By Tracy Dietlin
Cover an Photos by Chris Miller (Imagine Imagery). Taken at the Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs
During my first interview, I sat down with Astrella, her husband Jason Rothberg (producer), Tommy Flanagan (“Chibs” on Sons of Anarchy), Rob Patterson (guitarist OTEP, Korn, solo projects),and Dean Karr (photographer of Astrella’s fashion shoot that day, for her soon to be released luxury T-shirt line, Astrella Inc). The first chat took place at The Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs where CV Weekly photographer Chris Miller, would later do a photo shoot of our own for this week’s cover.
There were several hair and make-up people present bustling about while the interview took place as they had a busy day ahead of them and after the interview they would move on to another shoot at Bighorn in Palm Desert. The feeling in the room was one of family and camaraderie. Flanagan’s wife Dina and baby daughter were also present.
We might as well get a few facts about Astrella out of the way for our readers before we talk about her fashion line. She comes from the famous Leitch family with 60’s musician and rock and roll Hall of Famer, Donavan, for her father, and Ione Skye is one of her sisters (“Say Anything” fame). She was born in Beverly Hills, but spent much time abroad as her father is Scottish and she has a lovely accent you could listen to for days. She has also had a successful music career as Astrella Celeste, but is currently focusing on her career as a fashion designer.
Astrella and Jason are a lovely couple, both very passionate about what they are doing. They sold their home in Beverly Hills and moved to Palm Springs 13 months ago. They still own a home in Majorca, Spain, but consider this their main residence now. They have been together for 15 years and married for 13. We will get back to the interview with Tommy and Rob in a bit but now let’s talk about fashion…..
We move ahead 4 days later to our second interview at the Purple Palms Restaurant in Palm Springs where we meet Astrella and Jason for drinks, a nibble and an in depth chat about the launch of her luxury T-shirt line.
At the end of February Astrella Inc. will launch the Jazz & Blues Collection of high-end, luxury T-shirts to be sold exclusively in upscale retail stores such as Bloomingdales, Barneys, Fred Segal’s and Neiman Marcus to name a few.
She is starting with a soft launch of just 5 artists that include; Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker. There will be a men’s and women’s design for each one with the exception of Billie, with both designs being for women.
Designs for Astrella’s luxury Musical T’s are based on Iconic album artwork (classic as well as current) and pairing the audio tracks associated with each speciﬁc album title. Buy the Cyndi Lauper “She’s So Unusual” Musical T and download the full album to any network device, portable or other.
Astrella takes great pride in her brand and assures only the best and most credible suppliers. All items are hand made in Hollywood and 100% organic cotton. Astrella’s Musical T’s are guaranteed luxury as she uses only the highest quality fabrics and creates her own unique patterns. Astrella currently holds licenses from many of the major and indie record labels, as well as a growing number of internationally known artists, with new agreements being signed weekly.
Come summer she will have about 20 different artists. “It’s taken about a year and a half to get all of the licensing and clearances from the record labels,” said Astrella.
Next up will be the Elton John and Cyndi Lauper collection, with both celebrating 40 year and 30 year musical anniversaries, respectively. T-shirts will feature the album covers for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and She’s So Unusual and will launch about 4 weeks after the Jazz & Blues series.
After that? The Classic Rock Collection that will include Queen, The Who and others yet to be announced.
“There are a lot of people involved with the older iconic artists. A lot goes into trying to get all the clearances. Even with my Dad’s stuff, he’s involved with 3 record labels so there’s so much red tape to go through just to get the licensing,” said Astrella.
They will also do a So Cal Collection including; Slightly Stoopid, The Vandals, Fishbone and 3 others that they can’t talk about yet. When deciding on which album covers to put on the T-shirts, Astrella says it’s not always the most popular album that the artist has put out, but the most visually stimulating cover that attracts a buyer when they walk into the store and see it.
There is much involved in the process to make this all happen. Astrella wants to protect the music and make sure the artists get paid.
“We recently went back through my Dad’s archives trying to clean up his history and we had to go through all the record labels and we got him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and did things that needed to be done. The record labels back then had a lot of dysfunctional relationships with the artists because of the way they treated the artists. Now the artists are being taken advantage of by the fans who don’t even realize it because they’ve devalued music to such an extent with all the free downloads,” said Astrella. “People don’t think twice about sharing the artists’ music for free and the artists not being compensated.”
“What this is going to do is bring a value to music again. We pay the artists, the mechanicals, the publishing, the photographer that took the photo on the front of the album cover. Everyone is getting paid.”
This of course has to take a bite into the profits but Astrella seems more concerned about doing the right things in the right way. She won’t be farming any of her work out to China it will all be done in a factory down in LA using 100% organic materials.
“We decided that we’re willing to not make the full mark up and do the right thing. It’s all possible. You can do the dye process without harming the environment. It’s like that “Inconvenient Truth” everything is about what’s the most convenient and the biggest buck and I get that, but when companies are making hundreds of millions of dollars a year a little morality could go a long way. We’re hoping to teach by example,” said Astrella.
It’s an interesting story how this all got started.
“Astrella was having great success starting her own line working with Varvatos and I was working with David Lynch at his non-profit record label,” said Rothberg. “I was producing a British Invasion show in Arizona and Jessie (Dylan, Bob’s son) was directing it. We were hoping to partner with Bloomingdale’s but when the President of the company, David Fisher, found out we weren’t going to do it inside the store they pulled the plug. On the way out of the meeting Fisher pulled one of Astrella’s T-shirts off the shelf, with her Dad on the front, and said ‘if you can get me anymore of these iconic t-shirts, she can have the whole display’. I said, ‘how about if we include music with it?’ and he said ‘no…every time I try to have CDs in here I end up sending half of them back.’ Then I said ‘CDs…who listens to CDs anymore? I’m talking about downloading the music onto the customer’s phone from the price tag.’ He got excited and told me if we could do that he was interested. So I went and told Astrella.”
“I said to Jason, ‘you just told my biggest client that we can give him something we don’t know how to do,’” said Astrella, remembering the panic she had in her voice when he told her.
So they went into action and half a million dollars later figured out how to make this all happen.
“This is going to change the way people buy music and do retail,” said Rothberg. “The give-away part of it with the QR codes is easy, it’s the making it a one-time thing where people get paid, that’s where it gets tricky…. and data capture and plugging it into Soundscan,” said Rothberg.
I asked Astrella if she plans on designing and including other pieces in her fashion line.
“John Varvatos has been a huge influence on me. I did my first T-shirts with him and he told me ‘stick with T-shirts, if you want to go into high-end fashion stick with something that people wear every day.’ Originally I was doing a lifestyle line with my father and we were going to do a much grander thing. The fashion that I was inspired by was much more eclectic and complicated. But it was John who sat me down and said ‘you can get into suits but how many suits are people going to buy in a year?’ I had to think of it that way because it’s very competitive.”
“There’s a whole fashion line coming down the road,” says Rothberg, who is extremely supportive of his wife. “This is just the beginning.”
Back to Interview Part 1: with Astrella, Tommy, Rob and Jason
CVW: How did you get involved in Fashion?
Astrella: I got involved with fashion at a young age. My father was a very visual person and quite fashionable. I remember going to Morocco for the first time when I was 3 and was surrounded by textiles and colors. My father was probably my biggest fashion influence.
I first started working in fashion with John Varvatos, who was doing rock icon t-shirts and was doing a couple of my father’s album covers.
CVW: How does putting out a fashion line differ from putting out an album?
Astrella: I think music and fashion really go hand in hand. With this project, I am able to bring them both together and I love that idea.
CVW: So how did it come about that Tommy and Rob got involved?
Astrella: I’ve known Tommy for about 15 years and Jason and I have known Rob and Dean for years as well. When we decided to do the shoot for the t-shirt line I thought about using models but didn’t want it to be like everything else and so cookie-cutter. I wanted it to have a more organic, comfortable feel so I asked some of my friends to come on board. I wanted it to have more of a family feel to it.
Meanwhile I feel the need to let Tommy Flanagan know that he is my favorite character on my all-time favorite TV Show just so we have that out of the way! After all, having people like Tommy and Rob, along with musicians Poe and MC Lyte and model, actress Rachel Hunter (the girls did their shoot on another day) involved, helps bring attention to Astrella’s line.
CVW: (To Tommy) How much are you like your SOA character Chibs?
Tommy Flanagan: Well probably that he has compassion. I mean I know he’s not supposed to have it but I just thought he really should have some compassion.
CVW: Do you go back to Scotland often?
TF: Yes we went back last year.
CVW: I know you and your wife Dina have a baby that’s 21 months old. Do you have older kids?
CVW: What’s it like being a father for the first time later in life?
TF: It was planned but a big change. But now that she’s up and moving around it’s fantastic and every day is a whole new adventure with her. One minute she was all wrapped up like a little burrito and now she’s running around like a little midget on crack.
CVW: So with Kurt Sutter killing off so many main characters including himself, on SOA are you concerned that (Chibs) yours might be next?
TF: I don’t really think about it. On one hand the show has run its course and on the other, there’s still lots of stories that could be told. I’m just along for the ride. We’ll see what happens.
CVW: You have a couple other projects you’re involved with can you talk about them?
TF: I’m doing a movie called Barking at Trees. It’s about an artist in London whose wife gets murdered. He’s a broken shell of a man and he has 2 teenage sons and he’s an alcoholic and he’s trying to keep his family together. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not a movie that you go to with popcorn…more like a razor blade and a rope.
Astrella: It’s actually a very beautifully done movie and quite different from his Sons character.
TF: I love Son’s… I do… but it’s nice to do the show and then take a break and do other projects.
CVW: Do you ride a motorcycle yourself?
TF: Ya… I ride a BMW G1600
CVW: (to Rob Patterson) You’ve played guitar with OTEP and Korn. Do you still play with Korn?
Rob Patterson: NO.
CVW: What are you working on now?
RP: I’ve been making a lot of electronic devices (laughter breaks out throughout the hotel room). I know it sounds weird but I got busted for computer hacking when I was 14 so technology and computers have been ingrained in me. I met this guy awhile back who’s an entrepreneur and he’s helping me get a couple of my electronic ideas off the ground. I’ve been working on music too and I’m planning on doing a solo album which I’ve been trying to do for the last 10 years but literally every time I go to start it some band calls me up and says ‘will you come work on this project’. I’ve got a bunch of songs that I’ve written. Actually Jason used one on the David Lynch project he’s working on.
Jason Rothberg: Ya, David started a non-profit label to help fund transcendental meditation to youth and vets returning home with PTSD and we’ve been able to connect with a lot of artists that are TMers. That’s how a lot of us know each other is through TM. Astrella is actually a second generation TMer. Astrella’s pet charity is the David Lynch Foundation so a little piece of everything she makes goes to that.
In closing I asked Astrella if she had anything else to share.
“I’m a new company, I’m branding, I’m positioning and all of my investment is going into doing something positive, clean, crisp, and with a good conscience,” she said proudly.