Taylor appeared on Broadway in the late 1970s and went on to become a film and television actress in the 1980s.
Skaist-Levy is the younger of the duo, and the more punk-rock-oriented. She gravitated to Los Angeles' thriving underground music scene in the late 1970s, and waited tables at the once-popular Sushi on Sunset. She married a musician-turned-director, Jeff Levy. In the late 1980s, Skaist-Levy took courses at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, and one class project required her to make a hat. That led to her own line of millinery, which she sold under the name Helmet at stores like Barneys New York and Fred Segal, the top Los Angeles fashion retailer.
Skaist-Levy also worked as a film stylist and knew former model/hipster boutique owner Tracey Ross, who introduced her to Taylor around 1988. About five years older than Skaist-Levy, Taylor had a drama degree from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University and lived in New York City after graduation. There she landed a role in the original Broadway production of Zoot Suit in 1979. She also appeared on television series like Taxi and Hill Street Blues, and had a bit part as a secretary in the 1984 Melanie Griffith thriller Body Double.
When Skaist-Levy and Taylor met, Taylor was expecting a child with her first husband, a musician named Chris Nash. Frustrated at the lack of stylish maternity wear in stores, she cut a pair of her prepregnancy jeans and sewed a panel into the waistline instead. The two women, whose friendship had been cemented by their love of fashion, decided to start a maternity-clothing line with just $200 each. They called it Travis, after Taylor's infant son, and their fledgling company thrived in the early 1990s with nearly $1 million in sales annually. But Skaist-Levy and Taylor were vexed by the relationship with store buyers.
Skaist-Levy and Taylor decided to license the Travis name to someone else and let them take over the maternity sector. They turned their sights to another forgotten segment of the fashion industry. Working in Taylor's one-bedroom Los Angeles-area apartment, they began designing a line of T-shirts in good, form-fitting fabrics and enticing colors; they named the business Juicy. The line sold between $21 and $30 a piece, and quickly began selling out at the specialty boutiques that carried them. Soon they had to recruit Taylor's cleaning woman to help with their shipping demands.
The Juicy line sold $1 million in its first year, and soon began appearing in department stores like Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. Skaist-Levy and Taylor expanded the line to include dresses, skirts, and other casual wear. By 1996, they had $5 million in sales, which helped bankroll their higher-end, cheekily named "Juicy Couture" line in fall of 1997. The line expanded to an entire range of casual wear for women and then men, too, and added jeans and even yoga wear, but the Juicy velour track suit remained the staple and the fashion must-have of the millennial era.
In 2003, Liz Claiborne bought the company for a reported $53 million and a percent of future sales, but Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy are still the heart of Juicy Couture, with responsibility for creative direction as well as day-to-day operations.
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