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It sounds like a well-trodden Tinseltown tale. But this one — detailed in retail maven Marcia Israel-Curley’s memoir, "Defying the Odds: Sharing the Lessons I Learned as a Pioneer Entrepreneur," published this month by Overlook Press — doesn’t go tripping down familiar paths.
Israel-Curley was Schenck’s lover, but she found passion on the shop floor — and no man since has matched up to the thrill she got from Judy’s, the chain of youthful fashion stores she nurtured from a shoebox space and sold as a $100 million-plus venture in 1989.
"When I look back, I think ‘Oh my God, it was fantastic,’" Israel-Curley says with a throaty sigh, relaxing into the sofa cushions of her Beverly Hills home. After she finishes promoting the book in a personal tour that includes stops from Deauville, France to Seventh Avenue, she’ll settle at home, with her Picasso sketches and drifting tomato-red Calder mobile, and dream of doing it all over again. "I sold Judy’s at the peak of my career, at the peak of my volume. And do I miss it? Oh, I miss it. I miss it so much."
Israel-Curley set the model for modern specialty stores by developing an "Exclusively for Judy’s" look of commissioned designs that matched, down to their bikini undies. The concept drew the youthful and chic: Sally Field, Jaclyn Smith, Twiggy, Barbra Streisand and Cher. In fact, 30 years ago, when Fairchild Publications launched WWD’s sister title W, many of the first subscribers came from Judy’s customer list .
And where the young and fashionable went, so went Judy’s, blaring Top-40 music over its speakers all along the way. In 1949, 20 years before Gap, Israel-Curley surreptitiously tried on a pair of Levi-Strauss workpants in the basement of Montgomery Ward, then bought some to resell to Judy’s most forward customers.