As a high school kid in LA in the late 1960s, I didn’t know who or what I wanted to be. I was into girls and cars, and was naturally inclined toward sketching the latter. My life was going to car clubs, doodling hot rods, and reading the usual car rags. At the time, I hadn’t taken so much as one art class.
In California, we were living in the epicenter of the peace and love movement. Alas, in the midst of all that tumult, ArtCenter was a bubble. Students tucked their shirts in, and never even considered wearing shorts, or sporting long hair. ArtCenter never felt like an art school in that way; it felt like we were training for Detroit.
One of my first summers away from school, some ArtCenter friends and I went to a local race. There was a program advertising a local racing magazine, Raceway, whose offices were located on La Cienega and Melrose. I paid them a visit and introduced myself to their art director. As it turned out, the man was an ArtCenter alumnus in need of an assistant. I began my path toward becoming an art director that afternoon.
I worked at Raceway while attending ArtCenter courses. In that sense, I was really getting two educations. All the while, I was looking for a way in. When I was 21, I had a racing photo published in Sports Illustrated, for which I was paid $50. It felt like a big deal at the time.
When I graduated in January of 1969, I knew I wasn’t going to Detroit. I didn’t want to wear a suit and tie to work. Back then, our colleagues in the Motor City would bring us projects – often four-door sedan prototypes – that made limited sense to a California auto consumer. In California, young people were buying foreign cars and strapping surfboards onto the roofs of vans. Detroit barely knew what a Toyota was!
The ArtCenter influence was so profound that I never said no to a job, even if I didn’t know how to do it. Adaptation is and was the name of the game. All-nighters were and are a tradition at the College. A weekend is a long time if you utilize every minute of every hour to get stuff done. We weren’t always worried about the work being perfect; at the end of the day, there’s a lot to be said for just meeting the deadline.
In 1970, I made the transition to advertising full-time as an art director and creative director. I started my own firm in 1976, which is where I made my initial connections with the folks at Gucci and Carroll Shelby.
One of my clients during this time was the seminal American filmmaker John Cassavetes. A friend of mine had been the Assistant Director on Faces, and John had asked me if I wanted to do the graphics and titles for his new film, which was to star Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk. I’m still blown away when I watch that masterpiece today and I see the blood, sweat, and tears that we all put into making it.
My whole life, I never turned down an offer. I designed a jewelry catalogue for my friend, affixing jewels to a piece of cardboard and driving them to the photography studio in my father’s old station wagon. Later, in the 1980s, I reconnected with Carroll Shelby. Together, we conceived the prototype for the Shelby Chrysler Sidewinder.
In 1978, I became the Director Of Advertising at Gucci Watches, which ultimately prompted a family move to Switzerland in 1991. Gucci was a relatively small client at the time. By 1984, our firm was doing major ads for the company, whose sales jumped to $65 million annually, four years later. In 1991, I journeyed to Switzerland, where a new title awaited me: President of the Swiss-based manufacturing arm of Gucci Timepieces.
What was I thinking? Moving to a country where I don’t speak the native language… to run a factory? Actually, yes. We ended up producing a million watches a year, and ended up becoming one of the most prolific producers of watches around the globe, behind Seiko and Citizen. All because I never said no to a job.
I guess you could say I had a good run. I believe it’s because I always bet on myself, and I never ruled anything out. I was always willing to walk through a door, provided it was open.
BS 69 Product Design
Managing Partner, Hitter Family LP
CEO, Hitter Family Foundation
Past Chairman, Cedars Sinai Board of Governors