Juicy Couture: A business that's oozing success

With their nearly waist-length hair, sky-high heels and matching outfits, the two co-founders of Juicy Couture look more like some of their high-style customers than their fellow corporate executives.

As it happens, that's the way they want it. Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor, a former Hollywood costume designer and an actress, respectively, have no patience for the stuff of supply chains and fine-print balance sheets. Given their company's surging success, no one's suggesting the pair should stress too much about spreadsheets. In June, they ended any pretense and gave up their titles of co-presidents of Juicy Couture at parent company Liz Claiborne liz to become co-creative directors so they can focus on what they love most: fashion.

In public, the women known as the "Juicy Girls" resemble retail celebrities. At their flagship store on Rodeo Drive here, teenage girls swoon when they spot the women doing a photo shoot. Sixteen-year-old Kristen Wahlen of Memphis asks if she can join them in a giant bird-cage prop so her mom can snap a picture. A girl in a hot pink polka-dot shirt, pink flip-flops and head scarf appears trancelike, mouthing "Bye" when Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor wave as she leaves the store.

Just a few years ago, Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor were running a lesser-known brand that shared the limelight at the Liz Claiborne company with more traditional women's designers such as Sigrid Olsen and Dana Buchman.

Since then, Juicy has wrested the spotlight away. The Juicy brand may rankle some parents for its high prices and risqué slogans, including "I'm a Juicy Girl," but no one can deny it's taking retail by storm. As classic clothiers, including Ann Taylor and Talbot's, struggle to reverse falling sales, this 12-year-old tracksuit company is expanding into every facet of fashion, from $45 computer mouse/pad sets to $180 charm bracelets to $2,000 couture dresses — and defying the economic slowdown.

When Liz Claiborne acquired the label five years ago, annual sales were about $50 million. Liz Claiborne said Wednesday that Juicy's sales for the first six months of this year were $288 million, up 52% from the same period in 2007. Juicy is, by far, the most profitable of the 25 Liz Claiborne brands, analyst Jennifer Black says, adding that it will likely end this year with close to $700 million in sales. Black, of Jennifer Black & Associates, says Juicy could become a $2 billion brand within five years. (By contrast, only in 2000 did Polo Ralph Lauren, a 40-year-old brand, became a $2 billion company.)

"There aren't a lot of innovative, fun, whimsical brands out there," says Black, who owns several Juicy Couture tracksuits. Of the stores, which are often pink and filled with giant decanters of candy, she adds, "They are just fun places to go."

Juicy Couture has encountered plenty of doubters along the way. Even now, Nash-Taylor says, they often aren't taken seriously in meetings.

"When they first launched, I respected them but thought they got kind of kitschy," says Andrei Najjar, interim CEO of Bonwit Teller. After getting "overly commercial," Najjar says, "they are creating a culture around their brand with groundbreaking marketing … and imagery that just grabs you."

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