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Two free spirits

The designers behind Juicy Couture return with a boho line: Skaist Taylor

July 22, 2012|Caroline Ryder
  • "We're keeping things authentic and we’re keeping things us,” says Pamela Skaist-Levy, left, with Gela Nash-Taylor.
"We're keeping things authentic and we’re keeping things… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

With their matching paisley mini dresses, matching teal streaks in their hair and matching snakeskin booties, fashion designers Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor are a head-turning vision as they breeze into Soho House, two peas in a haute-hippie pod.

Their silhouette is all fierce bohemia -- Marrakech romance teamed with Studio 54 party vibes, with remnants of 1960s and '70s fashionistas Talitha Getty, Jerry Hall and Marianne Faithfull stitched into a casually glamorous daytime uniform.

"We call our look 'California Eccentric,' " says Skaist-Levy, ordering a pair of matching kale salads for Nash-Taylor and herself. It's a look that carries into their new women's clothing line, Skaist Taylor, debuting in stores in August and something of a departure from their past design endeavors.

Best friends for 23 years, the two have been business partners since 1996, when they founded Juicy Couture out of Nash-Taylor's one-bedroom apartment, giving birth to the velour tracksuit craze of the noughties. Between them, the women transformed the humble track pant from casual closet staple into premium must-have, "non-fashion at its most fashionable ... it may be the future of the way we dress," declared Vogue in 2003.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 22, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Skaist Taylor: Elsewhere in this edition, an Image section article about the fashion label Skaist Taylor said designer Gela Nash-Taylor is married to Duran Duran's Nick Taylor. His first name is John. The error was detected after the section went to press.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 29, 2012 Home Edition Image Part P Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Skaist Taylor: A July 22 article about the fashion label Skaist Taylor said designer Gela Nash-Taylor is married to Duran Duran's Nick Taylor. His first name is John.

Tracksuits were priced around $200, the pants coming complete with cute "Viva La Juicy" or "Juicy Bling" mantras, sometimes written saucily across the buttocks.

The apogee of comfort-based utilitarianism, the Juicy tracksuit seems diametrically opposite to the free-spirited, eclectic gypsetter look they're championing today in their new line. Times have changed.

Juicy came into being in the era of Hollywood comfort-bling, when denim was embellished and embroidered, and T-shirt logos were gothic and silvery. New York winced as Los Angeles exploded with these cheerful homages to conspicuous consumption. By the mid-2000s, you couldn't open Us Weekly without seeing Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan or Nicole Richie in top-to-toe Juicy, clutching a Starbucks cup or a small dog, or both.

The runaway success of the tracksuits came as somewhat of a surprise to Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor, who were never quite as obsessed with their creation as the rest of America seemed to be.

"We loved the track pants, but we didn't really wear the head-to-toe tracksuits," Nash-Taylor confesses. "But those things had a life of their own. We were, like, 'OK ... I guess we better hold on and go for the ride.' " (It's true that if you go to Google Image and search for Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor during the Juicy era, you won't find many photos of them wearing the tracksuits -- rather, the top hats, feathers, silk, dyed fox furs and lace foreshadow their current line.)

Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor loved the pretty mini caftans and other boho looks they also designed for Juicy, as did their celebrity fans. But it was the tracksuit that became iconic, dominating the brand's identity, proliferating in malls and on college campuses across the United States.

In 2003, with Juicy in more than 1,000 stores around the world and annual sales of nearly $50 million, Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor sold the company to Liz Claiborne Inc. (now Fifth & Pacific Cos.), netting more than $200 million, they say. The BFFs had officially hit the big time.

They hated it. Not the money, but being part of a huge company -- Fifth & Pacific also owns Kate Spade, Jack Spade and Lucky Brand Jeans. And they hated losing creative control of the brand.

They stuck around for seven years before parting ways with Fifth & Pacific. "We stayed at that party waaaay too long," Skaist-Levy, 49, says. "We should have grabbed our coat and our shoes and gone home."

Nash-Taylor, 53, adds, "Juicy, even though it was the most amazing ride ever, it stopped being fun. And that was hard."

They left Juicy Couture in 2010 and would have jumped straight into a new project were it not for the non-compete clause of their contract, which barred them from starting any new businesses for 17 months. This enforced sabbatical turned out to be the best thing that could have happened, they say, a sort of "Eat Pray Love" moment during which they were able to reconnect with their inner designers and manifest the new line.

Nash-Taylor hung out in London with her husband, Nick Taylor of the band Duran Duran, soaking up the scene at flea markets and vintage shows.

"There's a lot of noise in the world of fashion," Nash-Taylor says. "You're bombarded with images and politics and marketing ... but that time allowed me to think about the things I really wanted to wear and make. It took me back to basics, to all the things that I believed in and liked."

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