Shelli Segal





Fashion designer

Born c. 1955, in Dallas, TX; daughter of Jerry (a comedy writer) and Ann (a nightclub singer; maiden name, Benson) Segal; married Moshe Elimelech (a graphic designer), c. 1987; children: Dena, Sam (twin daughters). Education: Attended the State University of New York—Purchase, 1972, and the Mayer School of Fashion Design, c. 1972-74.

Addresses: Office —Laundry by Shelli Segal, 5835 Southeastern Ave., Commerce, CA 90040.

Career

Began at a junior dress company, Ruth Manchester, 1974; also worked for two other New York City apparel firms, St. Michel and Andre Bini, before 1981; during the 1980s and early 1990s, designed clothing for Leon Max, La Blanca sportswear, TKO, Leo, and Jolie Madame; had signature line for JM Studio; hired as chief designer for the Laundry label, 1992; company acquired by the Liz Claiborne apparel group, 1999.

Sidelights

Shelli Segal is the press-shy designer behind the contemporary sportswear and dress label "Laundry by Shelli Segal." One of the top-selling women's lines in scores of American department stores, Segal's Laundry is known for its cutting-edge design and appealing colors and prints. She is a design veteran of both New York's Seventh Avenue Garment District and its more exuberant Los Angeles cousin, and possesses a sharp eye for the kind of casual but sexy clothing that best exemplifies California chic.

Segal is the sister of actor and director Robby Benson, who uses their mother's maiden name as his professional one. Born in the mid-1950s in Dallas, Texas, the future brand name grew up in a show-business family: her father, Jerry Segal, was a comedy writer, while mother Ann Benson Segal continued to work as a nightclub singer even when she was a full-time parent. "I grew up in nightclubs," Segal recalled in an interview with Dan Jewel for People. "My childhood memories are of seeing my mother onstage in sexy costumes looking like Marilyn Monroe."

Segal's family eventually relocated to New York City, and settled on Manhattan's Upper West Side. She entered the entertainment business herself at the age of six, when she was cast in a summer-stock production of the musical The King and I. She told Jewel, however, that she "would get hysterical crying when the king would die every night," she said in the People article. "So I knew showbiz wasn't for me." She sewed from an early age, but ventured back into entertainment when she was accepted at the prestigious High School of Music and Art in New York City. She graduated in 1972, and went on to the State University of New York at Purchase. An accident with a circular saw in woodworking class finally compelled her to choose between career paths, however: she lost part of her left index finger, and had to quit school. She underwent plastic surgery on it, and the forced recuperative lull, she later admitted to Jewel, "gave me a sense of immediacy and urgency. I was always interested in fashion—so I went for it."

Enrolling at the Mayer School of Fashion Design in New York City, Segal did a nine-month course and found a job with a company called Ruth Manchester in 1974, which made a junior dress line out of the slinky new synthetic fabrics that were relatively recent arrivals in the fashion industry. Show business remained near, however, because Manchester was the mother of singer Melissa Manchester. Segal went on to jobs with two other New York City companies that made women's clothing, St. Michel and Andre Bini. In 1981, when her brother—now a full-fledged star—and parents moved once again, this time to Los Angeles, she followed.

Segal easily found design jobs in the burgeoning fashion industry in southern California. She worked for a sportswear line, and designed children's togs as well. Companies she was affiliated with during this era include Leon Max, La Blanca sportswear, TKO, and JM Studio, which let her do a signature line for its contemporary division. She later designed for two other companies, Leo, which made junior-contemporary gear, and Jolie Madame, a dress manufacturer. Since the clothes were made in the Los Angeles area, Segal no longer was forced to travel regularly to Asia, as she had with the New York jobs. In a WWD article from 1986 about up-and-coming American designers, she told Maureen Sajbel that "the most obvious advantage to making my line here in Los Angeles is that when there is a problem . I don't have to solve it with a telex and a prayer."

Segal was hired at Laundry in 1992 as its head designer. Launched a few years earlier, Laundry was a contemporary dress and sportswear line that was a division of a junior sportswear firm owned by entrepreneur Anthony Podell. Its first designer had been Katayone Adeli, who went on to her own successful ready-to-wear career. The company was thriving by the time Segal joined, with $12 million in sales, but her spirited, fashion-forward designs soon made the company an industry powerhouse. A year later, Laundry posted $28 million in sales, and five years after "Laundry by Shelli Segal" debuted, the company hit the $75-million sales mark. Laundry became so successful that Podell closed down the company's other divisions and transferred all employees over to Segal's Laundry offices. Laundry eventually morphed into a five lines: sportswear, contemporary dresses, social occasion and bridal, knitwear, and weekend sportswear. Each had its own designer, but all reported to Segal.

Segal's Laundry line, with its trendy, slim-fitting designs, became a major seller for all department stores that carried it, including Lord & Taylor, Macy's, and Bloomingdale's. There had never been a major ad campaign, but the company did hire a firm to place its designs on female stars of top-rated television shows. Segal's clothing was worn onscreen by Buffy the Vampire Slayer 's Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Aniston's character on Friends, and X-Files star Gillian Anderson.

In 1997, Segal's line opened a flagship store on Wooster Street in New York City's SoHo neighborhood, and by then it also had premium retail space inside stores like Bloomingdale's. Two years later, it was acquired by Liz Claiborne Inc., which owns or holds licenses for a number of top women's clothing labels, including DKNY and Lucky Brand. The deal was reportedly struck for a purchase price in the neighborhood of $40 to $50 million. "We've had Laundry on our radar screen for a long time," Liz Claiborne chair Paul R. Charron told WWD when the deal was announced. "We have admired the creativity of Shelli Segal. She is a talented designer."

Despite the fact that Segal's Laundry line came under a major corporate umbrella, she remains its Los Angeles-based designer. She is married to a graphic designer, with whom she has twin daughters, Dena and Sam, born in 1996. They were toddlers when she gave the People interview, in which she told Jewel that she liked to outfit them as "little biker chicks," in tough boots and tank tops. "I can't stand frills," Segal joked.

Sources

People, January 12, 1998, p. 105.

WWD, May 28, 1986, p. S38; May 7, 1997, p. 12; August 4, 1998, p. 1; October 8, 1999, p. 2.

—Carol Brennan



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