Ed Hardy: From art to infamy and back again

Story highlights

  • Ed Hardy, the tattoo artist behind popular clothing line of the same name, released memoir in June
  • Hardy signed a deal giving Christian Audigier rights to produce products with his art
  • Once the height of popularity, the Hardy empire fell from favor due to overexposure
  • Hardy is still making art and wants the public to know he is more than the clothing brand
The name Ed Hardy conjures visions of rhinestone-studded trucker hats, colorful cartoon skulls, dragons and koi fish, and reality stars like Jon Gosselin and the cast of Jersey Shore.
A profitable licensing deal with French businessman Christian Audigier put Hardy's work on clothing, energy drinks, fragrances and even tanning lotions. It seemed like the deal of a lifetime, but in hindsight, Hardy said, the agreement made his name synonymous with the "douches" of pop culture and ultimately cheapened his personal brand.
Now, he is stepping out from behind the large shadow of the Ed Hardy brand to set the record straight in "Wear Your Dreams: My Life in Tattoos," a memoir released in June. Co-written with biographer Joel Selvin, the book shares how Hardy went from college-educated fine artist to tattoo pioneer to one of the most polarizing brands in recent memory.
"People began globally to know my images, my name and my signature, but they didn't know there was a real person behind it," Hardy told CNN.
From skin to canvas
Donald Edward Hardy was born in Newport Beach, California, and his mother began to encourage him to draw when he was 3. As a preteen, he took pens and colored pencils to the skin of neighborhood friends and became an amateur tattoo artist in his neighborhood.
He had his first exhibition at the Laguna Beach Art Festival after graduating high school and attended the San Francisco Art Institute. After turning down a graduate position at the Yale School of Art, according to his memoir, he met and began a correspondence with famed tattoo artist "Sailor Jerry" Collins in 1969. He went on to study in Japan with legendary tattoo artist Horihide, working with clients from the infamous yakuza, or Japanese mafia. Both men influenced the heraldic aesthetic that defines Hardy's signature ornate images today.
He opened his San Francisco tattoo shop, Tattoo City, in 1977 and is credited with helping transform tattooing from a mark of sailors and prisoners to a mainstream option for self-expression. His 1995 gallery show, "Pierced Hearts and True Love: A Century of Drawings in Tattoos," prompted a New York Times article that asked whether tattooing could be fine art.