Pam and Taylor, Gela Skaist-Levy





Fashion designers

Born Pamela Skaist, c. 1964; married Jeff Levy (a musician, film director, and producer), c. 1986; children: Noah. Born Gela Jacobson, c. 1959; married Chris Nash (a musician; divorced); married John Taylor (a musician), March 16, 1999; children: Travis, Zoe (from first marriage). Education: Skaist-Levy: Studied at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles, CA, late 1980s. Taylor: Earned drama degree from Carnegie-Mellon University, c. 1983.

Addresses: Office —Juicy Couture, Inc., 12720 Wentworth St., Pacoima, CA 91331.

Career

Skaist-Levy had a millinery business in the late 1980s called Helmet and also worked as a film stylist; Taylor appeared on Broadway in the late 1970s and went on to become a film and television actress in the 1980s; the duo launched a line of maternity wear, Travis Jeans, c. 1989; created Juicy line of T-shirts, 1994, and Juicy Couture, 1997.

Sidelights

Pam Skaist-Levy and Gela Taylor founded their hugely successful Juicy Couture clothing company out of a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, California. Friends, Hollywood scenesters, and inveterate shoppers both, Skaist-Levy and Taylor created a company that became a major international player in fashion thanks solely to their shared vision and business sense. Their stylish velour track

Pam and Taylor, Gela Skaist-Levy
suits, in particular, virtually revolutionized the casual-wear market for women in 2002. "Before Juicy, women either looked sexy or casual," theorized Sunday Times writer Claudia Croft a year later. "After Juicy, they could pull off both looks at the same time. Every era has its defining fashion moment, and, right now, that moment belongs to Taylor and Skaist-Levy."

Skaist-Levy is the younger of the duo, and the more punk-rock-oriented. She gravitated to Los Angeles' thriving underground music scene in the late 1970s, and waited tables at the once-popular Sushi on Sunset. She married a musician-turned-director, Jeff Levy, whose credits include episodes of Roswell and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In the late 1980s, Skaist-Levy took courses at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, and one class project required her to make a hat. That led to her own line of millinery, which she sold under the name Helmet at stores like Barneys New York and Fred Segal, the top Los Angeles fashion retailer.

Skaist-Levy also worked as a film stylist and knew former model/hipster boutique owner Tracey Ross, who introduced her to Taylor around 1988. About five years older than Skaist-Levy, Taylor had a drama degree from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University and lived in New York City after graduation. There she landed a role in the original Broadway production of Zoot Suit in 1979. She also appeared on television series like Taxi and Hill Street Blues, and had a bit part as a secretary in the 1984 Melanie Griffith thriller Body Double.

When Skaist-Levy and Taylor met, Taylor was expecting a child with her first husband, a musician named Chris Nash. Frustrated at the lack of stylish maternity wear in stores, she cut a pair of her prepregnancy jeans and sewed a panel into the waistline instead. The two women, whose friendship had been cemented by their love of fashion, decided to start a maternity-clothing line with just $200 each. They called it Travis, after Taylor's infant son, and their fledgling company thrived in the early 1990s with nearly $1 million in sales annually. But Skaist-Levy and Taylor were vexed by the relationship with store buyers. Once, they designed a catsuit in shades of red, white, and blue, but their major store account balked. "They took one of these colour predictives," Taylor explained in a Times of London interview with Grace Bradberry. "Predictives" are what trend-alert companies send out, forecasting hot new colors for the coming seasons. "Then they recoloured it in lime green, tangerine and yellow checked—on a pregnant woman! We freaked out."

Skaist-Levy and Taylor decided to license the Travis name to someone else and let them take over the maternity sector. They turned their sights to another forgotten segment of the fashion industry. "The Hanes t-shirt really is an amazing product," Skaist-Levy explained in an interview with Larry Kanter of the Los Angeles Business Journal, "but it wasn't quite sexy enough. We made it sexy." Working in Taylor's one-bedroom Los Angeles-area apartment, they began designing a line of T-shirts in good, form-fitting fabrics and enticing colors; they named the business Juicy. The line sold between $21 and $30 a piece, and quickly began selling out at the specialty boutiques that carried them. Soon they had to recruit Taylor's cleaning woman to help with their shipping demands.

Early on, the "Juicys," as the pair became known, knew they were going to design simply what they themselves wanted to wear. They steered clear of ideas about trends or new fall colors. As Skaist-Levy told Times of London journalist Bradberry, "The designers who stay close to their philosophy are the designers you go out and buy. When it gets watered down by people telling you what you should think, and by lists that say, 'You should be making this, doing that,' it doesn't work. That's why so much fashion is the same—you look at predictives and everyone is filtering the same information."

Eventually the business duo moved their enterprise into a rather unglamorous section of Los Angeles, in a San Fernando Valley industrial park. It was a bare-bones operation, and Skaist-Levy joked in the Los Angeles Business Journal profile that "the only people who come here are our bankers—and they like to see that we keep our overhead low." Their sole extravagance was to keep the items manufactured at home—not overseas, as many clothing manufacturers do because labor costs in Asia or Central America are so much cheaper. From the start, Juicy T-shirts sported a label that read "Made in the Glamourous U.S.A." Taylor also explained their business strategy in the Times of London article. "We have a revolving line of credit that you have to have," she told Bradberry, but we always pay down zero because we never want to owe anybody anything . Instead, we took our profits and put them back in. We didn't take a salary for probably the first two years."

The Juicy line sold $1 million in its first year, and soon began appearing in department stores like Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. Skaist-Levy and Taylor expanded the line to include dresses, skirts, and other casual wear. By 1996, they had $5 million in sales, which helped bankroll their higher-end, cheekily named "Juicy Couture" line in fall of 1997. The line expanded to an entire range of casual wear for women and then men, too, and added jeans and even yoga wear, but the Juicy velour track suit remained the staple and the fashion must-have of the millennial era.

The Juicy track suit was photographed on the likes of Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Kate Moss, Cameron Diaz, and other style-setters, and appeared in some infamous shots, too: Mariah Carey wore one on her way into the hospital for nervous exhaustion, and Lizzie Grubman, the vilified Manhattan public-relations executive convicted of running over a Hamptons nightclub crowd with her SUV, wore one on her way to jail. Its was widely copied by lower-end manufacturers, but Taylor told Croft in the Sunday Times article that the knockoffs were not an issue. "You can't be put off by it, otherwise you become bitter and exhausted," she said.

Juicy Couture opened a boutique inside posh British fashion retailer Harvey Nichols in early 2003, and items were selling at a steady pace in more than a thousand stores. Skaist-Levy and Taylor, noted Bradberry in the Times, "have probably had more impact on the way women dress in their everyday lives than any catwalk designer in Paris or Milan." Even Vogue magazine did a lengthy feature for its April 2003 issue on the Juicy Couture phenomenon, taking Skaist-Levy and Taylor backstage to meet all their favorite designers at the real European couture shows. "A craze is upon us," enthused writer Sally Singer, "one that validates the lifestyle of the yoga-practicing, self-employed, cheerful, rock-'n'-roll soccer mom . It's nonfashion at its most fashionable, and it may be a moment, or it may be the future of the way we dress." Singer went on to note that Skaist-Levy and Taylor's Hollywood insider status and fun-loving personalities made their clothes the ultimate hipster wear. "What makes Juicy special is that, although the clothes are not fashion, they are the perfect complement to fashion," she asserted in the Vogue article. "They are worn by, and made by, women who follow the trends, the couture, the whole deal, and who know the difference between a silhouette or fabric that works, and one that just gets you by."

Skaist-Levy and Taylor's company had clocked sales of an astonishing $47 million in 2002, and the industry's heavy-hitters were courting them. Just as that Vogue article was going to press, Skaist-Levy and Taylor were signing with apparel powerhouse Liz Claiborne, Inc. The deal was rumored to be in the $90 million range, with Skaist-Levy and Taylor receiving an up-front cash payment of $39 million to split. Their company joined a stable of stylish labels acquired by Claiborne, including Laundry and Lucky Brand, and they remained co-presidents. "We got to a point with all these things we started adding to our line, from flip-flops to fur parkas, and we just wanted a sugar daddy to help finance what we want to do," Skaist-Levy explained to WWD 's Rose Apodaca Jones about the decision to sell. Separate Juicy lines of handbags, fragrance, footwear, and even home furnishings were planned.

As with anything in fashion, once the Juicy label became too popular, there was a bit of a backlash. In the late summer of 2003, a writer for London's Independent newspaper, Clare Dwyer Hogg, declared the still-ubiquitous Juicy velour track suit over, noting that what she termed "D-list" celebs were now wearing them. She spoke to one of those trend-predicting experts, who seemed to extract a bit of revenge on Skaist-Levy and Taylor for their independence of mind. "Juicy Couture is almost sneering at working class fashion and making fun of a lot of people," Martin Raymond of The Future Laboratory told Dwyer Hogg. "It's the slightly offensive approach to reality: looking at people's dreariness, buying into it and making a fad means that if you wear it, you are being a bit disingenuous and ironic."

With their entirely unironic business strategy, Skaist-Levy and Taylor's Juicy offices are still located in unfashionable Pacoima, California. Taylor's cleaning woman became their warehouse manager, and her teenage son, Travis, is now a future rock musician himself. Her surname, which went from Jacobson during her television career to Nash during her first marriage, became Taylor in 1999 when she wed musician John Taylor of Duran Duran. The legendary British group of the 1980s even reunited to help Skaist-Levy and Taylor out for the 1999 launch of Juicy Jeans.

Skaist-Levy and Taylor are sometimes called by another nickname they share in addition to "the Juicys"—"Fluffy." They were tagged with it when both showed up once to the same party wearing fluffy white fur pieces. Both like to dress in identical outfits, even for press opportunities, and each has a home in the Hollywood Hills. In addition to her son, Travis, Taylor is also the mother of a daughter, Zoe. Skaist-Levy became one of those Juicy-track-suit-sporting moms when her son, Noah, arrived in 2001. "My single girlfriends always ask me how to start a business," Taylor told Singer in the Vogue article. "Men tell them they have to go to a bank, do a business plan, borrow $60,000 to $100,000. If I'd started a business $60,000 in debt, I wouldn't have been able to get up in the morning. We learned from our experiences, and we were lucky." To which her best friend and business partner added, "We weren't lucky. We worked our [tails] off."

Sources

Periodicals

Evening Standard (London, England), July 30, 2001.

Financial Times, July 5, 2003, p. 4.

Independent (London, England), September 16, 2003, p. 4.

Los Angeles Business Journal, January 27, 1997, p. 8.

Sunday Times (London, England), June 8, 2003, p. 27.

Times (London, England), April 11, 2003, p. 6. WWD, April 17, 2003, p. 10.

Online

"Juicy Couture," Style.com, http://www.style.com/vogue/feature/040703/page2.html (August 25, 2004).

—Carol Brennan



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