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Juicy Couture Returns—Ready for the Paparazzi, but Paris Hilton-Free

Alice Hines

Is the brand that was born in the glare of celebrity photographers ready for an era in which even streetstyle is "styled"?

My favorite thing about Paris Hilton’s Instagram account is that it’s timeless. I don’t mean classic or understated (see: dreadlocks at Burning Man; rhinestones). It’s difficult to date its contents without sleuthing. In one photo, Paris and Kris Jenner pose at a party. A quick scroll and 16 years later, there they are again. Clutching a bejeweled flip phone by a pool? Paris in 2017. Lounging in a pink terry tracksuit? Paris in 2018. Her hair is eternally champagne, her Chihuahua a vampire among dogs.

The same can’t quite be said of Juicy Couture, the maker of the tracksuit, which is in the throes of an Official Comeback. On Thursday, the brand which taught a million suburban teenagers the word “couture” hosted its first-ever runway event, at the Hotel Wolcott in New York City.

“The '90s and '00s felt obvious, so I tried to explore other time periods, like the late '70s and early '80s,” Jamie Mizrahi, celebrity stylist and newly helmed creative director, told me after the show. There were leather trench coats and burnout chiffon dresses, sequined robes and dip-dyed faux-fur, velour track jackets and full-length velvet suit jackets. There was baby pink, but also black, in equal proportions. “You want to show it’s updated, though it’s important not to make the brand something it’s not,” Mizrahi said.

Paris Hilton, it should be noted, did not make an appearance. Although her Instagram selfie in the tracksuit last month tagged Juicy, the brand clearly did not shell out to the tune of the Kombucha Cleanse in her hand (“When cleansing tastes like mango tango, loves it! #JapaneseKombucha #BodyCleanse”). While Hilton has dropped off tabloid pages, she has only grown in global fame. In 2014, she reported making $1 million per nightly DJ set in Ibiza, which, as the website YourEDM.com fumed, was more than both DeadMaus and Tiesto combined. Although Paris is clearly milking the zeitgeist—her appearance as Kim Kardashian in the latest paparazzo Yeezy campaign was the icing on the cake—she herself never really disappeared.

And neither did Juicy Couture. The weird thing about the Official Comeback, when you look closely, is that there’s hardly been a moment when the brand hasn’t been coming back. In 2009, only a few years after it became famous on the likes of Paris, J.Lo, and Britney, talks of hard pivots began. (“Our research shows the trend towards ‘less is more,’” said the company’s president, which didn’t explain the recently launched pet perfume.) In 2010, the original founders, Gela Nash-Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy, departed, and a designer from American Eagle Outfitters was brought in. By 2013, a “return” was being plotted, which materialized mostly as an expansion into China and the Middle East. Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele was hired in 2015 to style what the brand dubbed “Couture Nouveau.” “It will probably take a few more seasons to really shake the velour stigma,” wrote Vogue. Just a year later, Authentic Brands Group, the brand’s corporate owner, decided it didn’t need to: #TRACKISBACK, declared the social media campaign.

That might finally true. The Vetements collab that year put the brand on the fashion map non-ironically; when Kylie Jenner posted a belfie in Vetements Juicy, it was better than any billboard. And last summer, Mizrahi pal Cleo Wade put a woke spin on the slogan hoodie, worn by actress Yara Shahidi. “What Would Maxine Waters Do?” read the Gothic font that once piped “Kiss my Couture!”

“Slogans are different now,” Mizrahi told me. “Everyone interprets them as a message.” Celebrity marketing made Juicy famous, and Mizrahi—whose styling clients include Katy Perry, Sasha Lane, and Riley Keough—is a smart pick for this reason.

Supposedly, it’s not just Juicy who is “back”: it’s an entire era, in the form of Mean Girls musicals, Gilmore Girls revivals, and Twitter accounts like @popculturediedin2009. But I’d argue that early-2000s culture never died—it’s been influential for so long that we don’t notice it anymore. Aggressive self-promotion and subsequent mental-health fallouts are no longer the domain of Britney Spears. As Business of Fashion’s Lauren Sherman noted in her detailed 2013 piece on Juicy, the brand became famous not because stars wore it—but because stars were wearing it at the very moment when they began to be photographed in places where more casual clothing made sense: at the grocery store, walking their dogs, shopping on Rodeo Drive. The celebrity photo opp was no longer limited to the red carpet, and the tracksuit was a solution to the paparazzi era. Spears used the hood to shade her face from flashes. Hilton clipped a flip phone to the waistband. Since the aughts, a loosening of workplace dress codes coinciding with increased pressure to document our lives online has driven many of us to adopt armor with a similar function. Is it any surprise that athleisure and sportswear have multiplied? Labels from Yeezy to Lululemon owe more to Juicy Couture than they would probably admit. Both the latest Balenciaga and Yeezy campaigns are direct descendants of that era.

Is the new Juicy Couture ready for the competition? Celebrity off-duty looks are styled just as intensely as red-carpet ones these days, and several pieces, like a leather utility jumpsuit (pockets for flip-phones aplenty!) and a velvet puffer jacket, looked like they could plop right into the wardrobes of today’s paparazzi bait. Harder to visualize on women famous or otherwise were two head-to-toe sequin numbers, and a series of Snuggie-esque robe coats.

While scrolling Paris Hilton’s Instagram in the days leading up the show, I also found my way to the account of Juicy founder Nash-Taylor. These days, she and Skaist-Levy, neither of whom responded to my requests for comment, still make tracksuits as part of their new brand Pam & Gela, mostly in understated colors. Last year, Nash-Taylor posted about Juicy exactly once: a photo of Paris Hilton (2016, per Google) announcing that the duo’s memoir about Juicy had been picked up by E! It was the same day old Hilton pal Kim Kardashian West posted a selfie that got 2.5 million likes, and even older Hilton pal Donald Trump weighed in in favor of Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate election.