What's in a name? In Fred Segal's case, it represents effortless California-cool style since its founder opened the first denim bar concept in L.A. in 1961. The retailer's red and blue signs still welcome shoppers at its original ivy-covered building on Melrose Avenue, despite the fact that the store moved to Sunset Boulevard in 2017.
There are a few reasons why the former anchor retailer's signs are still up. For starters, Fred Segal (the man) no longer owns Fred Segal LLC (the brand) or his original 29,000-square-foot property on Melrose. In 2001, the Segal family sold it to Bud Brown, their "long-time insurance broker," according to Law360. In 2016, Canada-based real estate investor CormackHill bought the land. The name and other intellectual property are now owned by L.A.-based brand licensing agency Global Icons.
Global Icons owns the relocated West Hollywood store, while the rest of the locations in the U.S. and Europe "are all licensees, with many more to be announced next year," according to the company.
Fred Segal's employees-turned-tenants, Ron Robinson and Ron Herman (who is Segal's nephew), are still open for business. Though Robinson plans to close his store in February 2020 (his Santa Monica location shuttered last month), Herman is renovating his boutique, while the iconic Mauro's Cafe is also still serving up California fare.
Still scratching your head over what's happening at the former Fred Segal complex? Keep reading below to untangle the legal disputes over the Melrose sign and what's going on with the center's current directory.
Fred Segal Signs Point to Lawsuits
In 2016, a representative from the firm that brokered CormackHill's deal to buy the Melrose property told now-defunct Racked L.A. that there were "no plans to convert the property to mixed-use. Instead, their focus is to maintain high fashion at the Fred Segal location at 8100 Melrose Avenue and continue to improve the offerings and services provided at Fred Segal Melrose … The new ownership looks forward to servicing the community for years to come."
CormackHill kept its promise, and now there's a legal tug-of-war between it and the current owners of Fred Segal. The retail property investor is "facing trademark infringement claims from Fred Segal LLC [and is] alleging they have a right to keep the fashion brand's sign up," according to Law360. The nearly five-year-old case against CormackHill accuses it of keeping up the sign "without proper authority."
The disagreement began brewing in 2012 when New York-based Sandow Media bought the worldwide branding rights to the Fred Segal name. The media company embarked on an expansion that brought the retailer to LAX's Tom Bradley Terminal the following year and to Taiwan and Switzerland last year. (There are also Fred Segal stores in Japan that are managed by equity investor Moroto Group after Sandow handed over Japanese licensing control in 2015, per Women's Wear Daily.)
The L.A. retailer changed hands for a second time when Global Icons announced in March that it acquired a majority stake in Fred Segal LLC. Along with minority stakeholder Evolution Media, the brand licensing agency debuted the retailer's third L.A. location in Malibu in April. (Fun fact: Fred Segal — the man — helped develop Malibu Country Mart across the way and previously had a store there for about a decade, per the L.A. Times.)
What Sandow didn't purchase back in 2012 were Fred Segal's two existing iconic properties on Melrose Avenue and on Broadway in Santa Monica. The SaMo location shuttered in 2016 and was razed to make way for a mixed-use high-rise, according to Apparel News.
At issue is the agreement made between the Melrose property's previous owner and Fred Segal himself. As Law360 reported: "CormackHill's attorney … [maintains that] a 2001 agreement between Fred Segal and the building's previous owners allows third-party beneficiaries — namely, his client — to continue to use the sign and be privy to a 'radius promise' that prevents other Fred Segal signs in close proximity."
Translation: In the legal eagle eyes of Fred Segal's owners, the Melrose property's third-party beneficiary signage rules don't apply to CormackHill. Per Law360, Sandow's team "asked the court to enter judgment in its favor on the counterclaims and rule that Dec. 31, 2020, is the deadline for CormackHill to remove the sign." If the judge rules in favor of Fred Segal LLC's current owner, Global Icons, then Angelenos will have to say goodbye to the legendary retailer's original sign.
Ch-Ch-Changes at 8100 Melrose
When we caught up with Ron Robinson earlier this month, the pioneering L.A. retailer shared his feelings on Barneys New York's closing and how the sale of Fred Segal influenced his own decision to close his stores.
"[Barneys] did represent a very important part of the fashion industry. And then there are so many ways to analyze what's going on there," Robinson told UncoverLA. "It [also] says something about my decision … Personally, I've seen branding projects like that happen, and they often don't turn out so well. They're certainly not the same as the original. And I saw that in that, and I saw that in Fred Segal when they sold the name to somebody else [twice]."
In a statement, CormackHill told UncoverLA: "Ron Robinson is legendary in the industry and the brand's long association with 8100 Melrose has helped make it what it is today. Ron and [and his wife] Stacy have been a pleasure to work with and we applaud their success and wish them well in the next stage of their life and business.[The complex] will continue to play a leading role in Los Angeles' retail and fashion industry and we are excited to continue Ron Herman's and Mauro's decades-long operations at the center and will have further announcements about more to come at a later date," the company continues.
Ron Robinson to Shutter Early Next Year
After working as a buyer for Fred Segal, Robinson set up his own shop at the center in 1978. Opting to end things on a high note, the legendary retail entrepreneur announced his decision in October to close both of his namesake L.A. lifestyle concept boutiques.
Robinson told UncoverLA that he'll continue running Apothia, the cosmetics and fragrance company he founded 35 years ago. "We sell to the best hotels and stores in America and in Japan," and the brand has recently added more overseas distribution, including to Poland and Italy.
"People said, 'Why don't you just sell your name?' It just doesn't come out the same," Robinson said earlier this month the day after hosting a "Happy Ending" send-off soirée, where partygoers enjoyed live caroling, hairstyling, custom embroidery, tarot card readings, and more. "I'm very happy to end and say farewell to my retail stores and leave at the top of my game."
He added: "The emotions that I've gone through include sadness, ambivalence, happiness, questioning. It was good timing to find this moment [but] this is not something that I was forced into. My decision is based on [my desire to] move myself into another journey in my life, not bankruptcy, as there [have been] so many of those. With the climate of retail, that's where people's minds are."
"I don't feel that I'm leaving anything on the table. At the same time, I achieved my dream. I worked hard … to achieve something and feel fulfilled in some manner that what you're doing made a difference," Robinson added.
"I've got my hands full. I've reached a point in my career, in my life, I thought very deeply about where I was going," he continued. "I love what I do. But I know that I have time competing with me … I want to make sure that I want to take advantage of time." (That's sage advice we can all use.)
When asked about his fondest memories over the last four decades, Robinson recalled how "a retail experience when I started in the industry was a social and community experience as well as a place to shop. In the case of what we built, [it was] a daytime nightclub effect where you see a hot guy or hot girl and they're trying on jeans and a t-shirt [nearby]. You could actually see somebody and meet them."
"If it was '68 to '78, then you weren't always sober! At the end of the day, I recall all the staff would want to vacuum the carpet. They'd want to vacuum they want to find the joint that someone had dropped, or maybe there was a pill or two," he joked.
His stores found success hosting a regular schedule of events, like the courtyard yoga classes at his Santa Monica boutique, book signings, trunk shows, and even the fashionable happenings at his soon-to-shutter Melrose store. "That social component is missing today," he added.
Gregory's Shutters Shoe Shop
After hosting an epic blowout sale in September, Gregory's closed its only L.A. luxury shoe shop. The Dallas-owned footwear store previously purchased Fred Segal Feet from independent owners Stanley and Patti Silver in 2011, reported the L.A. Times. Ron Herman has since taken over its former space.
Ron Herman to Expand Store; New Tenants to Join Soon
Already housed in Fred Segal's former two-story space, Ron Herman is taking over the entire east side of the building to make way for property owner CormackHill's aforementioned soon-to-be-announced additions. Staff at the store confirmed that another tenant is expected to move into the vacated space.
As for Herman himself, the store owner told Apparel News last year that he planned on bringing his Japan-only labels including RH Vintage and Ron Herman California to his L.A. stores and move production of the brands to the U.S. The influential retailer continues to attract a starry clientele, too — we spotted Kevin Hart during our visit, and Kate Moss, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Aniston are also among frequent shoppers.
Meanwhile, renovations are currently underway at Ron Herman's relocated space; see more photos and scroll through the gallery below.
Former Fred Segal complex, 8100 Melrose Ave., L.A., 90046