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The Evolution of Guess: New Label, Accessories Lead Firm’s Retail Push

At age 22, Guess Inc. is striving to regain its footing with a new contemporary unit, accessories chain and a fresh distribution formula.

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Los Angeles — At age 22, Guess Inc. is striving to regain footing in the fast-fashion market the founding Marciano brothers helped pioneer through a new contemporary division and accessories retail chain, a European business that is up 25 percent in the last year and a distribution formula emphasizing Guess’ signature stores.

Co-chief executive officers Maurice and Paul Marciano are literally putting their famous name on the line to show they can adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace. The strategies are already being reflected in the company’s bottom line.

Today is the official U.S. launch of Marciano, Guess’ first breakout division, which is opening a 2,000-square-foot store at The Grove shopping center here. The debut comes after a summer advertising campaign featuring the celebrity of the moment, Paris Hilton, who teased the arrival of the contemporary line from countless magazine ads, bus shelter posters and billboards.

“For the first time we are completely separating Marciano from Guess,” said Maurice Marciano, 55, in raspy, French-accented English during an exclusive WWD interview together with Paul, 52, at their corporate offices in Los Angeles.

While there have been times in the brand’s history when the family surname was positioned alongside Guess in labels and ads, the decision to use it as a stand-alone marquee comes as the brothers and the rest of the industry pursue the spending power of contemporary fashion consumers who are propelling one of the industry’s fastest-growing categories. L.A.-based competitors such as Bebe and BCBG have thrived in this market with their own stores. The Marcianos also tested the market in recent years with better items under the special Guess Collection label, selling $138 jeans alongside a Guess pair typically priced at $79.

Yet with the Marciano name sharing billing with Guess in many of the Hilton ads, some experts question whether the new division can forge an identity separate from its sibling line.

The Marcianos, however, insist any overlap effect will be short-lived.

Guess’ past and present are reflected in a headquarters conference room. A couple of glossy, 5-foot-tall photo boards of the fall ad campaign featuring Hilton lean against a wall. Nearby, on a stand, is one of the 20 engraved, century-old leather and pure silver saddles Paul Marciano acquired more than a decade ago when the brand went through its American West phase via vintage Hollywood (think of the 1961 film “The Misfits” starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift).
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