Gray and her daughter Kelly Gray of St. John Knits
fame, launch a new line, Grayse, which includes
this summer look.
ANGELES ó Mother-daughter designing duo Marie and
Kelly Gray are back in business together with a new
label called Grayse, eight years after stepping down
from their day-to-day duties at St. John when a private
equity firm bought the company and cleaned house in a
rebranding effort that famously also involved hiring
Angelina Jolie as spokesmodel and alienating hordes of
St. John is best known for creating the conservative,
Crayola-colored knit suit uniform worn by a generation
of women in the go-go 1980s and í90s, Grayse taps into
the more recent trend of casual luxury and seasonless,
of a matchy-matchy look, the focus is on dresses and
separates, such as embellished statement tops and
laser-cut Italian leather jackets designed to be worn
over jeans, pants or shorts.
society has changed so much in the last seven to eight
years," Kelly, 46, says on a recent afternoon at
the Grayse studio in Irvine, Calif., sitting at the head
of the conference table with mom Marie, 76, at her left.
"Used to be, it was important for women to have a
uniform for success. But now, your personal style is
your business card for success and for your personal
brand. We spent years (at St. John) asking women to
invest in us head-to-toe. With Grayse, I love the idea
that we can contribute to a womanís personal style
with a piece here and there."
former model and hostess on the TV show "Queen for
a Day," Marie and her late husband, Robert
"Bob" Gray, started St. John in their garage
in 1962. They nurtured it into a global luxury brand and
one of Southern Californiaís biggest apparel success
stories, staging runway shows not for buyers and editors
in New York, but for fans around the country who came to
Orange County for the blockbuster events.
who started working at St. John at age 12, later became
the face of the brand and later still its co-chief
executive and creative director. Kellyís classic
all-American look helped sell St. John, and a wall in
the back of the studio is plastered with images from
those campaigns shot in exotic locales ó Kelly on a
speedboat in Venice, Kelly posing with a lion in a white
leaving St. John, Kelly let her inner wild child out,
launching the rocker-inspired apparel line Royal
Underground with Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, and
Marie hit the golf course.
last summer, they found themselves together again.
Sidelined from the links by a knee injury, Marie tagged
along with Kelly on a materials sourcing trip in Asia,
and Grayse was born.
came across a unique way to construct lattice-like
leather on tulle so itís sheer and lightweight, but
still has the formality and significance of
leather," says Kelly, dressed this day in jeans,
combat boots and a black jersey Grayse top embellished
with black stones as smooth as river pebbles that are
applied with epoxy heat transfer, another technique
discovered on the trip.
ladies Gray came back inspired, and they started
collaborating. By January, they were in business,
working out of Royal Undergroundís former
headquarters. They called some of their retailer
friends, people they knew would tell them if they had
"anything relevant to say anymore," Kelly
they did. The first Grayse collection, priced at $195 to
$1,195, hit a few weeks ago at retailers including
NeimanMarcus.com and SaksFifthAvenue.com, plus select
Neiman and Saks stores. (A list of retailers can be
found at MKGrayse.com.)
Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue,
says the line is appealing because "it has great
novelty items that are on-trend and appropriate for
women of all ages, with prices that will not break the
ladylike black ribbon leather jacket with baguette
crystal details nods to Coco Chanel, just as St. Johnís
knit suits did. But thatís where the comparisons
between St. John and Grayse end.
is no knitwear in the Grayse collection, at least not
yet. But there are a lot of versatile pieces that can
work for different styles and age groups, including a
gold laser-cut leather bolero with ruched cap sleeves,
an orange suede grid cutout cardigan jacket, a
gold-studded cream jersey top with a gladiator vibe, a
printed stretch silk chiffon poncho with drawstrings at
the hem to adjust the length and stretchy minidresses
that skim the body but donít cling.
ideas always come from need," says Marie, dressed
in a lightweight black suede coat and black trousers.
"Iím always trying to figure out how to dress
well in hot weather. And Kelly has great vision. She saw
that dressy tops were something that women
I go out to dinner, I want to throw something on over
whatever Iím already wearing. I donít even want to
change my shoes," Kelly says.
together the second time around is different.
a girl in my 20s, I thought I knew everything, I was
absolutely certain of it," says Kelly. "That
combativeness contributed to our success. St. John
ballooned and grew because we were figuring out how to
get both our needs met. But weíre much more civil
we really canít come to an agreement, we sleep on
it," says Marie. "And there are a lot of cases
where we agree to disagree. Ultimately, the person who
is right is the customer."
design process has changed too.
St. John, we used to do a lot more storyboarding, and
everything in a collection had to relate," says
Kelly. "Now, we start with color and think about
how we are going to differentiate from everyone else.
Then we start building important looks, and they
multiply. One day you have four pieces; then a month
later you have 40."
are made on-site, so the Grays can design something in
the morning and see it that afternoon.
canít put a price on that kind of quality
control," says Marie. Both women are committed to
keeping production as local as possible.
2005, when they left, St. John had 5,000 employees;
Grayse has launched with about 20.)
still sits on the board at the company she founded more
than 50 years ago. And although she no longer has
creative input, she still wears St. John clothes from
time to time. Kelly, not so much.
was hard to get her to wear the clothes even then,"
says Marie. "She was the black sheep when she
do have a few pieces Iíve kept with my vintage
collection," says Kelly, who namechecks Dolce &
Gabbana, Tom Ford and James Perse as go-tos. "But I
mostly wear Grayse now."
whether she would consider modeling for Grayse as she
did for St. John, she demurs.
my photo taken is something I excel at, but I donít
particularly like. The whole 15 years I did those St.
John campaigns were spent in a variety of anxiety
attacks... This time, I would rather be behind the