Included in a time capsule of the aughts would have to be a velour Juicy Couture tracksuit—preferably in Barbie pink (Paris Hilton’s preferred hue.) In episode 4 of In Vogue: The 2000s, company co-founders Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor share their journey from the San Fernando Valley to Paris.
The pair’s starting point is as important as where they ended up, because Juicy Couture was essentially exporting the California dream (sun, stars, swimming pools, surf) in the form of “casual luxury” across the globe, and delivering it with a little levity and a lot of (celebrity) sparkle. Juicy Couture clothes were flirtatious, photogenic, and fun, but they were also directional in their dressed-up, sporty casualness. “We sort of made athleisure fashion,” says Skaist-Levy. “Who wouldn’t want to feel sexy and comfortable, dressed in casual luxury? Comfort is king.”
The emergence and success of the brand signaled a shift in the fashion industry itself, notes head of fashion direction at Amazon, Sally Singer, who in 2003, as director of fashion news and features at Vogue, featured Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor in the magazine. “I think that the Juicy story sort of made the point, more than ever, that personal style and fashion can come from a lot of places,” she says. “And that’s not a crisis, that’s a joy. I think, maybe before that, people were a little more protective of fashion and thought fashion had to be in this rarefied space, for fancy people. And Juicy sort of made the point that, no, fashion is all around you.”
The Juicy story starts in 1998, when Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor first met and instantly became BFFs. After briefly playing around with maternity wear, the two embarked on their fashion journey with high-end T-shirts in a rainbow of 26 different colors. The high/low brand’s name was both a sassy provocation and “a clever strategic move,” observes Hamish Bowles, because “real haute couture and the mass production of garments that were the mainstay of the Juicy brand were worlds apart.” Over time, the label’s fan base would grow to include couturiers, thanks, in the main, to the terry tracksuit that made its debut in 2001.
Part of the tracksuit’s winning formula was fit. They “really made your body look insanely great, and that was very important,” says Skaist-Levy. “We cheated seams forward. The pants were a little low.” The ability to be exude sex appeal while dressing comfortably was a win-win. At the same time, the brand was engaged with larger cultural currents, including the popularization of self-care and celebrity culture. “Yoga culture was growing, sort of après gym culture was growing,” notes Singer. “They caught a moment. And they caught a moment that was a very west coast moment. And it was clever,” she continues. “I think the tracksuit before was a thing you put on when you’d given up on yourself in fashion. And they actually made the tracksuit the thing you put on because you are that hot, and you are interested in fashion. And that was a really big change.”
Also novel was Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor’s marketing savvy. Their technique of gifting products, uncommon then, has become an industry norm. “Because we didn’t know the fashion rules, we just made it up as we went along,” says Skaist-Levy. The direction they were moving in was one-way: Up.
Within two years, the Juicy phenomenon—as seen on TV (notably The Simple Life), in tabloids, at airports and malls—was indisputable, like it or not. And some really did not: “Most people in the fashion world thought we were the killers of fashion,” notes Nash-Taylor. But the haters were greatly outnumbered by fans, including people in the highest echelons of the industry, as became clear when Singer brought the duo to the couture shows for a feature that ran in Vogue. “My interest in Juicy Couture was much more around why John Galliano wanted to wear them or why Karl Lagerfeld wanted to wear them,” she says.
Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor arrived in Paris with monogrammed two-pieces for the great designers, which were great hits. But that’s not all they delivered. “They were so happy all the time. And people in fashion are almost never happy. They were so smiley. They were so present. Everybody sort of paid attention to them, and everybody wanted a tracksuit, everybody,” recalls Singer. “I think we were afraid that the fashion world would not embrace us,” says Skaist-Levy, “but secretly it was their guilty pleasure.” Now, in these days of ’00s nostalgia, it is again.
Listen to the fourth episode of the In Vogue: The 2000s podcast now.
In Vogue: The 2000s is presented by Anna Wintour, and produced by Vogue. Episode 4, “From Pacoima to Paris: A Very Juicy Story,” features interviews with, in order of appearance, Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Sally Singer, Kate Young, and Rachel Zoe. Vogue’s editorial team is Mark Holgate, Nicole Phelps, and Laird Borrelli-Persson. Hosted by Hamish Bowles.
Originally Appeared on Vogue