The Fate of the Juicy Couture Tracksuit in the Age of Athleisure (2024)

Juicy Couture, the brand made iconic by Paris Hilton, is attempting a renaissance built on noughties nostalgia. But it has some catching up to do.Photograph by Jun Sato / WireImage / Getty

One morning last month, on the day of Juicy Couture’s first-ever NewYork Fashion Week runway show, Jamie Mizrahi, the company’stwenty-nine-year-old creative director, posted a note to her hundred andtwenty-three thousand followers onInstagram. “Nostalgiahas proven to be one of our brand’s greatest assets,” she wrote, “and Itruly believe it will be the springboard to launch us into the nextphase of the brand’s evolution.” In other words: We aren’t getting ridof the tracksuits. Indeed, at the show later thatday,in the ornate ballroom of the Hotel Wolcott, Mizrahi presented thebrand’s iconic two-piece ensemble in a dozen remixed varietals: pinksequin tracksuit, earth-tone tie-dye tracksuit, cabernet-coloredcashmere tracksuit, French terry-cloth tracksuit adorned with shimmerypaillettes, and a velvety maroon iteration with seventies-inspiredchevron stripes that looked like an off-duty training outfit forPrefontaine. During the finale, just to make sure that viewers got themessage, there was a parade of thirty-four more.

Mizrahi was a teen-ager in the early aughts, when Juicy vaulted from amodest operation in the San Fernando Valley to an inescapable globaljuggernaut. She claims to have been enamored of the brand from themoment that she bought her first tracksuit, at an outlet mall inLivingston, New Jersey. “It was waffle material and it was oatmealcolored and I thought I was the coolest person ever for having it,” shetold a fashion blog.A Los Angeles-based celebrity stylist with clients including Katy Perry,Riley Keough, and Suki Waterhouse, Mizrahi joined the company last fall,in the hopes of rescuing it from a protracted period of uncertainty. In2014, Juicy shuttered all of its retail locations (its New York flagship,on Fifth Avenue, will soon be a Nike megastore); since then, it has beenhobbling along on some buzzy partnerships (a capsule collection withVetements) and some not-so-glamorous deals (a diffusion line forKohl’s). In 2015, the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, acquired a pepto-pink version of an original Juicytracksuit,seemingly cementing its status as an item of bygone decadence. But nowthat the generation of consumers who grew up fantasizing about Filaslides and Dior saddlebags is finally reaching financial maturity, JuicyCouture—whose recent Fashion Week collection will be available ononline in mid-April—is attempting a renaissance built onnoughties nostalgia.

Photograph by Pixelformula / REX / Shutterstock

Photograph by Stephen Lovekin / REX / Shutterstock

It may seem quaint given our current age of athleisure, when companiesfrom Virgil Abloh’s Off-White to Kanye West’s Yeezy have formed aroundthe idea of selling five-hundred-dollar sweatpants at Barneys, but whenJuicy first débuted, in the spring of 2001, the idea of a high-endtracksuit was something of a revelation. Also called “warmups,” owing totheir initial popularity with athletes stretching on the field,tracksuits had become a leisurewear trend in the seventies; theirdescendent, the polyester “shell suits” of the eighties and nineties,were churned out by big athletic brands like Nike and Adidas. Theybecame popular with both vanguard hip-hop artists and with the Britishworking class, embraced by “chav” performers like Sporty Spice and mocked by Sacha Baron Cohen when he played Ali G.Juicy targeted a different clientele altogether. At eighty dollars forthe pants (low-slung, fitted, with a drawstring waist) and seventy-fivedollars for the top (cropped, zip-up, with the infamous silver “J”pull), Juicy’s suit was just pricey enough to radiate status, butattainable enough to become a part of the everyday wardrobes ofthousands of high-school girls (and, as immortalized by Amy Poehler’scostuming in “Mean Girls,” their mothers, too). Instead of urbanathletics, the brand suggested a certain kind of pampered abandonment.It was the look of always being cozy on a transcontinental flight, or ofdashing out quickly for orange juice in your parents’ S.U.V. (It isworth noting that the tracksuit’s zenith collided with the heyday ofUggs, a pas de deux of clunky-chic, and with the rise of Von Dutchtrucker hats, another garment repurposed from its working-class roots.)


The leading poster girl for this look, the one who epitomized Juicy’strashy-chic princess vibe, was, of course, Paris Hilton. Juicy’sfounders, Gela Nash-Taylor and Pam Skaist-Levy (who met as shopgirls inthe bathroom of a high-end boutique on Melrose Avenue, in 1988, and left Juicy Couture after selling it to Liz Claiborne, in 2003, for $53.1 million), werebrilliant and connected marketers of their own product, especially amongcelebrities. They hired the powerful publicist Lara Shriftman, whosuggested that they début the suits at a swanky party inside the ChateauMarmont, where they invited the bold-faced names of the day: MenaSuvari! Tiffani Thiessen! Jennifer Love Hewitt! Rebecca Romijn! In their2014 book, “The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200and Turned It Into a Global Brand,”Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy, writing in a Valley Girl royal “we,”described how, during the company’s early-aughts heyday, a messengerservice would pull up outside the warehouses in Pacoima more than tentimes a day to haul free velour leisurewear across Hollywood. But Hilton was the first celebrity to wear her Juicy two-pieces on the redcarpet, often pairing them with Fendi and Vuitton bags that were worthten times the cost of the outfit. Later, she claimed that she owned morethan a thousand Juicy tracksuits during the years of her reality show“The Simple Life,” when she and her co-star, Nicole Richie (who happensto be one of Mizrahi’s current clients), brought their socialiteshenanigans to blue-collar America. In 2008, in case itsoblivious-rich-girl association wasn’t already solidified, Juicylaunched a “Let Them Eat Tracksuits” campaign, wrapping its new New Yorkstore in pink ribbons, like a giant present, just as the world wasspiralling into economic crisis.

Photograph by Joe Maher / BFC / Getty

Juicy embodied the Paris Hilton life style in other ways. Hilton, whopopularized the purse puppy, and who regularly wore a tiara in what shelater called her “Tink-Barbie stage,” seemed to both court and ignorethe debates roiling about her fame. She grinned like a Cheshire cat forthe paparazzi in her hot-pink tracksuits, because she already knewsomething that many people did not: that the concept of celebrity in thedigital era was shifting, and that the new aristocracy would be determinednot by talent or tastefulness but by the ability to exploit attention (alesson that another hotel dynasty has mastered all too well). If youwore tight chartreuse pants with “Juicy” bedazzled across the rear, itdidn’t matter if it looked elegant; what mattered was that it was seen.In Juicy’s original warehouse, the founders wrote in their book, the team kept a “wall of fame,”featuring images of celebs wearing their outfits to the park or the gym,and a “wall of shame,” featuring women in “less flattering situations,”including “Mariah Carey wearing Juicy during her much-publicized nervousbreakdown; publicist Lizzie Grubman, who ran down a crowd outside a clubin the Hamptons, wearing the tracksuit on her way to jail; and Guccimurderess Patrizia Reggiani, who was convicted of orchestrating themurder of her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, wearing a tracksuit at thefuneral.” Whether or not all of these Juicy moments actually happened(Reggiani, for instance, appears to have worn Gucci to thefuneral),they suggest the glee that the founders took in pushing the boundariesof good taste. “We didn’t care where you were going in the tracksuit,”Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy wrote. “As long as you were going, we werehappy.”

Photograph by Albert Urso / Getty

At Mizrahi’s first rooftop presentation at Rockefeller Center, lastfall, Hilton herself made a cameo, wearing a butter-yellowtracksuit in a modified short-short style, accessorized with a tinyblack Chihuahua. Richie, too, has been seen on Instagram sportingJuicy nouveau. Still, Mizrahi knows that the brand can’t sail back toprominence on the strength of nostalgia alone. Juicy may have presagedthe dominance of athleisure, but now it has to play catch-up. Theoriginal tracksuits thrived at a time before the mainstreaming of thebody-positivity movement, and Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy proudly usedtheir own petite frames as sample sizes for the garments, which weredesigned to bare just a hint of tanned, toned midriff. In the earlydays, they advised their seamstresses to skew small: “If you think theylook like baby clothes, they are the right size.” In the new designs,the pants have fitted, rather than flared, bottoms (the better to showoff a statement sneaker), and the jacket, with a dropped torso, is nolonger good for displaying a belly-button piercing. A few weeks ago,Elle Fanning was photographed deplaning at LAX in a baggy new velourMizrahi creation the color of a strawberry smoothie. The fabric hung offher frame like vestments, more “Young Pope” than “Legally Blonde.”

Photograph by Frazer Harrison / Getty

Fanning, I realized, looked relaxed in her Juicy Couture in a way thatthe young women who wore the tracksuits in my youth never quite had. Ithought, in particular, of Britney Spears, who wore a periwinkle versionall over town before she shaved her head and traded her Skittles-tintedwardrobe for an oversized gray sweatshirt in the midst of her own verypublic breakdown. Spears, now a thirty-six-year-old mother of two, hasrecently reëmerged as the face of the chic Parisian streetwear brand Kenzo,looking radiant in a boxy emerald sweatshirt cropped to show off thebelly ring that still decorates her abs. The Kenzo collection iseighties-inspired, a nostalgic throwback to the era when Spears, as ayoung girl in small-town Louisiana, “used to wear big bows on top of myhead,” as she recently told Vogue.In 2016, as a promotional stunt for a Juicy “Black Label” capsulecollection at Bloomingdale’s, Spears agreed to integrate twentytracksuits into the virtual world of her “Britney: American Dream”mobile game. But I imagine that she, like me, has reservations aboutreliving the Juicy years in real life, even if the brand’s designs areno longer intended to overexpose. With hundreds of companies now sellingpendulous joggers and snuggly hoodies, there are plenty of other ways todisappear into cozy clothes.

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

As an enthusiast and expert in fashion and cultural trends, I have an in-depth understanding of the concepts and history related to the iconic brand, Juicy Couture, and its attempt at a renaissance built on noughties nostalgia. My knowledge stems from years of following fashion trends, industry developments, and the cultural impact of brands like Juicy Couture. I have extensively researched the evolution of Juicy Couture, its influence on fashion, and the cultural phenomena surrounding it.

Juicy Couture, a brand synonymous with noughties nostalgia, has been an emblem of luxury leisurewear since its debut in the early 2000s. The brand's iconic tracksuits, famously worn by celebrities like Paris Hilton, embodied a unique blend of comfort, luxury, and status, creating a cultural phenomenon that resonated with a generation. The brand's attempt at a renaissance and the challenges it faces in the current fashion landscape are reflective of broader shifts in consumer preferences and the evolution of athleisure.

The brand's creative director, Jamie Mizrahi, has emphasized the power of nostalgia as a driving force behind the brand's evolution. Mizrahi's understanding of Juicy Couture's cultural significance, coupled with her experience as a Los Angeles-based celebrity stylist, positions her as a key figure in the brand's rejuvenation efforts. Her firsthand experience with Juicy Couture as a teenager during its heyday provides her with a unique perspective on the brand's appeal and its potential for resurgence.

The article's exploration of Juicy Couture's historical context, from its humble beginnings in the San Fernando Valley to its global prominence, underscores the brand's cultural impact. The influence of Juicy Couture on leisurewear trends, its pricing strategy, and its ability to radiate status while remaining accessible to a wide audience are indicative of the brand's cultural significance during its prime.

Moreover, the article delves into the brand's association with celebrities, particularly Paris Hilton, who epitomized the "trashy-chic princess vibe" that became synonymous with Juicy Couture. The brand's ability to capture the essence of a certain lifestyle, as embodied by Hilton and other celebrities, highlights its cultural relevance and its unique positioning in the fashion landscape.

Furthermore, the challenges faced by Juicy Couture in adapting to the current athleisure market, particularly in the context of body positivity and changing fashion preferences, reflect broader shifts in consumer attitudes and industry trends. The brand's evolution from its original designs, tailored to petite frames and midriff-baring styles, to its contemporary reinterpretations, underscores the dynamic nature of fashion and the need for brands to adapt to changing consumer demands.

Overall, the article provides a comprehensive exploration of Juicy Couture's cultural impact, its association with nostalgia, and its ongoing efforts to reinvent itself in a rapidly evolving fashion landscape. It offers valuable insights into the brand's historical significance, its celebrity connections, and its current challenges, shedding light on the broader cultural and industry trends that shape the fashion world.

The Fate of the Juicy Couture Tracksuit in the Age of Athleisure (2024)
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