Ann Taylor and Loft have a new, free-spirited sibling.
The American retailer has launched a brand called Lou & Grey that's a tomboyish fusion of active and street wear, or "lifewear" as its being positioned.
Available in Loft stores, on LouandGrey.com, and in the first Lou & Grey freestanding store recently opened in Westport, Conn., the brand features sporty and loungey soft-dressing pieces in a pale color palette, including mélange knit moto jackets, slouchy linen T-shirts, textural oatmeal knit sweaters, sweat-shirt dresses and lace sweat pants from $30 to $100.
The new brand fits right in with the new active-wear trend that's taken fashion by storm, harkening back to the early 2000s heyday of relaxed casual SoCal brands such as Juicy Couture.
And Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor, who founded Juicy Couture in L.A. but are no longer involved with the brand, have launched a casual lifestyle brand of their own, a kind of Juicy 2.0 called Pam and Gela.
I caught up with Austyn Zung, creative director of Loft and Lou & Grey, and a veteran of Loft, Gap's Fourth & Towne, and Oscar de la Renta before that, to chat about the new brand under the ANN Inc. umbrella, its roots in California ease, and the key building blocks of the collection.
How long has the Lou and Grey concept been in the works?
Truly, it was just a little seed that kept growing, no big business strategy. It originated from the Loft Lounge collection we started 3½ years ago and organically grew from there. We responded to our clients' love of the category, and started making the collection broader and deeper. We started working with the Lou & Grey name about 6 months ago.
Tell me about the name.
"Lou" has this cool tomboyish quality and "Grey" has a soft welcoming feel. Most of the brand is really built on neutral colors (all of these different mélanges of grey, for example) so it's about a cool girl mixed with elegant warmth.
Are you targeting a specific demographic?
Age doesn't matter anymore. It's all about a mind set, how you feel and approach life, not how many years you've been on the Earth. It's about people who want to be stylish but also cool and relaxed at the same time. But when we look at numbers, we are pulling in a younger clientele, while not alienating 40- and 50-year-olds.
Why is the active-wear trend so hot right now?
This is the way people really dress. Now, people are putting it with 3-inch stilettos, but it's part of the whole relaxation of the world that's been going on for a while. People want to get up, put on one outfit, and be able to go from dropping off the kids at school to going to work to going out at night. You can do this wearing more relaxed, casual street wear. Maybe you wear the look with slip-on Vans sneakers during the day and high heels at night, but you can do it. I am from California (I was born in San Marino) though I've been in New York 20 years. It's the way we always dressed. It was never sloppy, just about ease.
What are the key pieces in the collection?
The lace sweat pants are the crux of the collection. I love the idea of being able to pull on drawstring pants but you are wearing lace. The whisper-thin linen V-neck T-shirt is also one of my favorites. It has the perfect fit, drape and color of gray. Something as simple as a T-shirt can be special. And in future collections, we're introducing some washed leather pieces which are great.
Will you do accessories?
Yes, for sure. We also have a curated collection of third-party vendors selling products that are very focused on craft. We call it the Makers Movement. And as we open more stores, we hope to seek out vendors that are meaningful to the communities they are in, to create more localized shopping experiences. Right now in the Westport store, we feature Moving Mountains jewelry out of Brooklyn and Proud Mary products made from global textiles. We'll also be working with IX, which sells huaraches from Guatemala with proceeds helping provide clean drinking water to children.
When will the next Lou & Grey store open?
We have several stores in the works but no firm date. But they are coming.
There are a lot of brands and retailers going into the active-wear category. How will Lou & Grey stand out?
I don't think there is anybody doing this in its totality. People are dipping their toes into active wear or bigger brands are doing a couple pieces, but no one is capturing the lifestyle feeling. These are clothes that you don't have to think about, that allow you to feel comfortable and approach life in an easy, non-complicated way while looking stylish. But more than that, it's about what you surround yourself with to live a relaxed, casual lifestyle.
[Updated 2:54 p.m. PDT April 29: A previous version of this post mis-stated the structure of the brands involved. ANN INc. is the parent company of Ann Taylor, Loft and Lou & Grey. Lou & Grey stemmed from Loft.]