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Fred Segal, Arbiter Of West Coast Cool, Dies At 87

Exterior of the Fred Segal clothing store in Los Angeles, California, June 1, 2002. (Robert Mora/Getty Images)
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Fred Segal, the innovative fashion retailer who sold an iconic California casual look through a discerning curatorial eye, died Thursday in Santa Monica. He was 87.

Segal capitalized on proximity to Hollywood and celebrity clientele to promote effortless-looking luxury copied by other brands and immortalized in popular culture, most frequently in the mid-1990s through the early aughts when the store was name-checked in films such as Clueless.

Segal and his buyers "were able to pull what made Los Angeles distinct and put that into the store instead of looking -- as so many others did -- to the runways of New York, or even Europe," said Valli Herman, a lifestyles writer and former L.A. Times fashion critic.

As he spread the gospel about designer jeans paired with high-end T-shirts, Herman also popularized the shop-within-a-shop concept that helped promote SoCal brands such as Juicy Couture.

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"Fred Segal defined L.A. fashion and sparked a revolutionary shift in style with the first ever denim bar," Jeff Lotman, CEO and Owner of Fred Segal, said in a statement.

Segal was born in Chicago but made his way west as a traveling shoe salesman. He opened the "Jeans Bar" on Melrose at Crescent Heights in 1960, which, according to the store's website, ended up "attracting crowds and causing traffic jams even though they were selling for the unheard price of $19.95 when jeans were typically $3.00."

Besides selling fashion, the Fred Segal store that opened on Sunset also had a buzzy restaurant that drew celebrities and tourists alike.

Herman sees Segal's legacy in Rick Caruso's properties like The Grove and The Americana at Brand, which elevate "shopping as an activity, not just a place for commerce, where you took all these great super niche boutiques and stores and kind of created a whole universe."

The Fred Segal brand has spread beyond L.A. and Malibu locations to stores at LAX and in Switzerland and Taiwan.

Segal's passing, following the deaths of Stanley Marcus, former CEO of Neiman Marcus, and the bankruptcy travails of Barneys New York, further ushers the end of an era of specialty retailers, said a mournful Herman.

"Too bad, because the retailer had a chance to really know their local market," she said. "And with the loss of these kinds of retailers you've a real sort of interpreter."

Segal is survived by his wife and five children.

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