By  on April 18, 2007

Accessories was once considered an ancillary category to denim or contemporary brands, but now handbags, footwear and eyewear have become core competencies for many firms. No one understands this quite like Paul Marciano.

The company, which has seven accessories licenses, not including swimwear with RAJ Manufacturing, has a booming business in the category, which comprises $800 million in wholesale sales.

Accessories include handbags under license with Signal, footwear with Marc Fisher, belts with Maxx Leather, men's jewelry and small leather goods with Swank, women's jewelry with K&M Accessories, eyewear with Viva and watches with Callanen International.

"We built the Guess brand first and then created the world of Guess with all our licenses," said Marciano.

And the Guess universe is constantly expanding. The company has plans to increase the number of its accessories-only stores; the first opened in Los Angeles in September 2004 and there are now 110. Marciano said he planned to increase that number to 300 in the next few years. There are now accessories-only stores in such diverse locales as Cambridge, Mass., Florence and Sydney.

"Accessory stores continue to open aggressively around the world," he said.

The company also has two Guess Footwear stores, in Paris and in Orlando, Fla., in conjunction with footwear licensee Marc Fisher, the former president of product development and sourcing for Nine West Group. Last year, Marciano said the chain could grow to 200 doors worldwide. The firm will roll out 15 to 20 such stores in the next 12 months.

Overall, the licensees concurred that the keys to their combined success are communication and long-standing relationships.

Signal, a 25-year-old father-son firm in Los Angeles, has produced Guess handbags for the past 15 years. Handbags account for 60 percent of the distribution in the accessories stores.

"We feel that now we offer incredible trend-right designs that have become our own brand...and we offer these incredible designs at a price point," said Jason Rimokh, Signal's executive vice president, who added that he speaks with Marciano regularly. Guess handbags retail from $75 to $140 and, like other Guess products, are sold in Macy's and other major department stores."We've been able to establish ourselves as the fashion resource for department store penetration. We're offering something on the level of Coach, with handbags, wallets, travel accessories, hats and even umbrellas," added Rimokh.

In spring 2008, Signal will launch a Guess travel collection with fashionable luggage and related products.

"Paul is very involved; his team is very involved. We have a very strong working relationship," said Kim Anderson Curry, senior vice president of marketing and product at Callanen International, which has produced Guess and GC watches for 10 years. "We have an open dialogue. We have a tremendous synergy with Guess. "

Anderson Curry added that Paul Marciano himself was about to become the spokesman for the watch lines.

Callanen launches 300 new Guess watch styles a year. The average retail price of a Guess watch is $90, but GC watches can go as high as $1,200

retail. This month, Callanen introduced a limited edition watch with automatic movement in honor of its 10-year partnership with Guess. The firm also makes select Marciano watches exclusively for the Marciano stores.

Callanen, like all of the licensees, is serious about its category and has luxury on the brain. Last year, the company moved its headquarters to Switzerland and joined the Swiss Federation of Watches. Callanen has plans to double the GC business this year.

Marc Fisher also has luxury on his mind. This fall, the Greenwich, Conn.-based firm is launching Marciano footwear to coordinate with the brand's contemporary clothes. Shoes will retail from $170 to $240 and boots will sell for $250 to $400 at Marciano stores and select department and independent stores.

Sources said Guess was looking to grow Marciano accessories with its current licensees. Marciano, launched in 2004, is priced 40 percent higher than Guess products.

Emanuel Weintraub, president and ceo of Emanuel Weintraub Associates, a management consultancy in Fort Lee, N.J., isn't surprised by the push for higher prices.

"Luxury is extremely hot," he said. "Accessories are it, and that always helps if you're in a hot area. Guess is a very well accepted brand by the consumer; consequently, I think they'll be successful in accessories. It's a fabulous strategy that will hold up as long as there seems to be a never-ending growth in salaries and bonuses. It's so far, so good."

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