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Beauty and the Beast

Can a former model and a heavy metal bad boy make fashion sense?

September 24, 2006|Elizabeth Khuri | Elizabeth Khuri is an assistant Style editor for West, a former managing editor of SOMA magazine and has written for Time, Women's Wear Daily and the Robb Report.

Here's something you don't expect Nikki Sixx to say: "There's just so much opportunity with layering."

And maybe you're surprised to see Kelly Gray, recently of the St. John line of durable knits for ladies, painted with glitter eye shadow at a Motley Crue concert, grinding to the music and blowing a kiss to Sixx onstage, where he snaps it up with his hand, licks it and swallows.

Of course they're an odd pair, the former heroin addict and the former corporate executive. That's part of the attraction of Royal Underground, their men's clothing line, which Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and other mainstream retailers will begin stocking in late October. Gray has the fashion industry chops, which helped sell the retailers, and Sixx the cool factor, which has totally sold 15-year-old Tim Farnsworth Jr. Leaving the Germain Amphitheater outside Columbus, Ohio, after the first stop in Motley Crue's "Route of All Evil" tour with Aerosmith, Tim declares that he will buy any Royal Underground garment that he can afford (probably none) for one reason: "Because Nikki designed it. I don't care what it looks like."

Royal Underground looks like this: Soft Italian leather jackets, classic blue and black jeans, cotton polo shirts in sea-foam green, 100% cashmere sweaters in browns and blacks, some articles embellished with shields and Old English iconography. (There are no skulls. "It would have been so expected," says Sixx, who has skull tattoos spiraling across his hands and on numerous other spots on his body.) The Royal Underground message is as simple as the clothing. "Come hang out with us," he says, "and you'll be cool."

When Gray, 39, met Sixx, 47, for the first time this year, he was in full Motley Crue regalia, and she was wearing Gucci and Prada. "He scared me," she says. "Before the first concert I had Googled Motley Crue and looked at their Web page, and the Web page looked so scary I said I couldn't go." But her friend Tommy Lee, Motley Crue's drummer, had invited her, so she gathered her courage and watched from a distance, safe near the lighting booth. When Lee introduced her to Sixx, "I called him Mr. Sixx and he never corrected me," she says and makes a face. The two bonded over lunch in late June. They went shopping together at stores from her world--Beverly Hills haunts like Neiman's and Saks--and discovered how much they have in common, including a love for luxurious fabrics and an appreciation for the details that make a garment work. That's when they decided the world could use another high-end menswear collection. "We thought there was an opening," Gray says, "to take the inspiration and the spirit of the rock industry, but do it with a twist. Real rock stars."

She's been in the fashion industry most of her life. Her parents founded the upscale St. John line in their San Fernando Valley garage in 1962, and their daughter started working for the company when she was 12. "My parents told me that a summer vacation would give me unrealistic expectations unless I was going to be a schoolteacher," she recalls. That wasn't in her future. She was St. John's only model for 15 years--a blond in conservative suits surrounded by handsome young men--and served as chief executive until 2005. The family sold a majority stake to Vestar Capital Partners in 1999.

Her parents support her venture with the spiky-haired, glam-rock bassist, whose trademark is spitting fake blood onstage. "I'm excited for her," Marie Gray says via Kelly's jewel-studded pink mobile phone as her daughter, on Sixx's tour bus, listens. "I think she's really good at what she does and I'm really proud of her." As for Sixx, whom she's gotten to know over the months, she says: "He's such a gentleman. When you look in his eyes the tattoos just blend away."

Sixx is indeed heavily painted, with the names of his four children, Japanese characters that represent "spirit," a big sun and more. He looks harder than he is. He quit heroin after nearly dying in 1987 of an overdose; adrenaline injections saved his life and inspired the song "Kickstart My Heart." Now he's hooked on Diet Coke and raising his kids, including Storm, 12, who is writing some of the copy for Royal Underground's promotional brochures. Dad's a writer too: His book, "The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star," will be published next year.

Fashion statements are part of Motley Crue's approach to heavy metal. Onstage, Sixx is all about leather, platform shoes, heavy eye makeup and hair products. He's been experimenting with clothes since high school, when he would buy suits and chop off the pants, add platform boots and a tie and spray his hair silver. He launched two other clothing lines--Outlaw U.S.A. and N. Sixx by Dragonfly--neither of them lucrative for Sixx. This time, he says, it will be different because of Gray. She doesn't disagree.

"I'm able to open doors," she says, "and the doors that I can't open, Nikki can."

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