Fred Segal grew up on the streets of Cochran and Venice, Los Angeles, and spent his youth shining shoes and selling newspapers. After working as a sales manager for HIS Sportswear, he opened his first store on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1958, causing a sensation with his form-fitting jeans—priced to move at $19.95 when most were going for $1 to $3. He opened a second, equally iconic store on Melrose, the first denim-only retail spot in America, in 1960, selling it about a decade ago and focusing his energies on his retail spot on broadway, Santa Monica. Alongside his business activities, Segal is a dedicated philanthropist, focusing in these latter years on a quest for peace of mind and an end to world suffering, with his clothes a medium for his message. Ahead of the launch of his new line—the first full collection he himself designed, in partnership with his daughter Annie—Segal spoke about freedom, retail, and how jeans can be like a Cadillac.
How do you see the current times reflected in fashion?
Now people are freer to express themselves. It used to be about rebellion; now, it’s about freedom. You see, fashion doesn’t change. The times change.
What’s your take on sports? [There’s a game on in the background.]
I like sports because sports prevent crime. We live in an addictive society. And one of the healthier addictions is shopping, because it’s nurturing. It’s about human interaction, personal touch, expression.
Let’s talk about your ﬁrst designer jean…
The ﬁrst jean I saw on the market was 40, 50 years ago. Then, jeans were $1.49. Imagine that, $1.49—and I came out with a $20 jean: the hip-hugger jean, the ﬁrst one ever on the market. It was so tight people would come into the store and get embarrassed. Then people started buying them. And within a year, everyone was buying them. They were indigo denim, with Lycra.
And what inspired you to charge $20?
I was always wondering why GM could make a Chevrolet that sold for $15,000 and a Cadillac that sold for $25,000, when it was basically the same car. The idea was that if GM does this, and jeans sell for $1.49, why wouldn’t somebody pay $20? Why wouldn’t they buy the Cadillac?
How did your background in sales play into the success of your vision?
I was very lucky. I always had this thing inside me. I knew before the customer what they wanted. Not just in clothes, but in music, poetry, because it’s all interconnected. Fifty years ago, I wasn’t aware of how I did it. I didn’t have any of the spiritual savvy that comes with learned endeavors.
What most excites you about your upcoming line?
What motivates you?