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560 boutiques and counting

Stacia Diamond and Joe Pham have quickly built a hot-selling line.

March 16, 2006|Valli Herman

AS veterans of the tough, trendy and fast-moving juniors fashion business, Stacia Diamond and Joe Pham became quick studies on what works and what doesn't.

And what doesn't is style that costs a fortune and has a short expiration date.

What does are pieces that add just enough edge to look different from everything else in the closet.

In about a year and a half, they've built their new young designer collection, Jak&Rae, into a hot-selling women's line that's in 560 boutiques and, they expect, 1,000 more by year's end. That kind of goal has Diamond working a month straight without a day off, and Pham making emergency trips to Paris.

Starting the company together was hard too. "We wanted to work together for about five years," Diamond says. "I tried to go to his company, and he tried to come to mine. Nothing seemed to click."

Several years ago while she was working for Hot Kiss, Diamond dreamed of a contemporary sportswear collection that would blend vintage styling with feminine touches with masculine tailoring -- something she'd love to wear. Then she thought of Pham, a designer she knew in the small world of Los Angeles contemporary fashion.

"It's very costly to do a line on your own," says Diamond, 34. They're an unlikely duo: She's a tattooed, high-energy, fast-talking mother of two; he's from a family of doctors who moved from Vietnam to Torrance when he was 4 years old.

"I'm business. He's creative," Diamond says of their division of labor. That may be how it breaks down on their business cards, but in practice they're true collaborators.

"I see things I love, and I show it to her," says Pham, who shops vintage around the world.

Theirs is a partnership within a partnership. The collection is owned by Hot Kiss, a $30-million junior sportswear brand that offers nearly everything -- except, that is, clothes to mature into. Enter Jak&Rae and pieces in quality fabrics that a woman can wear to the office, the movies or the sexy new lounge.

"We knew exactly what was missing in the market. No one was going back to old techniques, old tailoring," Pham says, showing cuffs hemmed with lace trim, stitched welted seams and category-defying separates.

He'll rework a vintage men's sweater into a luxurious women's wrap-around cardigan or, on Diamond's advice, modify high-waist pants to fit more shoppers. Now they sell the $150 to $600 pieces to Lisa Kline, Dari, Sirens & Sailors and Fred Segal Santa Monica.

And who knows, maybe years from now, they'll be scanning the vintage racks and find an early piece -- of Jak&Rae.


Two on the town

Favorite people watching: Him, the lobby at the Roosevelt Hotel. Her, airports and at home with her 13-year-old daughter's friends.

Best downtime: Her, trips to Blockbuster where she and the two kids each get a movie. Him, cooking, or hiking through the Santa Monica Mountains.

Favorite restaurant: Her, Katsu-ya in Studio City, for sesame tuna. Him, Taste on Melrose: "I hate stuffy places where you have to dress up."

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