Iconic Tour

How a fashion guru snared Kate Middleton as a client

Constance Gustke, special to CNBC.com
Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge
Getty Images

For Lisa Shaller-Goldberg, the founder of luxe goods maker Minnie Rose, exclusivity is a secret sauce. That's how the fashion guru snagged Kate Middleton. The Duchess of Cambridge has been spotted wearing a Minnie Rose cashmere shawl bought from exclusive London stores, like Donna Ida and Harvey Nichols.

"We look for high-profile stores everywhere," explained Shaller-Goldberg, who has been in the fashion business since she was 18. "Handpicking stores creates demand. We're very exclusive with them."

Shaller-Goldberg launched her own luxury brand, called Minnie Rose, 10 years ago, after her success propelling Juicy Couture into pop culture. Her brand now has a strong cult following. Besides the Duchess of Cambridge, customers include Charlize Theron, Jessica Alba and Oprah Winfrey. Revenues have grown 30 percent per year for the past 10 years. And Minnie Rose's 2015 revenues topped $10 million; she hopes to triple revenues by 2021.

More than 800 retailers, including ones in Asia and Europe, sell her wares.

The designer landed on the fashion map after she designed the now-iconic Juicy Couture tracksuit back in the 1990s. The California-based company initially sold just T-shirts on the West Coast. So she became the East Coast representative — eventually getting the T-shirt into 600 key retail stores.

Lisa Shaller-Goldberg, creative director and founder of Minnie Rose
Scott Goldberg | Couturegraphy

"I've been with the hottest brands my whole career," she said. "It's not the drug; it's the pusher. Every town has a key store."

Her next big idea was offering a Juicy Couture fitted, sexy tracksuit that didn't yet exist. "Let's look sexy and hot," she remembers saying. It fit one of her merchandising principles: looking for a void in the market. So Shaller-Goldberg wrote a five-page letter detailing the tracksuit: fitted jacket, flared pants with a drawstring.

Voilà. The iconic tracksuit was born, first in terry cloth and then in velour. It came in 18 colors and looked like a candy suit, she said. "Buyers were storming the booth," she remembers. And even today the Juicy tracksuit is still popular.

Going to market is the best test. Don't worry about being ahead of the curve. You can backtrack when the trend swings around again.
Lisa Shaller-Goldberg
creative director and founder of Minnie Rose

The fashion maven also had built a handpicked retail network at Juicy Couture, which she ended up leaning on later. Buyers like to do business with people they know, she explains. "If you also have a great product, it's win-win," she added. "I've always made my stores money."

But by 2003, Juicy Couture was sold to Liz Claiborne for $53 million. "That was a bad day," she said. So Shaller-Goldberg had to turn around and start from the bottom again.

Fortunately, the answer came fairly quickly. A factory in China that made Juicy Couture apparel asked her to create her own clothing line. Then she remembered one of her favorite sweaters: a cashmere duster she bought one day and never took off. That sweater became a core part of her new cashmere-and-cotton apparel company, called Minnie Rose.

Her audience was the grown-up Juicy Couture buyer who wanted pieces that could fit any size or shape, like a hooded duster.

"Developing a product that anyone can wear is what's most lucrative," she said, "and that's true over and over." Cashmere was used since it's soft, cuddly and luxurious, she explained.

Shaller-Goldberg credits her success to learning that merchandising is key. "We have seven salesgirls who check out stores to see how it's merchandised," she said. "You have to always be out in the stores building relationships. I make sure that everything on the floor is selling."

Minnie Rose goods are rarely marked down. If a piece doesn't sell, she buys it back. "Retailers can't get stuck with stuff that doesn't sell," she explained. "The goal is that retailers always have to make money. So I bend over backwards."

Exclusivity is built by putting core, basic styles on the website, and not the whole collection.

Second, if you have a dream, go for it. Start small, with three styles, such as basic with a twist. Juicy Couture, for example, offered a plunging V-neck T-shirt that no one else was doing, she said. Next, get a reaction by taking a piece to a handful of the best retail stores and testing it.

"Going to market is the best test," she said, adding that you shouldn't worry about being ahead of the curve, because you can backtrack when the trend swings around again. "Be patient," she advised. "Not everyone is moving at the same velocity."

Third, do lots of research, such as reading books, magazines and blogs. For example, she spotted a trend when looking at designer Alexander Wang's collection four months ago. She said she felt "the whole outdoorsy, wilderness" trend was going to happen and asked herself what comes next. Her answer: The '90s are back.

"Trends don't just jump out," she said.

— By Constance Gustke, special to CNBC.com