Amy Elisa Keith
October 23, 2006 12:00 PM

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Justin Timberlake might add to that axiom: Keep the guy who knows how you dressed in elementary school closest of all. Trace Ayala’s roots with Timberlake, 25, go way back to Memphis, where the two used to coordinate their outfits. They’ve stayed friends through Timberlake’s pop star ascent. Ayala, also 25, kept his pal grounded and once acted as his assistant. Now they are partners in William Rast clothing (named for Timberlake’s and Ayala’s maternal grandfathers, William Bomar and John Rast). After last year’s denim line took off with celebs (including, naturally, Timberlake’s girl Cameron Diaz) they added tees, sweaters and jackets. On Oct. 17 they’ll debut their first fashion show, in L.A. Amid frantic preparations, the pair spoke to PEOPLE’s Amy Elisa Keith.

The Spring 2007 collection debuts in eight days. Who’s more stressed?

TIMBERLAKE: He is. He has more information than I do.

AYALA: There’s just not enough time. I’m stressed about production.

TIMBERLAKE: We can come up with a million ideas, but if we can’t execute them, it’s frustrating. It’s not good for my A.D.D.

As fashion show newcomers, what’s your goal?

TIMBERLAKE: We wanted something respectful to the fashion world, but that would also tip it on its head. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s make a presentation from a stage.

Of the two of you, who’s more fashionable?

TIMBERLAKE: Trace. Trace used to style us both.

AYALA: Yeah, but I definitely rip stuff from him too.

TIMBERLAKE: When we were kids we used to call each other to make sure that we would not wear the same thing. We would go to the store …

AYALA: … and buy the same polo shirts and jackets and jeans. I was like, “You ain’t wearing the green polo shirt today because I already have it on.” “With the Jordans?” “Yeah.”

Is it hard being friends and business partners?

TIMBERLAKE: Not really.

AYALA: We’re more like brothers.

TIMBERLAKE: Our parents were best friends in high school. They had us three months apart. I don’t have a true sibling, but Trace is the closest.

Even brothers fight.

AYALA: Oh yeah, we fight.

TIMBERLAKE: For three minutes, then we’re over it. Guys don’t fight like girls. Girls will fight about the same thing a year later.

What do your grandfathers think of William Rast?

AYALA: When you bring home a shirt with their names on it, they light up.

TIMBERLAKE: They don’t understand some hip-hopper walking down the street in our jeans. [But] I gave my granddad our first windbreaker. He said, “I really like this because it’s a nice fabric and it keeps me warm.” That’s it.

Has your fame helped or hurt?

TIMBERLAKE: Honestly, having my name attached—as much attention as that draws, it’s also the biggest thorn in your side. I told Trace it wasn’t going to work unless we slummed it and did it the right way.

AYALA: [The name] spreads like wildfire when you announce it, but when there’s no wood to burn, you’ve got a problem.

What is your design inspiration?

TIMBERLAKE: Our double lives. We go home [to Memphis] and you won’t catch Trace out of cargo overalls. But here in L.A. you won’t catch him in them. Where we came from, fashion is functional.

AYALA: Here fashion is not comfortable.

TIMBERLAKE: The biggest compliment we’ve gotten, especially from the fe-males, is “I love the way these jeans fit my a–.” That’s big for us.

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