Sophia Amoruso brings her Nasty Gal and more to Melrose Avenue

Booth Moore
Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic
Nasty Gal on Melrose is 'not a porn site,' but plenty of hot friends are aboard

Sophia Amoruso, 30, the digital doyenne who turned her hobby of selling vintage clothing on EBay into the $130-million, L.A.-based Nasty Gal fashion brand, has had quite a year.

Her "#GirlBoss" business manifesto was published in May, documenting her journey from shoplifting teen to fashion mogul, and was a runaway hit that made the New York Times bestseller list. She has been embraced by the New York-centric fashion industry, landing a feature in Vogue magazine and a collaboration with MAC Cosmetics (the Nasty Gal collection of "fierce shades" of nail polish and lipstick is in stores now). She provided the wardrobe for actress Lena Dunham for the "Girls" creator's book tour — a stamp of approval from cultural arbiter Dunham that only added to Amoruso's million-plus Facebook fans and Instagram followers. And in November, she capped it all off by opening the first brick-and-mortar Nasty Gal store, at 8115 Melrose Ave.

The 2,500-square-foot space across from Fred Segal has expansive glass windows with a pink neon sign poking fun at the brand's name, announcing, "No, we are not a porn site."

"The store was a natural next step for us," Amoruso said during a recent weekday afternoon tour of the boutique, where the foot traffic is enviable by L.A. standards. "In the eight years since we started, it's become clear we have a community of girls so ready to be mobilized.... They came to the book events, but now it's about figuring out what can we do in stores that no one else can do. Because Nasty Gal really is a lifestyle brand as much as it is a fashion brand."

Merchandise is a mix of trendy apparel, shoes, accessories and intimates from the Nasty Gal brand and other labels, including Jeffrey Campbell, Vans, and For Love and Lemons, alongside vintage bags and jewelry from Louis Vuitton and Chanel.

Apart from the vintage items, most things are priced under $400 and seem geared toward looking just trashy enough. Paying homage to the edgy aesthetics of such luxury labels as Saint Laurent and Givenchy, styles include a black leather moto dress ($300), oversized pink mohair lip-print sweater ($80), a black harness bra ($38) and studded over-the-knee boots ($370).

Although Nasty Gal may appeal to teenage fans of H&M, Topshop and Forever 21, Amoruso wanted to create a different kind of store.

"It's a boutique for the girl who probably doesn't have a lot of that kind of experience," she says. "Because to find fashion under $200, you're going to this giant supermarket, basically, and it's very dehumanizing…. Our store is really about a curated experience that combines the best of what we're designing with the best vintage and the best of other brands. And each of our muses, which is what we call our salespeople, is armed with an iPad mini, so for the most part, people can check out from anywhere…. The service is wherever you are, rather than 'Help yourself. We'll be here behind the counter.'"

Front and center when you walk in are five VIP-sized fitting rooms, each with naughty two-way mirrored doors, allowing shoppers to see out but not in. "I wanted to have fitting rooms at the center of the store because [not being able to try things on] is the thing that is the biggest pain for people shopping online."

There's a magazine nook with tech gifts and a few vinyl records for sale, including one from Betty Davis, whose funk song "Nasty Gal" inspired the brand's name. Pointing to the shoe display, Amoruso says, "I've never worked in a retail store, but I did sell shoes at Gimme Shoes in San Francisco, a job I was fired from."

Displayed above clothing racks on high shelves, but still within reach, are vintage bags priced up to $2,000. "We sold a Stephen Sprouse Louis Vuitton bag on opening night, and Miley Cyrus' mom bought the bigger version of that Chanel bag for her for Christmas," Amoruso says. "Even if you don't have a grand or three grand to drop on a Chanel backpack, to be able to shop alongside vintage Chanel for the average person is pretty … cool."

Asked if there is a top age for the brand, she says no. "Actually, my mom wears so much Nasty Gal. She's not going to wear a romper, but she does wear a lot of outerwear, sweaters, shoes and accessories," she says, pulling out a tame-looking black coat and pullover sweater as examples of over-30 garb.

Dressed in an Acne Studios gray jersey dress and green glitter nail polish, Amoruso winds her way past the faux furs and plunge-front jumpsuits. "This cape dress is insane," she says, pulling a $78 black Nasty Gal minidress off the rack. Then she wrinkles her nose at the sight of the label. "Our tags will be improving," she says. "And I don't want polyester lining.... We're in a very transtional place with the product. I'm still really proud of it, but a year from now, it will be bonkers."

Nasty Gal-branded clothing now represents 45% of the merchandise assortment, and that's growing, but the DNA still seems to be evolving. When Amoruso started producing the line in 2012, it was about "conversation pieces" that stood out when you were scrolling through a thousand things online, she explains. But now it's more about telling stories through clothing. How to dress for a party or for cold weather, for example.

Amoruso works on concepts and trends, and her 12-person design team in downtown L.A. works on execution.

Her business idols are designers Tory Burch and Michael Kors. Like Burch, Amoroso recently started a foundation for female entrepreneurs. And she's condsidering a foray into television like Kors. "Because of the book, there's been a lot of interest," she says. "But I'm trying to do what's best for Nasty Gal and not jump the shark."

Next year, she plans to open her second store, this time on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

"Nasty Gal is a brand girls really enjoy shopping because it's not run by a bunch of white guys in suits," she says. "I'm curating the music and have a big hand in designing the stores. I hope it feels very personal in that respect. If there is ever a day when we have 20 stores or 50 stores, I would like to retain that. I think there are very few brands with a person's point of view behind them."

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Sophia Amoruso in short:

Biggest challenges for 2015? Figuring out the few things we want to be really good at, engineering that and having it be muscle memory. Combining the art and commerce in a way that's productive and streamlined.

Your book is titled "#GirlBoss." Are you a good boss? I don't think I'm a bad boss. I'm a boss who likes to let people run, but I have learned that people need more guidance and feedback than I knew. I'm not a pleaser, I just assume people are self aware, but that's not the case. Everyone is owed feedback and I'm getting better at the coaching process.

Favorite part of what you do? The fashion. I love clothing and still shop a lot of vintage. I recently bought a vintage dress from Paper Bag Princess. I'm also buying more Nasty Gal because it's getting better and better. The hems are longer, the busts more structured, and things hold you in better. Details are coming through in what we're designing.

Who does your trademark hair? Stacey at Tracey Cunningham. But I'm trying to get away from the bob, because I don't want to become a caricature.

Any dos and don'ts for dressing? Not really. I can get away with a lot. We have a nipple on our shopping bags after all....If I was a man, I don't think I would have gotten away with that. And we're talking about selling vibators for Valentine's Day and having some kind of sex ed workshop. I can show up at a Goldman Sachs conference wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt — and I have — while everyone else is wearing the same dress.

Are you a kinky chick? I'm into provocation, but not shock value in the extreme. I think that's really tacky.

Your verdict on the red carpet dress of 2014, the see-through crystal Adam Selman gown Rihanna wore to the CFDA Awards? I think it's great. I'm meeting (her stylist) Mel Ottenberg at the store and showing him some stuff.

And the 'free the nipple' campaign? I don't really care about campaigns or dogma. I'm not going to push my nipples in front of anyone, and it kind of makes me uncomfortable to go to a topless beach. I think subtlety is an important thing. 'Just' and 'enough' are important words that live on both sides of anything. 'Just naked enough,' or 'just enough nipple.' If a man was walking around topless, I would think that was trashy.

What are you doing for the holidays? Spending time with my fiance. I've known him for 12 years, and we've been dating for four.

Will you be getting married in Nasty Gal? No, but I will probably change into it.

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Nasty Gal

Where: 8115 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles

When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays

Information: (323) 658-1010, nastygal.com 

booth.moore@latimes.com

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