After decades of inspired merchandising that made its mark on the landscape and culture of Los Angeles, helped define "California cool," brought new designers and brands into the mainstream and, ultimately, revolutionized the retail industry, Fred Segal died this year at the age of 87.
Segal himself hadn't owned his eponymous retailer for many years, but the store and his many innovations carried on. His ideas from years ago include shop-in-shops, new designer and brand incubations, pop-up shops and brand collaborations. But it's not just that those concepts are now indelible features in retail. It's also that Fred Segal — the concept, the retailer, the brand — lives on. A couple of iconic Fred Segal locations remain fixtures of Malibu and West Hollywood; the name and logo are still name-dropped in popular culture to signify laid-back Southern California luxe. In many ways, though, under new ownership, Fred Segal is also just getting started.
Jeff Lotman, the founder of brand licensing company Global Icons, which bought Fred Segal in 2019, sees plenty in Fred Segal's past on which to base a comeback. The company this year revived 80s sportswear favorite Camp Beverly Hills, for example, and the response so far has exceeded expectations, Lotman said by phone.
"Because we're 60 years old, we have this authenticity," he said. "We play in the 60s, we play in the 70s, we play in the 80s, we play in the 90s. And there have been so many brands that have been birthed at Fred. You look at Kate Spade, you look at Juicy [Couture], you look at Hard Candy, you look at Origins ... all these brands started at Fred Segal. Things that have been go-to words today, the pop-up, collaboration, Fred was doing for the longest time. It's about being true to who you are, and when you have that ability, that's exciting."
Incubation is back at Fred Segal, through a nationwide contest dubbed Season Zero. The first round was held in cooperation with the Black in Fashion Council, with a grand prize of $10,000, mentorship and a showcase pop-up at Fred Segal, and second and third runner-up prizes of $5,000 each.
Without Fred Segal himself running things in recent years, the retailer was somewhat frozen in time. But neglect has had some advantages in a way. While apparel chains like Gap, Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret and others are scaling back their overblown footprints and exiting faltering malls, Fred Segal is expanding. Lotman envisions maxing out at about five or six stores in the U.S., perhaps getting into amenable markets like Miami, Houston or Dallas; in addition to its stores in California, Fred Segal just opened in Las Vegas.
"It's about being true to who you are, and when you have that ability, that's exciting."
CEO of Global Icons and owner of Fred Segal
In Asia, however, Lotman sees the potential for "a couple hundred" physical locations, based on research that affinity for Los Angeles and the Southern California vibe is "sky high" in places like China and Japan. The company recently opened a store in Korea.
"And the homerun for us is going to be e-commerce," Lotman said. "In the same way that we rotate brands very quickly in our store, giving them a moment, we're going do the same thing online at the same time."
Private label, one approach that Fred Segal didn't really take, is also now in focus, Lotman said, adding that a new knitwear sub-brand is set to debut in a couple of months.
"We have a really unique dichotomy of customers that we're able to find, because we're crossing multi-generations of people and kids," he said. "We're getting the kids that love it and then you get the 35 to almost 55 that experienced [reviving trends], and then you're getting this mother-daughter, father-son kind of thing that's going on. It's great because it almost resets the clock on the brand."