The Guess Brand explosion began with just two dozen pairs of jeans in Bloomingdale’s in 1981. The Marciano brothers, Georges, Paul, Armand, and Maurice, moved to California from Marseilles, France to live and carry out their own version of the American dream and to put a new spin on the American denim world.
Their company’s humble beginnings featured that first pair of stonewashed, slim-fitting 3-zip Marilyns that sold out at New York’s flagship Bloomingdale’s in a mere three hours.
The French brothers chose to name their lighter and softer jean line Guess because it was easy for them all to pronounce. They began with just women’s jeans and soon expanded into men’s jeans, menswear, women’s shoes and accessories, kid’s clothing, bedding, watches, and much more in just a few short years. The quick success of the brand launched the company into the spotlight of fashion as a label for the young, sexy, and adventurous. They also revived the love of designer jeans that was once thought to have died out after the rush of designer denim in the 70s.
Almost as famous as the jeans themselves, Guess may actually be even more well known for their advertising achievements. In 1982, Paul Marciano took the reins on the Guess advertising campaign and created what would become some of the most iconic and successful advertisements ever seen in magazines, billboards, and so on. His vision for old-fashioned, black and white, photographic images of young, rebellious and sexy models not only drove sales and success of the Guess brand, but also helped to catapult the modeling careers of several “Guess girls” such as Claudia Schiffer, Carre Otis, Eva Herzigova, Laetitia Casta, Carla Bruni, Anna Nicole Smith, and Naomi Campbell. These ads earned the company numerous Clio awards and are still relevant over thirty years later.
Early success of Guess can also be partially attributed to the assistance of the Nakash family of the Jorache denim empire. The Nakash family gave the Marciano brothers $4.8 million and the use of their Hong Kong manufacturing plants in exchange for 50 percent of the company when the brothers were initially overwhelmed with the demand of their successful line. However, as success continued to soar for the Guess label, dealings with Jordache and the Nakashes went sour and after years of litigation the companies broke apart to continue business as separate entities once again.
Once litigations were over, the Marciano brothers were ready to expand the Guess brand into more entities other than just jeans, women’s shoes, and its other first offerings. One of the new product lines was called Guess Home and launched in the 1990s. The company made great strides in packaging solutions as they were the first to offer sheets, pillowcases, and duvets within packaging made from the very material within. This allowed consumers a chance to better see and feel what they were about to purchase. Several bedding manufacturers have since followed suit on the innovative packaging idea. However, menswear became a clear front runner of the new branches as it reached 41 percent sales growth in 1991.
In 1993, Georges Marciano stepped down as the company chairman, CEO, and designer, citing differences of opinion with his brothers over the direction of the company. He has since gone on to start his own company Go USA Surfwear and has purchased 80 percent of Yes Clothing Company. He sold his 40 percent share of Guess to his brothers for an estimated $200 million.
Popularity of the brand dwindled for a few years as rumors of sweatshops and unfair business practices circulated around the Guess name. Despite the verbal attacks, the company was able to keep sales up in the international scene as it weathered the tough times and emerged with a reworked image and style for a new set of teens and twenty-somethings in the new millenium.
In 2004, Guess brought on new Guess girl, Paris Hilton, to spearhead the launch of the company’s new glamorous image. That same year, the company launched their Marciano line of high-end clothing for the slightly older consumer who is more interested in items like evening wear and designer-style jeans. The company even opened several accessory stores throughout the United States with an emphasis on women’s shoes, jewelry, and belts.
Today, Guess is a global lifestyle brand with clothing and accessory lines in 1,210 stores in over 80 countries. It is one of the most recognizable brands around the world and is known for its quality, marketing creativity, and bringing innovative new styles to the fashion scene.