When in character as his alter ego, Jonny Coffin, Jonny Edwards sports a black trench coat, gloves and a top hat. With his flowing dark hair, chiseled features and dramatic makeup, he exudes an aura of sinister mystery. Completing the look is his highly curious black guitar case, which is shaped like a coffin, made from wood and vinyl, and lined with plush velvet.
Edwards makes these cases himself, and through his company, Coffin Case, has sold a quarter million of them, by his count, to everyone from Lucinda Williams to Johnny Depp. Metallica's Kirk Hammett recently commissioned one.
A musician who plays metal and punk, Edwards was struck by inspiration after growing tired of his old, dilapidated guitar case in the late '80s. Instead of laying out cash for a new one, he used his carpentry skills to construct his own. The coffin shape, he believed, expressed the anguished, anti-establishment fervor of the scene he was a part of. Plus, everyone seemed to love it. “On my way to the stage,” he recalls, “people would ask, 'Where'd you get that case?' ”
But it wasn't until Edwards went broke in the mid-'90s that he realized his creation's business potential. He patented the design and launched his company, and before long, he'd nabbed Slash and Keith Richards as customers. The celebrity clientele helped draw the interest of regular folk, and nowadays Coffin Cases are sold in hundreds of stores worldwide.
The diverse designs include everything from camouflage to an image of a machine gun-wielding Al Pacino from Scarface, complete with red and purple interiors. The high-end cases are even fitted with elaborate silver hardware, hand-painted with macabre designs and shined with a lacquer finish.
The company has diversified as well, offering cases for drumsticks, microphones, chef knives and even handguns, not to mention guitar effects pedals and purses. Edwards promotes them all in his Tales From the Coffin catalog, which resembles a horror comic book. He's now planning a line of clothing and accessories based on 1950s horror-TV hostess Vampira and possibly Bela Lugosi, the celebrated Dracula actor.
A Venice resident who comes from mixed European and Native American stock, Edwards is committed to bringing to his old-fashioned horror tropes a 21st-century marketing plan utilizing, among other things, mobile apps. At his North Hollywood office, he flips open his laptop to display one of his ads, a video of a stunning platinum blonde in bat-wing sunglasses in a swimming pool. What's that she's floating on? A Coffin Case, of course.
“It starts as fantasy,” he says, explaining his approach. “And we turn that fantasy into hard goods.”
Perhaps befitting someone who has appropriated the imagery of vampires, Edwards won't reveal his birthday, describing himself instead as “ageless.” He's quick to clarify that, like Dracula, he finds coffins more life-affirming than morbid, insisting: “They're about everlasting life.”