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Andrew Christian: The real man behind the iconic underwear brand

Andrew Christian: The real man behind the iconic underwear brand

Andrew Christian (suited) and model Cory Lee

The name Andrew Christian is synonymous with one thing: underwear. Specifically, eye-catching creations typically designed to highlight the crotch and/or butt area of those who wear them.

However, it wasn’t always meant to be this way.

Christian was raised in Fresno, California. Soft-spoken, he politely declines to tell me his age. As he launched his label in 1997, I’m guessing somewhere in his early 40s, but he could pass for several years younger.

We meet upstairs at Ku Bar in London. Christian spent the New Year in South Africa, and proudly shows me photos on his phone of lions in the wild.

He has stopped off in the UK capital on his way home to do some business and promote his first book, Sex = Power = Freedom.

Fresno, he says, ‘is basically like the mid-West’ in terms of being small-town conservative by nature. ‘Not very gay-friendly.’

From a young age, he knew what he wanted to do. He escaped at 18 to head for Los Angeles to study fashion.

Twenty years ago, he launched his Andrew Christian fashion brand.

An image from the new Andrew Christian book, Sex = Power = Freedom
An image from the new Andrew Christian book, Sex = Power = Freedom Andrew Christian

‘I started making sportswear, which was always sort of my passion,’ he tells me.

‘I made stuff for myself and my friends. That was the inspiration behind starting the company. I saw a real demand in the market where the product didn’t exist, and I wanted to express my point of view as a designer, so I started doing sportswear and selling it.

However, breaking into the fashion business was hard.

‘It was really difficult at the beginning. My name wasn’t known. A lot of store buyers didn’t want to take a chance on buying my collection – it took quite a bit of time to build up my business.

‘About 15 years ago, I started doing swimwear and that did quite well. And then about ten years ago I started doing underwear, and that’s when the company just took off.’

andrew_christian_sling
Andrew Christian

It’s hard now to consider an Andrew Christian label that didn’t include underwear. He says it now makes up around 70% of his total sales. He now employs around 50 people. His clothing has a world-wide following – particularly amongst gay men.

‘People check out the website and are always like, “Oh, you’re doing clothing now,” and I’m like, ‘No, I’ve always done clothing”. But they know and remember the underwear because the imagery is so strong.’

‘Believe in your own voice. Believe in your own vision’

Although slow to take off, he says that starting his business when he did, just as the internet was making an impact on people’s lives, helped his brand enormously.

‘Before the internet was a big part of our business, we had to go with what the store buyers were dictating. All the store buyers were wanting something specific, so we had to make it, and stuff that I believed in I couldn’t really make, whereas now, if I really believe in something, I make it. And it sells.’

His designs are now sold in hundreds of outlets, including well-known department stores such as Nordstrom USA, Selfridges UK, Kadewe Germany, and Simons Canada.

When it comes to advice for other budding entrepreneurs, listening to your inner voice comes top of the list.

‘Believe in your own voice. Believe in your own vision. A lot of people are going to try and side track you, they’ll say “Oh no, it’s not correct – you should be doing this, or doing that.” You just have to go with your gut instinct.’

This month, Christian’s gut instinct has led him to publishing his first book, Sex = Power = Freedom.

A photo spread from Sex = Power = Freedom
A photo spread from Sex = Power = Freedom Andrew Christian

‘Sex relates to political freedom’

It features 200 photos of hot models in Andrew Christian underwear, along with messages of self-empowerment, and a reminder that gay guys in some countries are still far from having the freedom to love one another openly.

‘It’s about how sex relates to political freedom. The short of it is that if you’re free to have sex with who you want, then you’re politically free, so there’s a lot of statements in there about the LGBT community and the freedoms we enjoy, and some of the countries where gay people don’t enjoy those freedoms.

‘And there’s a lot of hot pictures of half-naked guys in underwear!’

Christian himself also features. It reminds me a little of Madonna’s Sex book – a comparison that makes him laugh.

Andrew Christian
Andrew Christian

It’s already sure to sell well. He raised funds for the book through crowdfunding – quickly raising an impressive $100,000 to press ahead with photo shoots and publication. Over the next few months, he’ll be undertaking signing sessions in both the US and the UK.

Hundreds of guys recently sent in photos to be considered as new models. Does he ever receive criticism for presenting a stereotypical image of male beauty?

‘I think it’s more about promoting a healthy lifestyle,’ he says enthusiastically, if not a little diplomatically.

‘We do lots of event, all over the US, and this one time I met this guy, he came up to me because he wanted to meet me,’ he recalls.

‘He wanted to thank me. He had lost 120lbs because he said he just wanted to fit in my underwear. I wasn’t expecting someone to come up and tell me that. It was quite refreshing and made me feel really good that I helped change someone’s life in that way.’

Andrew Christian and a coupe of his 'TrophyBoy' models
Andrew Christian and a coupe of his ‘TrophyBoy’ models Andrew Christian

He says he’s hoping that book will also touch people – rather than just turn them on.

‘I hope I can inspire other people to be free, to be the best that they can be, to be that role model. There are a lot of kids in small towns that have no-one to look up to, they have no support system.’

‘I’m sure behind my back department store buyers are like “No, too gay”’

Out and proud, Andrew Christian has previously supported initiatives at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, among other charity work. The brand is currently selling a PrEP awareness T-Shirt for the Center at its West Hollywood boutique. Christian himself has volunteered at Project Angel Food. He believes in giving back.

Has he ever experienced homophobia in his business dealings?

‘I haven’t come across any to my face, but I’m sure behind my back department store buyers are like “No, too gay”. But it’s not to my face. They’ll just say something like, “It’s not the direction we want to go in.” They won’t say, “It’s a gay brand, we don’t want to touch it”.’

But Christian wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘I think that’s been part of our success, that we do make products for the gay community. We’re gay. A large proportion of our staff is gay, and we don’t make any apologies about that.’

andrew_christian_tongues
Andrew Christian

Read more: Meet the gay man who fled Iran and found freedom as an underwear model in the US