On the Right Track

In the beginning, there was the tracksuit.

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Retail expansion is a top priority for Juicy.

Photo By George Mayo Henderson

A spring 2006 look.

Photo By John Aquino

In the beginning, there was the tracksuit.

Slim-fitting, low-slung, fuzzy in its options of terry or velour and ultimately utterly sexy, the tracksuit Juicy Couture introduced in 2001 instantly became the required uniform for L.A. women, famous and otherwise. And just so, it was coveted by masses of teenage girls, “Sex and the City”-obsessed singletons and “yummy mummies” internationally eager to cop the casual luxe that embodied Los Angeles style.

Juicy Couture and its founders, Gela Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy, came to represent more than another fashion brand. The duo — brimming with California cool served up in a self-effacing quirkiness that continues to shout, “Girls just wanna have fun” — showed early marketing savvy, putting themselves out in front of the cameras and brandishing “Love P&G” across clothing labels and T-shirts.

They wrote the book on product placement through the Hollywood suite, in those early days inviting celebrities, stylists and editors to the Chateau Marmont penthouse and presenting them with tracksuits.

But even this duo, driven and dynamic as they were, knew that fulfilling the promise of becoming a lifestyle power brand would take more than wit, instinct and guts.

“We call it the ‘Peter principle,’” Taylor said recently, referring to her friend, Hard Rock founder Peter Morton. “There comes a point in business where it outgrows you and those around you, and you have to really give it a hard look and determine whether it’s time to relinquish some control to get to the next level. We realized it was time for us to do that.”

So in March 2003, Liz Claiborne Inc. acquired 100 percent of Juicy Couture. The price tag was reportedly between $38 million and $40 million. Based on information included in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing made by Claiborne, the company could end up paying $98 million or more to the founders — who remain under contract as salaried co-presidents.

At the time of the deal — the casual luxe brand was the 31st in the company’s stable — Liz Claiborne chairman and chief executive Paul Charron said that “with its appeal to a more fashion-conscious and affluent consumer, Juicy Couture adds another dimension to our portfolio, further broadening our ability to offer apparel and accessories across a wide range of consumer lifestyles and tastes.”

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