Atop a rooftop garden in Manhattan, models stood carefully positioned across a well-manicured lawn, framing a still-full pool clinging to the waning days of summer. The group donned an eclectic mix of athletic tracksuits, vibrant striped jumpsuits and flowing floral sundresses.
The display was for Juicy Couture’s New York Fashion Week presentation last month, its first in years. As crowd-goers milled about the models, while snapping pictures on their phones and posting videos to Instagram, one particular attendee caught their attention. There, wearing a yellow bedazzled velour sweatshirt and clutching a small Chihuahua, was Paris Hilton.
For a moment, it was as if New York had been transported to the early aughts, an era when the heiress and socialite was in her heyday and often spotted wearing Juicy tracksuits in Hollywood and on her reality show, “The Simple Life.” With the help of fans including Hilton, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez, Juicy became one of the most coveted brands of the time, before it slowly faded into obscurity.
To the more discerning eye, the 2017 version was a very different Juicy Couture from the brand Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor started in Los Angeles in 1997. And the show was, in essence, the start of a brand comeback tour, meticulously crafted and executed by the licensing company Authentic Brands Group.
Paris Hilton at the Juicy Couture show in September
The ABG approach
Founded in 2010, Authentic Brands Group was formed as a brand development company backed by private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners. It now includes 28 companies spanning several categories across entertainment, sports and lifestyle. The latter, which includes Juicy Couture, is one of its more rapidly growing areas, and includes a number of other brands like Frye, Jones New York and Aeropostale.
ABG has a certain attraction to wayward brands. The company acquired Juicy in October 2013 for $195 million. A few months later, the brand announced it would close all stores in the United States. While from an outside perspective, Juicy appeared to be in demise, it was entering a new phase; at the same time, ABG was formulating its behind-the-scenes strategy to reinvent the brand.
Sitting in a conference room in the middle of ABG’s vast office of showrooms and framed portraits of celebrity partners in Midtown Manhattan, Natasha Fishman, evp of marketing, explained that ABG’s acquisition strategy is quite involved. While the brands it acquires have certainly “been around the block,” she said the team is strategic about vetting consumer and retailer sentiment to assess a viable comeback.
“There’s a simple criteria: It’s about what baggage, if any, is associated with that brand. If we look at our portfolio, every time we acquire a brand, the brand doesn’t have baggage. There’s not a sour taste in the mouths of consumers or retailers.”
In the case of Juicy, what ABG saw was a brand ripe for a revamp. The acquisition coincided with a shift in popular style that was moving toward athleisure and a return to heritage brands, creating a demand for a new Juicy Couture.
Fishman said ABG developed a two-pronged approach, starting with strengthening Juicy’s international markets, where 250 storefronts remained standing, by expanding into growing regions like the Middle East and countries like Hong Kong. This would serve as a financial foundation to begin transforming the U.S. market. Back in the states, the approach needed to be a bit more nuanced. It was, after all, a brand steeped in Hollywood culture that had resonated with consumers at a very specific time and place.
Kim Kardashian, an early fan of the brand, who helped bring it to popularity
“This is an L.A.-based brand. It’s an American-based brand. You can’t get more Hollywood and more L.A. than Juicy Couture. Those roots, and maintaining those roots, was essential,” Fishman said.
ABG focused on building out the website in the U.S. and driving shoppers to e-commerce, then got to work selecting brand ambassadors and influencers that could promote Juicy Couture on social media. Using proprietary technology, developed in part by ABG, the company identified the most impactful influencers in each market, while at the same time developing new brand guidelines and visual assets to unify the aesthetic.
It worked. By 2015, Juicy had spreads in magazines and was gaining traction on social media. The brand was well on its way to meeting its goal of being back in U.S. stores by fall 2016 and reopening standalone shops by 2018.
Among the most significant components of Juicy’s transformation was its partnership with Behati Prinsloo, a popular model known for working with Victoria’s Secret, who teamed with the brand on a collection of apparel and accessories. Prinsloo brought a fresh, famous face to the campaign, and simultaneously helped breathe life into its designs while maintaining its classic elements.
This refreshed style ultimately won over Bloomingdale’s, which was drawn to the nostalgic marketing of Prinsloo in a velour track jacket. The $40 million dollar retail partnership ultimately served as Juicy’s entryway back into U.S. retail.
“It was [the Prinsloo] collab that opened a lot of doors that had previously been only slightly ajar for Juicy. The U.S. wasn’t quite ready for Juicy again, but the capsule was really the impetus for that dialogue to open up in a new and unique way,” said Fishman.
Building upon the success of its partnership with Prinsloo, ABG began seeking out other collaborations. By a stroke of good luck, Vetements tapped Juicy Couture to be part of its Paris Fashion Week show in July 2016, joining brands like Levi’s and Manolo Blahnik for the collection that was entirely formed of joint brand collabs.
Vetements collaboration with Juicy Couture at Paris Fashion Week in 2016
The all-red ensemble, with “Juicy” emblazoned in crystals on the arms and backside of the model created much buzz; the single look alone drove more media coverage than any of the participating brands, said Fishman.
The stars were beginning to align. By fall 2016, Juicy had reached its goal of returning to U.S. retail. In addition to Bloomingdale’s, it had deals with stores including Aritzia, Urban Outfitters, Lord and Taylor and Nordstrom. As its retail partners grew, so did its clout.
The power of nostalgia
Riding on the coattails of the Vetements runway show and increased brand visibility, Juicy moved into 2017 in a position of confidence. It took this a step further in July with the appointment of celebrity stylist Jamie Mizrahi as creative director of the brand. She already had a vast social media following and is well established in the Los Angeles fashion scene. The announcement of her role came just two months before Juicy’s appearance at New York Fashion Week.
“The inspiration behind spring 2018 was updated nostalgia. It was a slight nod to Richard Avedon, Jean Shrimpton — a bit late sixties, early seventies,” Mizrahi told Fashion Week Daily. “I was looking to bring back the things that original Juicy fans all know and love about the brand, and the feeling the clothing evoked: fun, wearable clothes that don’t take themselves too seriously, in bright colors [and] in terrycloth, velour, and linen.”
Jamie Mizrahi with celebrity client and friend, Nicole Richie
Tapping into nostalgia has been particularly lucrative for the fashion industry, particularly when sportswear is involved. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, the number of athleisure items sold in the U.S. market increased by 58 percent, according to data from retail analytics firm Edited. This was in part propelled by new collections and celebrity partnerships by brands including Adidas Originals, Vans, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Champion that sell particularly well at millennial-frequented retailers.
“Brands like Champion, Fila and Nautica tap into retro sports, which sit at the intersection of two powerful trends, athleisure and the ’90s, that have dominated the fashion landscape over the last two years,” said Katie Smith, senior analyst at Edited. “At a time when the global political climate is fractious, there’s comfort in a certain kind of nostalgia.”
The trend continues to bode well for Juicy Couture. Though the hype around athleisure and heritage brands is bound to wind down, the Juicy brand has legs, said Rony Zeidan, founder of branding agency RO NY.
“Whether you liked the Juicy tracksuits or not, they became a cultural icon in America. There’s a cycle where these things can come back, and come back even stronger,” he said.