Fred Segal, whose name is well known from the red, white and blue lettered sign of the famous Los Angeles store he founded, died on Thursday. He was 87.
The cause was complications from a stroke, according to a representative of the brand. He is survived by a large family, including his wife, five children, 10 grandchildren and even two great-grandchildren. Many of them are also involved in retail.
“To the very end, he inspired us to never give up. He will be forever loved and celebrated,” a statement from the family reads. “He was a true artist who dedicated his life to evolving as a human being in every aspect. He challenged us to expand our minds and our hearts, to go deeper and to do better. He was an innovator, a forward thinker, a rule breaker, a mentor to so many, such a lover of life and a humanitarian. Anyone who knew him, felt his powerful energy. He worked his whole life to have self love and to teach all of us to love one another.”
Born in 1933, Segal in 1961 opened his eponymous store in L.A.’s West Hollywood, in a 300 square foot space with an inventory of almost entirely denim. The jeans sold for the then unheard of price of $19.95, making him the first to to market premium denim. His “denim bar,” as he called it, was a revolutionary concept for the time. As the store grew in popularity, so did the size and Segal eventually started asking employees to manage their own spaces inside the store as it expanded, leading him to pioneer the “shop-in-shop” style of retail.
A number of influential retailers had stores in his complex, which was an epicenter of LA cool, including Ron Herman and Ron Robinson. The buyers in stores there helped cultivate the L.A. look, discovering such fashion and beauty brands as Hard Candy, Trina Turk and Juicy Couture. Fred Segal on Melrose became a global stop for cool spotters and its restaurant, Mauro’s, a place to see and be seen for Hollywood celebs including Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. He expanded to a Santa Monica location, where stores such as Jeannine Braden’s Fred Segal Flair helped define SoCal’s high-low look.
Fred Segal became synonymous with L.A. style, name-checked in films such as “Clueless,” “Legally Blonde” and “Less Than Zero,” and the de-facto wardrobe department for such influential TV shows as “Melrose Place” and “Friends,” exporting the L.A. casual look through pop culture.
The store was popular with locals and a favorite of celebrities throughout the 2000s, when paparazzi would wait outside.
Segal worked in apparel most of his life. After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, he worked at now-defunct HIS Sportswear and rose to be a sales manager. But by the early 1960s, he had his own ideas, like a fashion-driven jeans line that would pull more than the $3 going rate for a pair at the time.
“I called my boss who was in New York,” Segal told WWD in an earlier interview. “It’s midnight there and he got so mad, he said, ‘Go do it yourself.’ So I did.”
Segal and his family maintained ownership of the brand’s intellectual property until 2012, when he sold the licensing rights and all intellectual property to Sandow Media. But the physical store on Melrose Ave. that started it all was sold in 2000 to Bud Brown, Segal’s longtime insurance broker. When Fred Segal in 2017 moved from the Melrose location to a new flagship on Sunset Blvd., the ownership of the physical store and the classic Fred Segal signage outside caused a protracted legal fight over it. It was only last summer that the signage was removed.
Although Sandow said upon its purchase of the Fred Segal IP that it was making a long-term commitment to the brand, it did not last. Licensing company Global Icons took over ownership of the brand in 2019. The company has since closed several international Fred Segal locations, but is set to open a new flagship in Las Vegas.
Jeff Lotman, the current chief executive officer and owner of Fred Segal said this of the brand’s legacy:
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of our founder and original curator of cool, Fred Segal, who created a retail scene that continues to be the heart of LA pop culture…His forward-thinking concept continues to discover and support up-and-coming designers,” Lotman said. “We’ll continue to honor Fred’s legacy by always offering an unparalleled retail experience, searching out new brands, bringing LA style and culture to people around the world, and loving one another.”