8100 Melrose Ave. at Crescent Heights
West Hollywood, CA
Near the corner of Wilshire and La Brea, tourists gape at the remains of saber-toothed cats and mastodons dredged out of prehistoric tar pits. History here means 40,000 years ago. A few minutes north, in Fred Segal, at the corner of Melrose and Crescent Heights, shoppers gape at a pair of ruby-studded jeans priced at $2,000. History here means 15 minutes ago.
With its embrace of glamour and make-believe, Fred Segal is the sartorial port of call for Tinseltown's A-list. Those ruby-studded jeans might appeal to Jennifer Aniston (who shops here) or Winona Ryder (ditto). But there are also plenty of $19 white T-shirts and $25 tanks for shoppers who aren't fabulously rich -- only young and beautiful. Customers who arrive too late to get the new thing know that the next new thing is just being draped over a hanger.
Fred Segal was founded -- by none other than Fred Segal -- as a tiny jeans retailer in 1968. In the 1970s Segal began selling space to employees, starting with his nephew Ron Herman. Today the company is a 28,000-square-foot emporium of individually owned boutiques, the largest of which is Herman's; Segal has since cashed out and runs another retail store in Santa Monica. A cafÉ and an apothecary have been added, so customers need not leave the premises for their lattes or wrinkle creams. You don't do errands at Fred Segal. You hang out.
Though the name Fred Segal is well known, Herman is in fact the genius behind the institution. Inside his own boutique, which will take in $25 million this year, the music is loud. The salespeople look like they've stepped out of 8-by-10-inch glossies, but they're friendly. The effect is of an impossibly hip club where you're actually welcomed. "We're Hollywood's neighborhood store," Herman says.
Since Angelenos prize newness, conventional brands -- like actresses over the age of 40 -- are not in demand here. That's why Herman allocates 75% of his inventory to "fresh" designers. And why 4 of his 150 employees spend their days building fixtures and installations so that products can be set off against a new back-drop every week. The effort is rewarded when Mick Jagger wears camo punk pants from Herman's store. Buzz is the shop's only advertising. Ultimately, though, the secret to being perpetually with-it has less to do with merchandise than with mentality. "We've survived all these years because of my passionate interest in youth," says the 56-year-old Herman. "Forget old people that think old."
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