Pepper Foster rarely stays put behind his desk, so when a recent hernia operation temporarily saddled him to the chair, he felt compelled to show evidence of the surgery. "Look at this," he said, opening his denim pants and pointing to a bandage on his pelvic area.


Foster winced a little after poking at the injury a few times. But neither he nor his twin brother Chip gets distracted for too long when it comes to their high-end jeans brand, Chip & Pepper.


The phone rang and Hollywood nightclub owner Chris Breed, who recently outfitted his Cabana Club employees in clothes designed by the Foster brothers, was on the line. Pepper began plotting his next moves.


"I don't have a deal in the Middle East. The Middle East and Russia? I love it!" said Pepper. "I love it!"


Such is the frenetic and quite unlikely world of Chip and Pepper, who run Vernon-based L.A. Lab Inc., a jeans maker and retailer whose visibility within the local fashion community far eclipses its annual sales of just under $30 million.


The Fosters, a pair of blonds who routinely come to work clad in jeans, weathered T-shirts and flip flops, have, in effect, used personality to grow their business. They make regular appearances on E! Television and the Style Network as self-appointed fashion mavens skewering celebrity get-ups (including a recent stint on "Glamour's 50 Biggest Fashion Dos & Don'ts" on E!, where they agreed that panty lines are major don'ts).


"Not being buttoned-up corporately is not a bad thing. They are very passionate about their business," said Michael Keener, an apparel marketing manager at Atlanta-based Collegiate Licensing Co., which recently reached a deal with L.A. Lab to make university T-shirts. "As brand owners, they understand the need to protect the brand."


And word has spread beyond the boutique crowd. After meeting recently with buyers from Nordstrom Inc. at the merchant's South Coast Plaza store, Chip Foster recalls seeing a 40-ish corporate-type shopper picking up one of his jeans, which retail for up to $300. He said the moment was awesome, a word that the two brothers seem to utter every other breath.


"Those guys are such good marketing guys," said Breed, who plans to keep dressing his employees in Chip & Pepper clothes in upcoming seasons. "As soon as you meet them, it is just a blast of energy. You want to get involved. Everything that they will do, they will probably do well at, because it just sounds so good."

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