Michael Ball Biography



Fashion designer

Michael Ball

Born c. 1964; son of a musician. Education: Attended the University of California—Los Angeles.

Addresses: Home —Marina del Rey, CA.

Career

Amateur motorbike racer, actor, employee of a merchandising company, and designer of motorcycle and motorbike clothing; founded Rock & Republic, 2002.

Sidelights

Michael Ball serves as the primary designer and chief executive officer of Rock & Republic, the premium denim label he founded in 2002. Ball and his Los Angeles-based company entered the casual-apparel market at an opportune moment, and his well-fitting jeans quickly gained a following among Hollywood starlets and a Southern-California trendsetting crowd despite their $160-and-up price tag. Still a privately held company, Rock & Republic headed into an ambitious expansion at the five-year mark that would include the first freestanding Rock & Republic stores, along with a women's footwear line and other products. "We have a 15-year plan to literally dominate our market," Ball asserted to Los Angeles Daily News Record journalist David Lipke.

There are conflicting dates reported by the media as to Ball's birth date. Most sources claim it to be 1968, but People consistently cites it as four years earlier than that. Details about his early life are also somewhat sketchy: He has said that his father was a stage actor who toured in the hit hippie musical Hair , and that his parents separated when he was still quite young. He and his sister grew up in the Los Angeles area with their mother, where he took classes at the University of California's Los Angeles campus but never earned a degree.

Ball was an actor and an amateur motorbike racer before taking a job with a merchandising company. On the side, he designed motorcycle and motorbike clothing. One day, his girlfriend came home "wearing a pair of jeans that looked like crap, frankly," Ball told People writer Charlotte Triggs. "So I said, 'Let me make you a pair.'" She liked the finished version, as did a friend of his, who was a distributor in Japan and asked Ball if he could make 300 pairs to sell overseas. With that, Rock & Republic was born in 2002, with Ball taking on a managing partner, Andrea Bernholtz, to run the financial side of the business.

Ball devoted his energies to designing a line of premium denim for women. His first collection featured different styles named after rock icons, and entered the market at the top price point for jeans, from $160 to $210, but quickly developed a cult fol- lowing for their terrific fit. The line was sold in 500 stores by the end of the first year, and a men's Rock & Republic line debuted in the spring of 2004. Ball's company became known for the runway shows it staged during the twice-yearly Los Angeles Fashion Week presentation. Though from a manufacturing standpoint denim was one of the easiest items of apparel to design and sell—there is little variation on the core design, with fabric, stitching, pocket placement, and other details serving to differentiate one label from the other—Ball told one reporter that launching his company had not been easy. "It's a whole big denim mafia," he explained to April Y. Pennington in Entrepreneur . "Even the little companies are backed by big companies."

Ball's competitors in the premium denim market included 7 For All Mankind, True Religion, and Citizens of Humanity, but most of them had entered into partnerships with larger apparel manufacturers. Rock & Republic, by contrast, remained a privately held company, and by 2006 had a distribution network that was putting its apparel in 2,000 stores. There were plans for the first freestanding stores to open in New York City's trendy Meatpacking District in 2007, following one in London's Notting Hill neighborhood. Ball's designs have consistently done well in London, thanks in part to an arrangement with former Spice Girl Victoria "Posh" Beckham, a major celebrity in Britain and the wife of Britain's highest-paid athlete, soccer star David Beckham. A separate line, sporting the label "Victoria Beckham for Rock & Republic," enjoyed steady sales for two years, but the partnership deal ended in a lawsuit in 2006.

Because Rock & Republic is a privately held company, its financial data is not required to be made public, but industry analysts believe that Ball's label enjoyed a 270 percent jump in sales between 2005 and 2006, and was probably a $350 million business by 2007. Ball had plans for an initial public offering of stock in 2009, once the complete line of apparel and accessories—which were to include footwear, eyewear, and the men's suits and ties already sold under his Tailor Made label—was fully operational. He even told the press about plans for boutique Rock & Republic hotels and possibly even an airline. "There's so much product out there, you have to turn yourself into a brand," he told Lipke in the Daily News Record . "If you don't stand out, go home. Buyers are losing interest in all the bit players: They want consistency, customer loyalty, and partnerships with brands they can trust."

Ball lives in Marina del Rey, California, and is single. In addition to the entanglement with Beckham over profits she claimed were owed to her, Ball's company—or Ball himself—has been named in two other lawsuits: In 2007, a Mexican model who once dated him, and her photographer boy-friend, alleged that Ball had tried to extort money out of them and blackmail them with scintillating private photos; the suit also claimed that Ball had arranged a sham marriage for the model that allowed her to extend her stay in the United States indefinitely.

That same year, the New York Times featured Ball and his company in a story about the scores of trademark infringement lawsuits that lawyers for Levi Strauss & Co. file regularly, which the apparel-industry analysts quoted in the article hinted was a case of sour grapes for being trounced so brutally by brash upstart labels in the denim market that Levi's had long dominated. As journalists Michael Barbaro and Julie Creswell of the New York Times explained, Ball and his Rock & Republic "designers intentionally placed a cloth label on the right hand side of a back pocket, not the left, which would violate a Levi's trademark. Levi's sued anyway, arguing its trademarks forbid placing such a label on a vertical seam of a back-pocket." The issue, like most of the Levi's trademark suits, was settled out of court, though Ball told Barbaro and Creswell that the pocket detail "was not remotely close to Levi's," but that he had agreed to settle partly because "I will get bored with that design soon anyway."

Sources

Business Week , January 22, 2007.

Daily News Record (Los Angeles, CA), May 1, 2006, p. 3.

Entrepreneur , May 2004, p. 180.

New York Post , January 27, 2007, p. 9.

New York Times , January 29, 2007.

People , June 27, 2005, p. 114; February 19, 2007, p. 125.

Sunday Mirror (London, England), December 10, 2006, p. 7.

Vegas , November 2003.



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