By  on April 18, 2007

With its sexy ad campaigns, a laser-like focus on product and a global network of stores, Guess over the past 25 years has grown into a $1.2 billion enterprise.

Although it hasn't always been a smooth ride, the Los Angeles company in recent years has completely transformed itself from primarily a wholesale business into a retail-focused enterprise with 773 directly owned and franchised stores worldwide.

The groundbreaking brand flew high in the Eighties and early Nineties on the back of a series of famously scintillating "Guess Girls," but then hit a wall in the late Nineties when price-cutting at department stores ate into its bottom line. The company suffered its first losses and retreated from wholesale, only to reemerge several years later as a retail powerhouse, with a multibrand portfolio that consists of Guess, Guess by Marciano, Marciano, Guess Accessories, Guess Footwear and its latest concept, G by Guess, a retail format of apparel priced between Guess stores and factory outlets.

The evolution of Guess is the story of the four Marciano brothers (three born in Algeria, then a French colony, and one in Morocco), who worked together to build a successful wholesale company with tremendous attention to product, quality and cutting-edge advertising. Guess became the largest apparel manufacturer in Southern California. Along the way, there were legal battles, labor woes and family disagreements over strategy; as a result, three of the brothers, Maurice, Paul and Armand Marciano, bought out their brother, former chairman Georges Marciano, taking over his 40 percent interest, in 1993.

Despite the ups and downs, Guess has managed to maintain its European styling, upscale image and better distribution, while many of the brands that originally competed with them have fallen by the wayside, or are selling to the mass channel.

FRENCH LESSONS

It all began in 1972, when Maurice and Georges opened their first stores in Marseilles, France, and started producing jeans under the M.G.A. label. A few years later, their brothers, Armand and Paul, joined the business, and they opened a 200-square-foot store in Bandol, France, in a former fish market.

"We had no money to remodel the store. We put the jeans in the fridge display counter," said Paul, vice chairman and chief executive officer of Guess. The jeans were designed by Georges and Maurice and were named M.G.A. after Maurice, Georges and Armand. "The logo also had an eagle. I always believed I was the eagle," quipped Paul. During the Seventies, they opened seasonal stores in French towns such as Cassis and Aix-en-Provence, and by 1977, they had 10 year-round and 15 seasonal stores.

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