Six-foot-something Philippa Price glanced across a New York City bar and locked eyes with a fellow skyscraper, a blonde named Smiley Stevens. That night, as the young women conversed, they realized they had more in common than just stature. Both were avid readers. Both grew up in Los Angeles. And both shared a fancy for fashion.
A student at Parsons The New School for Design, Price was pursuing a major in integrated design. Born in Hampshire, England, to Brits who later emigrated to L.A., she drew inspiration from her aunt, Maureen Baker, who'd designed clothing for the royal family in the '60s and '70s.
Stevens' path was a bit more meandering. Majoring in environmental studies and urban planning at NYU, she dabbled in modeling on the side.
The two developed a sisterly bond over the next few months.
"We started by making wallets in the metal studio at Parsons," Price says. "Smiley would sneak into the [metal] shop, and we'd lock ourselves inside. At first we were making the wallets for friends, and it just grew from there."
They branded themselves as Gun, Germs and $teal — a playful homage to UCLA professor Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize–winning Guns, Germs and Steel, which both Price and Stevens had digested in college.
The book explores the geographic and environmental factors that gave rise to the modern world. But the duo's brand name took on new meaning after one of their confidants blogged a photo of one of their engraved money cases: They woke up to nearly 30 emails inquiring where to buy one. The brand's popularity spread like, well, germs.
"Rihanna follows us now," Stevens says gleefully of the GG$ Instagram account. "We almost crashed the car when we found out."
After graduation, the two moved back to L.A. to focus full-time on the brand. Now both 24, they run their company with confidence. Stevens keeps up the online presence while Price designs, and ideas bounce freely around their quaint Santa Monica studio.
The GG$ circle has grown to encompass a publicist and a production manager who helps oversee the manufacturing process downtown. The brand has branched out from accessories to clothing, and after Stevens and Price showcased their product in a collaborative pop-up store in late 2012, they soon found themselves booking accounts in such local boutiques as 424 and American Rag.
But it was Price's cousin, a stylist in London, who really put the ladies on the map. She used one of GG$' crew necks in a Rita Ora photo spread for Superga footwear. She also outfitted the A$AP Mob boys in the ladies' jewelry for Lana Del Rey's "National Anthem" video.
After that, Rihanna's stylist reached out to the ladies for a care package. Photographers captured the singer at JFK Airport wearing a crew neck detailed with an old-school lowrider, and the phone has been ringing ever since.
Price and Stevens now are designing their fourth collection, scheduled to debut in spring 2014.
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The designers may be young, but they're not bashful. "We'd like to collaborate with other types of thinkers," Price explains. "Not just clothing and music. We want to become a full lifestyle brand."
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