Gela Nash-Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy at Spring-Summer 2013 New York Fashion Week. Photo: Getty Images
What happens when a pair of designers establishes a line that becomes the symbol of an entire era?
For Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor, the L.A.-based best friends who founded Juicy Couture, the story goes something like this: the pair found a hip, tongue-in-cheek leisure brand out of their homes. In seemingly no time, the label becomes a cultural touchstone (appearing in movies like Legally Blonde and Mean Girls and on celebs, oh, everywhere); In 1999 Gela marries Duran Duran’s John Taylor, making her both rock and fashion royalty; Pam and Gela sell to Liz Claiborne in 2003 for $53.1 million and continue to help run the company.
Happily ever after? Not exactly.
Soon, the iconic terry cloth tracksuit that made them famous was so ubiquitous it took on a life of its own. So in 2010 Pam and Gela decided to leave Juicy Couture over creative disagreements with Liz Claiborne’s vision for expanding the brand. By the fall of 2012 they had already launched Skaist-Levy, which eventually morphed into Pam & Gela. The women say that not only were they the originators of the “athleisure” movement, but that their current rock-inspired line—which sells at Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s—is truer to who they are at this point in their lives.
A look from Pam & Gela’s Spring 2015 collection.
Yahoo Style: You gals wrote a book last year, called The Glitter Plan, which was sort of a guide to how to turn a simple idea into a major business venture.
Gela Nash-Taylor: It was always something we wanted to do at Juicy, the book is about giving back to people. It’s an entrepreneurial time, everyone wants to get out of college and invent an app. At the same time, it’s really a girly story about empowerment, two best friends who built a business and made it work, even in a corporate environment. And how you can do it without being Harvard grads. It’s not easy building a brand from the ground up.
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YS: I think of Mean Girls and Legally Blonde. There was a time when the pink Juicy tracksuit was such a clear signifier. It was everywhere. What did that moment feel like?
Pamela Skaist-Levy: It was really amazing for us. We’re two sort of normal girls who had an extraordinary experience. It kind of crept up on us, we lived away from the main fashion center, which is New York, and then all of the sudden, it was everywhere.
GNT: And I have to say, part of that success came organically from stylists, and it’s happening again with Pam & Gela, where stylists are requesting pieces for those L.A. It Girls. It’s tapping into that super cool casual thing that you want to where everyday. We’re not doing clothes that you want to wear to events, it’s rompers and sweats and logo tees.
PSL: It’s like a uniform in the way that Juicy Couture was a uniform and a world we created, a fun world with a sense of humor. I think back to your question…there was one moment when I was in Beverly Hills at the crosswalk and everyone was wearing Juicy. It was incredible. But it’s a different day, and we’re into different things.
Jennifer Lopez wears Juicy Couture in New York, 2001. Photo: Getty Images
YS: And this line feels a lot less about bright colors. It has more of a city feel to it, with a bit of an edge to it.
GNT: Everything we do is really autobiographical, and fashion changes. That’s always been a side of us. We already loved that edgy, boho California-cool thing. We did in the line Bird. Rock is part of our lifestyle, it’s a world we’ve always loved. And you’ve got to create clothes you want to wear today. We wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing that pink tracksuit now.
PSL: That was then, this was now.
GNT: I think in another world, Juicy Couture would have evolved into what this is today. You can’t stay in an era, everything changes, your eye changes. Juicy today would be different.
YS: There’s been a lot of talk about ‘athleisure’ lately. I’m thinking of Beyoncé’s collaboration with Topshop, for one. Does the concept of athleisure resonate with you?
PSL: Considering we created it, yeah. It’s who we are. Everybody’s sort of trying to recreate that thing; we kind of put that on the map. We had a pink tracksuit in the V&A Museum in London. I mean, Courrèges did it, Yves Saint Laurent did it, but we did it in a way that resonated with women everywhere. It comes down to the fact that people want to be comfortable but not in floppy gym wear.
Lindsay Lohan wears Juicy Couture in Hollywood, 2002. Photo: Getty Images
YS: So what’s do you think has changed the most about the business since you first started? Now it seems like everyone wants to be a designer.
PSL: I remember back when we started, talking to a little girl about terry and velour. She knew one was for spring and one was fall. Juicy Couture was like baby’s first designer, something in her mother’s closet she identified with. When Pam and I started nobody wanted to be a fashion designer, but with things like Project Runway it’s changed. More power to them.
GNT: I think it’s awesome if people want to go into the business, fashion is incredible but people don’t realize how much hard work it takes, it’s not all glamour all the time. People ask us, ‘Oh my god you guys really want to work that hard again?’ and we say, Hell yeah.
YS: So now that people can wear leather sweatpants out to dinner, is it the end of dressing up?
GNT: I don’t know if it’s the end of cocktail dressing, but everyone wants to look chic and be comfortable. L.A. has always done that. People don’t want to be the overdressed person at the party, so they now take a leather track pant and wear it with a heel. We’re exploring the lace sweatshirt: they look like leather and lace.
YS: So do you feel a sense of regret at where the Juicy tracksuit is now? It got kind of overexposed.
PSL: Yeah, of course. If it were our company we would have moved it on and that’s all in our book but…no regrets. We’re the two luckiest girls in the world, we wish Juicy all the best.