The label, which targets women of almost all ages, has benefited from a move by many middle-age women to dress younger, a trend that the pair epitomizes. But it's young people, teens especially, who form its core clientele. Abby Fox of New Albany, Ohio, says that when a friend wore a Kohl's sweat suit jacket to middle school, kids kept coming up to see if it had the Juicy "J" on the zipper pull.
Asked how much "Juicy" she owns, Wahlen lists three purses, a laptop case, nearly 20 other pieces of clothing and accessories and 11 charms. Wahlen says she loves the stores and the brand's slogans, especially, "Dude, Where's My Couture?"
"So much of it is so unique, unlike anything else I could find anywhere else," she says of the products.
'The Juicy Girls'
Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor say girls often stop them, yelling, "It's the Juicy Girls!" and ask, "Are you guys really best friends?" or, "We're going to start our own business, too!"
"Celebrating friendship and girl power — that's very Juicy," says Skaist-Levy, 45.
Retail wasn't always such a heady experience for Skaist-Levy and Nash-Taylor, who doesn't disclose her age. After a foray into maternity wear starting in 1988, the women decided it was "too boring" and began designing and selling fashionable tracksuits in 1996. Nervous about piling up debt, they refused to borrow the kind of money that people told them they'd need — up to $100,000 by some estimates at the time. They managed to launch their business with little start-up money.
Yet, theirs isn't exactly a rags-to-riches story. Skaist-Levy is the daughter of a pediatric urologist. She grew up wearing Lacoste dresses and penny loafers, and remembers "secretly crying" at summer camp when she heard that Richard Nixon had resigned the presidency in disgrace.
It was feather boas and pointy glasses for Nash-Taylor, daughter of a former corporate executive who often advised the pair. She recalls an early obsession with "the clip-clop of high heels" and a strong affection for Nixon, as well. Nash-Taylor, who spent more than 10 years acting in soap operas and series, including Hill Street Blues, called herself "Miss Priss, the Hollywood Miss" as a child.
The business fared well but took off only after Skaist-Levy's childhood friend and now public relations chief, Janey Lopaty, sent a tracksuit to Madonna with "Madge" embroidered on it about seven years ago. To their delight, Madonna wore it in public. The tracksuits became Hollywood and Middle America favorites, in part for their cachet. That, and for often having the word "Juicy" emblazoned across the backside and hefty prices — now up to $350 for a matching velour top and bottom.
The 2003 acquisition by Liz Claiborne gave the women the capital needed to create a "Juicy World." Along with jewelry, dog accessories, baby clothes and school supplies, Juicy has moved into:
•Actual couture. The company launched a luxury line last year because, "We got tired of wearing other people's clothes," says Skaist-Levy, referring to other designers' evening wear. The clothes are made with Italian fabrics designed just for Juicy.
•Intimates. A full line of sleepwear and underwear is hitting retailers in time for back to school, with slogans including "Prep it up!"
•Expanded menswear. A sunglasses and men's fragrance line, Dirty English, was launched this year, and the whole menswear line will be renamed Dirty English in early 2009.