Fred Segal, the retail giant who helped shape the fashion and cultural landscape in Los Angeles by launching new designers and providing threads for A-list clientele like The Beatles, Diana Ross, The Jackson 5 and Angelina Jolie, has died. He was 87.
Segal died Thursday of complications from a stroke at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, a publicist announced.
He had suffered a stroke on Feb. 5, 2014, something he announced himself on a holiday card sent at year’s end to friends and family with a message that “life as we knew it would never be the same.” But the enigmatic Segal showed off his personality and will to live by including a photo of himself wearing a hat, smoking a cigarette and raising a middle finger with the slogan, “Stroke this.”
At the time, daughter Annie Segal told The Hollywood Reporter that “doctors warned us there was a slim chance of survival, so we were prepared for the worst. It’s a miracle that he’s not only alive, but living well under the circumstances.”
Segal opened his first eponymous store, a designer denim emporium, in 1961 on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. According to the brand’s website, it was a modest 350-square-foot space with 85 percent of inventory being “his namesake denim jeans alongside shirts and pants in chambrays, velvets and flannels.”
He later moved the operation to the location it is best known for, at Melrose Avenue and Crescent Heights Boulevard, and it drew crowds and caused traffic jams as shoppers descended to buy denim that far exceeded typical prices for that time. (Segal sold jeans for $19.95 when other shops were offering styles for $3.)
Segal proved he had a flair for emerging designers, but he also shaped a retail experience that would transform the industry. He pioneered the then-novel shop-in-shop concept and experiential retail that introduced up-and-coming labels synonymous with SoCal style (think Juicy Couture, Hard Candy Cosmetics and Earl Jeans).
According to the company, early customers included The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Ross and The Jackson 5, and Farrah Fawcett was photographed on a skateboard in Segal’s jeans for an ad campaign.
Segal, who created an atmosphere where artists, musicians and trend-obsessed fashionistas could mingle under the same roof, credited part of his success to maintaining a degree of honesty with his customers.
“I learned at a very young age that the area of no competition is in integrity,” he said. “So if people are totally honest with themselves and then they’re honest with everyone around them, there is not any competition in that.
“For example, when I was selling in my store to my customers and they came in wanting to buy this or that, if they put an outfit on and they asked me for my advice, part of the time I’d say, ‘Take that off, don’t even buy that, that would be ridiculous, you don’t even look good in that.’ That’s really deep honesty. You don’t find that in business, you know?”
The retailer’s iconic ivy-covered location in West Hollywood became a celebrity hotspot over the years and was featured prominently in the 1995 classic teen comedy Clueless.
“Lucy! Where’s my white collarless shirt from Fred Segal?” Alicia Silverstone’s Cher says in the Amy Heckerling-directed film. A few years later, Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods declares in Legally Blonde (2001), “And last week, I saw Cameron Diaz at Fred Segal, and I talked her out of buying this truly heinous angora sweater.”
Jokes aside, it was not uncommon to see Diaz or other A-list stars like Jennifer Aniston perusing the shops at Fred Segal or dining at its buzzy on-site restaurant that was, for many years, an industry power lunch and dinner spot.
Segal expanded his brand to multiple outposts as his California cool empire grew with addresses in Santa Monica, and he filled the locations with family members. His son, Michael, would eventually become CEO and his daughters Annie and Sharon once maintained their own shops within the store.
In 2012, New York-based media company Sandow acquired global licensing rights to the Fred Segal name. The company is now owned by Global Icons, which acquired the brand in 2019.
Per the company’s website, there are now locations on Sunset Boulevard; in Malibu; at LAX; in Bern, Germany; and in Taipei, and reports this week said that additional locations are planned for Las Vegas. Still, it has not been immune to the recent slide in the retail business as its Santa Monica location shuttered and the Melrose outpost is no longer the hotspot it once was.
Segal “was an innovator, a forward thinker, a rule-breaker, a mentor to so many, such a lover of life and a humanitarian,” his family said in a statement. “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. To the very end, he inspired us to never give up. He will be forever loved and celebrated.”
Survivors include his wife, Tina; five children, 10 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, two stepchildren and a step-grandson.
Donations in his name can be made to the Segal Family-United World Foundation at 10960 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1100 Los Angeles, CA 90024.