June 4, 2014 at 5:05 PM ET
In "The Glitter Plan," Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor expound on their efforts to transform Juicy Couture from a simple idea about contemporary women's clothing into one of the most iconic brands in the world. Here's an excerpt.
The thing that’s great about a small, entrepreneurial work environment is that the people working with you become like a family.
It was a fun, crazy place. In the office, our favorite toy was the intercom system. We sang over the loudspeaker, we talked over the loudspeaker, we told jokes and did funny voices. Everyone felt the excitement of the brand momentum. When you walked into Juicy Couture, you had to pass by our office. The door was never closed, and we listened to our employees. As an entrepreneur, you have to be open to suggestions. It took all of us to take the brand to the next level. Everyone brought something to the party that was part of who we were and what we became. When companies get bigger, everybody just wants to stay in their lane and not make waves
We wanted to hear what everyone was feeling about the fit, feel, and overall vibe of the collection because the women who worked with us were the women we wanted to dress. We all tried everything on—that was our culture. And we knew we had a hit when everyone in the office became obsessed with a product, from the funkiest girl to the most conservative girl. We weren’t divas or megalomaniacs. Ideas got thrown into the pot, and sometimes they stuck. We wanted the Warhol Factory, or maybe we should call it the Glitter Factory—an amazing, creative place where not only could our company grow, but our employees could thrive, too.
We were selling tops and jeans. But Juicy Couture needed more, more, more, if it was going to become a full fledged lifestyle brand. Shaller kept telling us to design knit pants to go with the tops, fill out the line, and grow the business, because knit pants would be a natural progression from our origins in the knit top business. It was the right instinct, because even when you introduce new products, you still have to be true to that first thing that’s you. For Ralph Lauren, it’s the polo shirt. For us, it was the T-shirt. But knit pants? They didn’t seem like something we would wear . . . more like something our grannies would wear. We couldn’t get past the idea that they would be clingy and unflattering, and we were superconcerned about . . . well, let’s just say it rhymes with “mammal show.”
But the idea of pants that matched the Juicy colors of our shirts was something that resonated with us. We had long conversations about how we wanted to design a modern-day uniform of coordinating pieces that women could throw on to create a monochromatic look and instantly feel put together. (One of the alternate names for our company, if you remember, was Uniform.) We wanted a no-brainer, Garanimals wardrobe experience—a chic Garanimals wardrobe experience. If you don’t know, Garanimals is a line of children’s clothing launched in 1972 on the idea of easy-to-match separates. Each item features an anthropomorphic character on the hangtag, so children can easily dress themselves by choosing matching items with matching hangtags. We wanted to create a similar thing, only for adults, fashionable, luxurious, and minus the hippo-on-hippo action.
We also figured that a coordinating world would be easily shoppable. We loved the idea that if you went into the store and picked out this pair of baby-blue pants, boom, you had a baby-blue T-shirt and cashmere sweater that matched it. We wanted to take the mystery out of putting together an outfit and be the stylists to the world. And although we didn’t know what it was called per se, that skill was merchandising.
We looked back to the brands we lived in when we were growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, for ideas about everything from color and fit to trim and packaging. One brand was Dittos, which made Farrah Fawcett’s favorite, high-waist jeans in dozens of bright colors, with saddle-back yokes to flatter the butt. Landlubber jeans were hip huggers with the perfect flared leg, and MacKeen jeans came with a collectable metal keychain attached, which girls used to wear like charms hanging off their purses. Another influence was LA designer Nancy Heller, who started her company in 1973 with buttery-soft, French-made T-shirts and later expanded into casual, colorful separates. Then there was New Hero, another amazing LA brand, founded in 1974, that made 100 percent cotton drawstring pants and matching tops with three-quarter-length sleeves and two strings at the neck that never tied. Those New Hero sets, which were as comfortable as pajamas, came in tons of colors, too.
In early 2000, we started playing with two different design concepts. One concept was a line of hip-hugging, Dittos-like twill pants in bright colors that matched our T-shirts. And we really believed it was the one that was going to take us to the next level. But just in case, we had another concept—a line of terry-cloth tops and bottoms. We thought terry cloth was the most amazing 1970s fabric, and Gela had found the mother lode of terry-cloth inspiration while she was shopping like a maniac on that first trip to Japan. It was the T-shirt that changed history, as it turned out.
Excerpted from THE GLITTER PLAN: HOW WE STARTED JUICY COUTURE FOR $200 AND TURNED IT INTO INTO A GLOBAL BRAND, copyright (c) 2014 by Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor. Used with permission by Gotham Books, a division of The Penguin Group, all rights reserved.