Grayse designer and co-founder Kelly Gray talks in-person shopping and shares her top tips for event dressing in the desert and overhauling an outdated wardrobe.
Story by Emily Chavous
Photographs courtesy of Grayse
Quality materials, impeccable style, and exceptional customer service have always been the cornerstones at Grayse, a luxury women’s clothing boutique whose flagship store opened in 2014 at The Shops on El Paseo in Palm Desert. There is a second location at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.
Helmed by mother-daughter duo Marie and Kelly Gray, the store showcases a variety of desert- and resort-friendly ensembles that transition seamlessly from day to night. Even athleisure becomes dressy — and dare we say black-tie-worthy — under these designers’ watchful eyes.
Marie cut her sartorial teeth as a fashion model in Los Angeles before stepping into the role of designer in the early 1960s. Along with her entrepreneur husband, Robert Gray, she launched the international fashion brand St. John, best known for its classic women’s knitwear. Kelly grew up in the company, working as a receptionist, model, and creative director and ultimately taking over as CEO. Separately, she launched the menswear line Royal Underground, which points to her lifelong love of rock ’n’ roll music. Though the Gray family retired from St. John in the aughts, it was not long before the joys of kindred collaboration pulled them together again to establish Grayse.
We caught up with Kelly to chat about the brand’s present focus on in-person shopping and to get her advice for event dressing in the desert and overhauling an outdated wardrobe.
Although many retailers have shifted their attention to e-commerce over the last year and a half, at Grayse, you remain focused on your brick-and-mortar stores. Why has it been important for you to continue to cultivate the in-person experience?
We have always been brick-and-mortar, and we’ve always believed in the tactile experience. We’ve focused on mother of the bride, mother of the groom — event dressing. Usually for event dressing, women want to try things on. There are very few places left to do that.
It’s difficult when you’re shopping for an event to know what you want coming out of the gate. The idea is that you can still go to a traditional store and see different styles and different ideas and visualize yourself at the event. If retailers don’t take a position, there may not be a retail world to come back to, or the landscape will look very different.
What sort of experience do you strive to provide for Grayse clients?
We do everything to make the customer feel as though the store is her home away from home. We encourage husbands to come. We have TVs at the store playing fashion shows. Sometimes we’ll put the screens on a sporting event or something else to accommodate a particular guest.
We always like to keep beverages on hand and offer a little snack. We love to give courtesy business to our neighbors and bring in food if somebody is in the store for a long appointment — we might have somebody coming in who needs to be outfitted for an entire weekend of events. Sometimes it takes a while. We like to think that we’re completely focused on their experience, and that’s what will bring them back.
What do you reach for when you’re dressing for an event here in the desert?
Color and comfort are the two key factors in the desert. I recently joined a country club, and I hadn’t realized how important it is to meet dress code — and to feel well-dressed yet comfortable. There’s something about a resort environment, where all the black you wore during your career doesn’t suit [the lifestyle] anymore. If we’re out at night, I like pops of extreme, rich, vibrant colors, whether it’s a deep red or a bright yellow. For workouts, I tend to dress in pastels and cool tones.
Do you have your eye on any trends for 2022?
We’re still riding the athleisure wave. I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. It’s getting to be more complicated, kind of a one-upmanship of everything you could think to do with a tracksuit. Wear it for evening wear, wear it for black tie. It’s a very flattering trend. Those trends, in my opinion, tend to last longer.
Did you say “wear it for black tie”?
Yes, definitely for black tie … Athleisure is my go-to. Whether for dinner or lunch, it’s something that I can wear to any event. You always want to look fabulous and appropriate — not overdressed, not underdressed. That’s what’s difficult about the new way of dressing today. Go out and buy yourself a Grayse tracksuit with our matching jacket.
What other items would you recommend for someone who’s ready to shake things up and overhaul their wardrobe?
I would find the pair of white pants that fits you the best, a skort or short, a capri — something that’s shorter than a regular pant.
Get a brand-new pair of sneakers, because whatever you’ve got, they’re not as cool as what’s out today. Sneakers have come a long way, and they literally define the context of what you’re wearing. I would definitely recommend that you stop into Drop It on El Paseo to refresh your sneakers. Show a little bit more skin, no matter your age. Whether you’re wearing a capri or a short, that has become a new silhouette that’s appropriate in many more venues than it was a decade ago.