutch. It took three years, but now Ed Hardy is a hip and happening global brand, cited by almost every A-list celebrity as a “favorite designer.” But in reality, the original Don Ed Hardy didn’t design a thing! He simply made available his backlog of tattoo designs, and Christian Audigier hired designers to make baseball caps, Converse tennis shoes, t-shirts, hoodies, leather jackets and even Harley motorcycles emblazoned with Hardy’s color drawings, a big ED HARDY signature logo, and occasionally sayings like “BORN FREE” and “LOVE” “DEATH” “LUCK.” Actually, most of the workmanship was finely executed — not just silkscreened on, but embroidered, sometimes with rhinestones — we imagined endless factories filled with workers, a la “MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES” – one of the best films of the Zeros (i.e., from the year 2000 on).
So at the end, before we left, here was Ed, smiling with a pair of beautiful young models while his photo was being taken. “I’m just along for the ride,” he said. Probably at every store evening, young girls flock to him and young hipster men congratulate him on his tattoo work. It truly seemed unreal, and in a way it was — as though the “media gods” had given Ed a “Second Life” in a parallel world that also seems to be nestled in our “real” world. I noted that Francesca Passalacqua, Ed’s sensible and wryly humorous wife, was not in attendance, even though she was in town from Hawaii. That spoke volumes about “keeping it real.” Which brought to mind the ancient Paiute Indian chant: “This life: Is it real? Is it real?”– V. Vale, RE/Search founder, http://www.researchpubs.com [A "classic" interview with ED HARDY IS FEATURED IN THE RE/SEARCH "MODERN PRIMITIVES" book, still available from http://www.researchpubs.com - and V. Vale will autograph it upon request.] **SEE PHOTOS – click on “gallery” & go to end, p. 11**