Kelly Gray has spent almost her entire life in the fashion industry. By her early 20’s, she had already appeared in thousands of fashion advertisements, and by 30, she was running a $400 million company. A few years later, she co-founded her own company with Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx.
Kelly was, in a sense, born into the world of fashion. She grew up at St. John, the high end knitwear company founded by her model-turned-designer mother and businessman father in 1962. When she was only 12, her father hired her to work answering phones during summer vacation, and by the time she was 15, Kelly began modeling for the company.
Within a few years, she became the face of St. John, appearing in the company’s iconic ads for over two decades. But Kelly had learned from her parents that fashion was about much more than just appearances and advertising. She made it her business to familiarize herself with every aspect of the company, working in departments as varied as shipping and accounting, production and retail, each experience deepening her knowledge of the industry. She moved up the corporate ladder quickly, becoming the company’s Creative Director when she was in her mid-20’s, and just before her 30th birthday taking over the reins as CEO.
In the interim, Kelly and Nikki Sixx had formed Royal Underground, a men’s clothing line with an edgy vibe. The two had met backstage at Kelly’s first Motley Crue concert and soon discovered a shared love for fashion. Following the success of its men’s line, Royal Underground launched its women’s line in late 2007.
Kelly says she has enjoyed her “love affair” with the rock and roll industry and working on Royal Underground, but ultimately realized how much she missed working with her family. Grayse, the new company she has formed with her mother, Marie Gray, seems “the natural progression at this stage of my life.”
During her years at the head of St. John, Kelly steered it through a period of amazing growth, taking the firm from a $100 million-a-year company to one with annual revenues of $400 million. Though she left St. John in 2005, she returned less than two years later as a part-time creative consultant for two years.