A preview of Skaist-Taylor, the new collection by Juicy Couture founders Gela Nash-Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy, is not just a glimpse at their first post-Juicy venture, but a total immersion into a dimension that does not otherwise exist in New York fashion.
In their temporary headquarters in The Space studios on Tuesday afternoon, whatever tension typically grips designers prepping their first show was completely overshadowed by a spastic energy that one might expect at a preteen slumber party. There was singing, group huddling and periodic “wooh”-ing. Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy consider their work environment a “love fest” made possible by the fact that they’re not just business partners, but best friends of 23 years. They finish each other’s sentences, speak in unison and like to dress alike, from their bunny-ear iPhone cases to their flat-ironed hair, which has been dip-dyed turquoise to match the “bleached sky” color that they’re using in their fall line. “We’re the new blue-haired old ladies,” quipped Skaist-Levy.
As they walk through the collection, which includes cotton T-shirts with cutout backs; coated velvet bootleg pants; fuzzy knit shrugs in shades of orange, blue and gray; lamé dresses, and a ton of fur, they repeat the words “California eccentric” time and again. It sums up their look, their lives, their ethos and their branding language — it’s been printed on T-shirts for the presentation, which will be held Sunday at the parking garage beneath Lincoln Center from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Billed as “advanced contemporary,” the line’s prices range from $220 for “California cashmere” (a cotton-cashmere blend) to an average of $650 for dresses to between $950 and $6,300 for outerwear and furs. Asked to elaborate on what exactly “California eccentric” means, Nash-Taylor said, “We think that we are the most California people that ever lived, because in California we are outrageous. It’s our world, it’s our make-believe, crazy world of California.”
Then Skaist-Levy added, “The eccentric part of it is we love sweatpants, furs and T-shirts. We like dresses with leather jackets and sweatshirts, just mixing it up. It’s got to be, like, a bunch of different feelings. Never too dressy, not too casual.” As a rule of thumb, if they don’t want to wear it, it’s not in the line. The black crepe de chine dress — long-sleeve with mini shoulder pads — and black-and-white long-haired fur shrug Skaist-Levy was wearing are part of the lineup. Likewise Gela’s getup: a sequined crotchet peasant blouse worn with a python miniskirt. Slung around her hips was a python belt that dangled with a detachable fox tail.
That Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy trade in questionable taste has never been a question, just as the $200 million pay day-cultural lightning rod that their velour tracksuits with the word “Juicy” bedazzled across the rear end yielded cannot be argued with. After the designers sold their company to Liz Claiborne in 2003, it became a behemoth, with sales of $600 million in 2008, but not the happy friendship circle that it was at first. “When a company gets to be the size that Juicy is, it just can’t be whimsical,” said Nash-Taylor. “You’re supporting an entire floor in Saks or Bloomingdale’s or wherever. You’re designing into what numbers they were doing the month before. This is different.” They own 100 percent of Skaist-Taylor and have a staff of about 10 working for them. Still, they envision it as a lifestyle brand, and implicit in that is a brisk, big-numbers strategy.
Thus, they did not stop at clothes. “We have jewellllllry under $200,” sang Skaist-Levy, wiggling her fingers full of gold rings that bent over the knuckles.
“Booooooots!” they trilled, flexing their feet, shod in python stiletto booties with ankle buckles. Will they be produced? “Bing!” said Nash-Taylor. The whole shebang, from the clothes to the belts to the jewelry to the Czechoslovakian felt hats and oversize python clutches are up for production. They couldn’t resist going for broke. The terms of the Claiborne deal left them creatively pent up. Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy exited Juicy when their contracts expired in January 2010 under the agreement that they would honor an 18-month non-compete clause before launching another business. As soon as the time was up, “We were like woooooh!” said Skaist-Levy. “It was like being in jail for 18 months.” But they must have been refreshed, right? “Totally, oh my god,” she said.
“Wooooh!” squealed Nash-Taylor as Laura Love, the designated California girl/model for the preview strutted to the camera in a python skirt with a knit hat that looked like either a Roman gladiator helmet or a mohawk, depending on your point of view. There are more than 90 pieces in the collection, which the designers are styling themselves — “Hello!” said Skaist-Levy — for their show. Nash-Taylor described it as a “happening-slash-mini show-slash-presentation, with a movie.” They’re staging it in a parking garage, a decision made partially as an ode to L.A.’s car culture, and because, “We felt weird about [the tents] at Lincoln Center,” said Skaist-Levy. “I don’t know, it just seemed kind of anti.”
Besides, the garage can accommodate their creative whims, including a customized production by Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda of Kinmonth-Monfreda Design Project, the set designers behind the Costume Institute’s “Anglomania” show. Without revealing too much of what’s planned for the presentation, the designers said the film stars Theodora Richards in what they describe as their “California nature dream world” that includes a redwood scene, with a soundtrack chosen by Nash-Taylor’s husband, John Taylor, the bassist from Duran Duran.
Even at the height of Juicy fever, Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy never attempted a fashion show, so why now for their second act? “It organically didn’t happen with Juicy, because by the time it was what it was, it seemed pointless to do a show,” said Nash-Taylor. “Plus, by that point, Juicy really became cornered into this world of just tracksuits and T-shirts. What, would we have someone walking around in just tracksuits and T-shirts?”
For the record, the Skaist-Taylor line does include several styles of velour track pants. “They’re crazy. They’re sick,” said Nash-Taylor before clarifying her stance on the full tracksuit look. “We didn’t really wear them very often. We wore the bottoms with fur coats and T-shirts and Chanel blazers. The tracksuit, that just sort of became the crazy phenomenon.”