LOS ANGELES — Kelly Gray is taking the next step in her double life.
Gray, who departed St. John in July 2005 amid upheaval at the $400 million knitwear giant founded by her parents, is launching a women's wear collection and a men's jewelry collection at Royal Underground, the rock 'n' roll-inspired contemporary men's wear company she started in August with Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx. A women's jewelry line may not be far behind.
And she's balancing all that with her return to St. John as a creative consultant.
Speaking on one of her two cell phones in a dusty trailer in the middle of the El Mirage desert, near Palm Springs, Calif., where she and Sixx were shooting their third lifestyle book, Gray told WWD, "We are absolutely in the middle of nowhere and it is just spectacular."
The setting may recall some of the far-flung locales of the iconic St. John ads in which Gray starred for more than two decades. Now, however, Gray, 40, is back in front of the camera with a newfound edge. Asked why they chose the desert (the shoots for the first two men's seasons took place in London and India), Gray replied: "It was the only place they'd let us light on fire. We have panthers and pyrotechnics on the set."
Needless to say, there were no knit suits in sight. "I'm wearing our first women's pieces: a black peacoat and not much underneath, since it's about 80 degrees out; one of our scarves, and a pair of jeans," she said.
She also was sporting a pair of black boots, though Royal Underground does not produce footwear. "I have to wear something on my feet, as a rather large scorpion wandered by a few minutes ago," she said.
To design her latest collection, which she did from a bunk on the Mötley Crüe tour bus in the winter, Gray's work clothes consisted of a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, jeans and "whatever I slept in the night before. It's fairly different from my St. John life."
Like the Royal Underground men's collection, the 25- to 40-piece women's collection will consist of leather jackets, cashmere sweaters, T-shirts and jeans, as well as dresses and skirts ranging from $100 to $1,200 retail.Gray said she hopes the lines will launch in the same doors where the men's collection sells: Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and specialty retailers like Boogie's in Aspen and Holt Renfrew in Canada.
The line will ship between August and October.
"We just by chance started Royal Underground with men's wear, but we had always planned on exploring more categories," Gray said.
She handed the phone to Sixx, an amateur photographer who is shooting the lifestyle book with lensman Paul Brown. "Since we launched, it's been my dream to design a lifestyle collection,'' he said. "Customers were asking for women's clothes, and women have been buying extra smalls of the men's pieces. When I'm in stores, people always ask, 'Where can I get what you're wearing?'''
Sixx, who has been passionate about fashion since he was in high school, said, "I am absolutely involved in the design of the women's collection. I like a certain way women wear clothes and I have a lot of opinions. I enjoy it all. For me, it's almost more exciting to design women's because with men, there is a limit to how far they can make everything go, fashion-wise, though we have been able to educate men to dress cooler."
Gray and Sixx said the inspiration for the line was the French Revolution and artwork from the time period. "It has the same edgy identity as the men's line, but with a little more of a designed fashion sensibility, which is my background," said Gray.
Added Sixx: "We definitely do not want to fit into a niche that is conservative."
Ditto for the 20-piece silver and gold men's jewelry line, designed with Santa Monica-based jeweler and King Baby designer Mitchell Binder. "I love jewelry and wear it every day,'' Sixx said. "It's hard to find big, chunky, cool stuff that is very rock 'n' roll and can reach people. Like the clothing we design, it's what we like and what we believe is cool."
Gray declined to give sales projections for the privately held company, but said Royal Underground has doubled the number of men's doors after its first two seasons to more than 50.Although Gray and Sixx banter and complete each other's sentences like an old married couple, Gray said there is no romance involved. "We are friends and business partners, and, hopefully, that's a lifetime relationship."
Sixx added, "We agree and we have our tug-of-wars. It's just like writing a song."
Gray said, "I call him my fashion husband."
In fact, the first pieces in the men's jewelry collection were his and hers wedding bands. "I can't speak for Nikki because I don't see him that often, but I wear mine every day — it reminds me not to put anything else on [my finger]," Gray laughed.
As for the personal nature of the lifestyle books, which can be viewed on the company's Web site, Gray said the diary entries, likes and dislikes and heartfelt notes were key in building a relationship with her company and customers. "The text was almost more important than the imagery. If you are wearing our clothes and reading about our lifestyle, you're invested in it. My father taught me the most important team was your sales team and those are the people we wanted to reach."
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