By  on April 18, 2007

Guess has become known for effectively imprinting its image on the minds of consumers, most notably through its iconic advertising. But it all started with denim.

One can't accurately gauge the impact and influence Guess has had on the denim industry without first examining the environment in which the brand was born. It was 1982 when the Marciano brothers set out to break into the American retail market. It turned out to be a transitional period in American culture and fashion. The disco movement was breathing its last gasps, Madonna was making her first musical rumblings and denim was still dominated by old guard brands such as Levi's and Lee. Denim was dark, plain and occupied a low rung on the fashion food chain. Guess was instrumental in changing this.

"Levi's had a huge market share at the time," said Andrew Olah, a denim veteran and head of Olah Inc., which represents prominent textile and denim suppliers from around the world.

Despite this dominance, there was a target demographic Levi's was not adequately addressing, spelling opportunity for a company like Guess. "Over the last 20 years, Levi's has lost their market share, and they were never that vivacious with women's wear," said Olah.

Guess targeted women from the beginning and brought something unique to retailers. According to the company's most recently published book, "Guess by Marciano," retailers were initially reluctant to carry the Marcianos' first product offering, the three-zip Marilyn jean. Not only was the Marilyn not a traditional five-pocket style, it was also stonewashed, a relatively new and unfamiliar process. There were questions as to whether consumers would be interested in a denim that looked already worn. In short, the Marilyn was something with which risk-averse retailers weren't sure what to do.

When Bloomingdale's agreed to sell a test order of jeans, it was the catalyst to a boom that made Guess a driving force behind the emergence of status denim. Other labels, such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Diesel, eventually followed suit.

"The way Guess went about it, they penetrated the market by offering lots of choice and making denim relevant in lots of different styles and areas, like skirts and jackets," said Olah. "They glamorized jeanswear."

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