LOS ANGELES — With a new type of denim for its basic jeans and a new group of upper-level executives in place, Guess Inc. gathered its international licensees and distributors for a meeting here Monday to outline the course for global expansion over the next few years.
“We’re telling them where we’re going,” said Maurice Marciano, chairman and chief executive officer. “Our plan now is to be a global brand. That’s why we want the product to be very consistent in every market.”
Among Guess’s recent global moves are signing a major licensing deal with the Japanese firm Itochu to oversee licensing and manufacture of Guess brands in Japan.
Further stretching horizons, Paul Marciano, Guess president, said the firm’s Korean licensee, Il Kyung, has plans to open two Guess boutiques in Vietnam.
Guess has also recently completed construction of a design studio and distribution center in Florence that will be overseen by the firm’s offices here rather than by a distributor. Although Europe might not be growing as rapidly as the Asian economies, Maurice Marciano noted, “Europe is so important to us as far as image that we want to make sure everything is absolutely perfect.”
In another major development, Maurice Marciano told WWD that Guess is recalling all its basic product and replacing it with new basics made from a new denim. Over the past year, there had been no progression in the core product and “basic sales had slowed down,” he said.
“We have completely changed all our basic jeans fabric,” he said. “It’s a much more constructed denim, using finer yarns and a washing process using no or very little bleach and more stone washing.”
The result, which he said will be priced at the same level as current Guess product, will be a much softer hand. All the packaging will be changed as well, he noted. The project got under way in January, he said.
The old inventory will be disposed of through Guess’s 40 factory stores or through sales in countries such as Poland, Marciano said. The change was necessary, he felt, because there had been no progression in Guess’s basic denim program since he left the firm in July 1992 to explore other ventures, including a stint heading Pepe Jeans with Silas Chou and Laurence Stroll. Marciano returned to Guess last August, with the departure of Georges Marciano, who left as chairman and ceo, selling his interest in his firm to his three brothers — Armand, Maurice and Paul.
“When I came back, the first thing I wanted to address was the basic product,” he continued. “For Guess, this was crucial, because we were so known for being trendsetters and innovators.”
The change will be accompanied by a strikingly different ad campaign developed by Paul Marciano to focus on product.
The executive appointments include two who returned to Guess at about the same time as Maurice. Vice president of design Angie Furlong, who had been at Guess for seven years and then was design director at Esprit de Corp. for two years, returned to Guess in September. Jim Baldus also returned to the company in September as senior vice president of operations, a post he held previously. Baldus left the company as well in 1992 and worked for a time at Threads 4 Life, which makes the Cross Colours line and others.
“We also hired a new chief information officer, Mark Storfer, because we’re putting a big, big emphasis on technology,” said Maurice Marciano. “Right now, if you want to be successful, you need to be very fast, and if you want be very fast, you have to have the best technology.”
In January, Bernard Zeichner, who had been president of Contempo Casuals, a chain of specialty stores based here, joined the company as president of retail and as a director, the first non-Marciano to be on the board.
“We needed that because our retail operation is becoming a business within a business,” Maurice Marciano said.
Finally, Guess’s latest hire is Roger Williams, who will leave his executive vice president and chief financial officer post at The Donna Karan Cos. on March 1 to take the same post at Guess. He will succeed Roy Pierce, who had been acting chief financial officer. Pierce will become chief financial officer for retail operations, a new post.
During the international conference, the Marcianos met with licensees and retailers from Australia, Korea, Malaysia, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Panama, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Chile and Singapore.
Maurice Marciano said he feels Asia will be the fastest-growing market by far in the next few years, followed by Central and South America, then Europe. Paul Marciano added that there are plans to sign a licensee to distribute Guess in Turkey.
One of the distributors, Frank Benjamin, group managing director of the Singapore-based distribution company F. Benjamin Holdings, said he plans to open a second Singapore flagship for Guess, bringing the total number of Guess stores in Singapore to five.
While he wouldn’t reveal specific figures, Benjamin said that the stores have been doing “very high volume per square foot” and that Guess is challenging Levi’s for the top denim brand slot in Singapore.
“What I hadn’t realized was how high the general awareness of Guess is among young people,” said Benjamin.
After a day of meetings, the licensees and distributors met for a cocktail party at the new Baby Guess-Guess Kids stores on Rodeo Drive.
Michel Benasra, chairman and ceo of Baby Guess and Guess Kids, said he was having the party to celebrate both the opening of the 3,700-square-foot store and the renewal of his licenses for the lines.
Benasra said he is developing a line of home furnishings that will bear the label Guess Home Furnishings. It will include sheets, towels and bathrobes as well as items for the table and be ready to ship to stores in mid-April.