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Can lightning strike twice?
This story first appeared in the September 7, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor think so. The former co-creative directors and co-founders of Juicy Couture are ready to take on the fashion world again. After completing an 18-month non-compete agreement, the duo is gearing up to launch a collection named Skaist-Taylor in February for fall 2012 selling.
“It really is a collection of things that we’re obsessed with and we want to own,” said Skaist-Levy.
“We are California-eccentric,” added Nash-Taylor. “The line is autobiographical. It’s kind of what we’re into right now. There’s a real joy in the fact that Pam and I are entrepreneurs. We always have been. It feels so right and so good to be doing what we love to do. That is, creating things that we want to wear, that we’re into right now, that feel authentic to us.”
Best friends for 23 years, Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor founded Juicy Couture in 1996 based on the casual California lifestyle. Their iconic velour tracksuit became a symbol of Los Angeles style and a wardrobe staple among celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and Britney Spears. The designers sold their profitable company, which was generating about $48 million in sales, to Liz Claiborne Inc. in 2003, and the business exploded with freestanding stores, accessories, swimwear and fragrances, reaching sales of about $600 million in 2008. Juicy Couture became a major resource at Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. The designers, who benefited handsomely during the earn-out period, stayed until January 2010, when their contracts were terminated.
Now they’re eyeing the next chapter. The designers talked in broad strokes about their independent venture and what they hope to accomplish. “We don’t want to talk specifically about the collection because we’re not showing until February. We will show in New York,” said Nash-Taylor.
But Skaist-Levy revealed the collection will be a complete line, with T-shirts, outerwear, pants and luxurious knits. “We’re creating pieces that we feel are standouts and that you have to have,” she said. She cited “amazing outerwear and incredible basics; that’s how we dress.” Retail prices will range from $175 for apparel to $3,000 for outerwear.
Skaist-Levy, who graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, said color will be a key component of the line. “Color is who we are. There is no doubt about it. [It will be used] where applicable and wearable,” she said.
While the world has changed since the duo started Juicy Couture, what hasn’t changed is their close friendship, their love of clothes, an obsession with fit and their positive energy and sunny dispositions. Nash-Taylor, who graduated from Carnegie-Mellon with a degree in theater acting, said they’ve been dreaming of this collection since they walked away from Claiborne. “We started working on it the minute we were released,” she said. “We started working on the boards. We dream about fashion. We knew what we wanted to do in our heads before it became a reality.”
Although Juicy Couture evolved into a “girly girl” collection, the designers spent a few seasons designing a more expensive and sophisticated line called Couture Couture, a designer collection that featured intricately crafted pieces such as a jeweled dress with an organza underskirt and a Chantilly lace strapless dress. When they launched Juicy Couture, the designers had no idea it would become such a phenomenon. “We created the number-one fragrance. We built a brand that changed the way people dressed. But we didn’t set out to do that. We just set out to make clothes we wanted, and we’re going to do that again,” said Skaist-Levy.
What’s interesting about their partnership is the way they share responsibilities.
“We do everything together,” said Skaist-Levy. “People were knocking down our doors to invest. We don’t want that; we don’t want to have to answer to anybody. We want to answer to each other. We want to make our own decisions. We certainly feel like we are experts in the field, and we can do it.”
She described the collection as more eclectic than work-driven. For example, the line will contain “the perfect jacket. It definitely is not workwear, but you could wear some of the pieces to work…some of the trousers, if you worked in a funky place.” The designers have already hired about 10 people who are working with them in their studio in Hollywood Hills. They haven’t secured a Los Angeles showroom yet.
During their 18-month hiatus, both women traveled, visited galleries and art museums, outdoor street festivals, vintage fairs and fabric fairs.
“I spent a lot of time in England going to endless vintage fashion fairs and visiting people’s private collections and just gathering ideas. We weren’t allowed to design or do anything. It was a creative time for me,” said Nash-Taylor, who is married to John Taylor, a bass guitarist and co-founder of pop-rock band Duran Duran. Skaist-Levy said she visited a lot of “art in the street” shows in Los Angeles, as well as museums, galleries and “incredible happenings through Jeffrey Deitch.”
While Juicy Couture reflected the designers’ fun-loving personalities in the Nineties, they believe their new collection will be about who they are now. Skaist-Levy, who admits to being 48, and Nash-Taylor, who said, “I’m very close…a little older,” look forward to dressing women of all ages. “Skaist-Taylor is what we want now, in the way Juicy was very much us in the Nineties,” said Nash-Taylor.
The designers expect Skaist-Taylor to be merchandised above contemporary, but below designer at retail stores. Eventually they hope to launch a Web site, and do e-commerce.
“It’s in between contemporary and designer. We’re going to blaze a trail like we did before,” said Nash-Taylor. She said the plan is to make as much as they can domestically. “That’s always been a part of our philosophy. The original Juicy label was ‘Made in the Glamorous USA.’ We’re making as much as we possibly can in New York and in Los Angeles, which does dictate some of the price points. I think it’s important for us to give back to our communities, whether it’s our industry in New York or Los Angeles. Pam and I really believe in it.”
Juicy Couture was never a participant in fashion week in New York, so the presentation will be a first for the designers. “We’re going to show during February fashion week in New York. It’s going to be a psychotic presentation,” said Nash-Taylor. “Patrick Kinmonth is designing the presentation,” she said of the set designer who created “Anglomania” at the Costume Institute and curated the big show in the Valentino movie, “The Last Emperor.” As part of the presentation, they will also show a line of jewelry they’ve been working on. “We have very few accessories in terms of bags, but we are making our own shoes for the presentation, but not for distribution at this point,” said Nash-Taylor.
In discussing why they chose the name Skaist-Taylor for the new collection, Skaist-Levy said, “We went with Skaist just because I like the sound of the name. I love the name Levy, too. But Skaist-Taylor just sounded really right.” What about naming it Pam and Gela? “That’s a whole different conversation. That’s for later. That’s another chapter,” said Nash-Taylor.
“We’d love to do high, low, we’d love to do home. We’d love to do a fragrance. We want to do everything,” added Skaist-Levy.
She said building a brand again feels like the early days of working with Paul Charron and Angela Ahrendts, Claiborne’s former chief executive officer and executive vice president, respectively. “We were able to make and create a world — the Juicy world — that was a dream come true. And it just feels like that now. Skaist-Taylor is a world that we’re creating and it’s us today,” she said. With Claiborne’s assistance, the designers were freed up to focus on the brand, while Claiborne lent back-end support, financial support and intellectual capital, and helped them with their distribution needs.
Asked whether they would consider joining forces with a financial partner, Nash-Taylor felt this wasn’t the right time to entertain those discussions. “I don’t think we want to talk about that now. That’s a long time down the road. We learned how to build a business into a billion-dollar business….We opened stores, we were in every country that you can dream of being in. Yes, we learned a huge amount, and that was a tremendous experience,” she said.
Charron, senior adviser at Warburg Pincus, is convinced that the designers will be successful again. “They were very successful before they hooked up with us. That’s why they were so appealing to us. I have every confidence that they’re going to hit the ball out of the park.
“They’re very creative. They have a great work ethic, and they still seem to be hungry, and I’m sure they’ll do it again,” added Charron.
While the designers declined to divulge how big a business Skaist-Taylor could become, they are optimistic about growth.
“I think that we’ve done this enough. You feel the arc of a collection. We want the collection to be as big as it feels the need to be. There’s an organic growth in the line that’s just a natural progression. The sky’s the limit. It will go wherever it goes, as long as it’s healthy and people are dying over the clothes, and we’re loving it. Let it be as big as it wants to be. We’ll also keep it tight and selective,” said Skaist-Levy.
The duo have learned their lesson about becoming too over-exposed. “When things become popular, big is the killer of cool,” said Nash-Taylor.
Now that they are entering what they call “chapter two” of their careers, the partners haven’t completely forgotten about the first chapter: They are writing a book about their wild ride creating Juicy Couture and now Skaist-Taylor.
“We can’t divulge [the title] yet, but hopefully when we do the presentation in February, we’ll have a big announcement. The book is going to be about our story. We’ve both spoken at various universities to kids who are starting out. This is a time of entrepreneurs. We are two entrepreneurs, wacky entrepreneurs who built a very crazy successful business. That is a part of our story that people are very interested to know,” said Nash-Taylor.
Skaist-Levy added that the book will explore how two women started with $200 and turned it into a billion-dollar brand. “You don’t know how many best friends have come in here, and said, ‘We want to be like Pam and Gela.’ We want to have fun, and be two best friends that are doing something,” she said. “I think that is a big part of our story. The fact that we still are best friends, and still talk to each other every morning and are each others’ first phone call. That we love doing what we’re doing,” added Nash-Taylor.
“I think having a partnership, someone you can create with, someone you can share with, and do the thing you really love to do the most…. I think we’re the luckiest girls in the world. Skaist-Taylor is a dream come true,” said Skaist-Levy.