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."After the look of the product, the advertising and marketing captured a look and feel for the brand's image that survives until this day and has been a crucial element to its success. While Paul sought to create an image and feeling with advertising, he was balanced by Maurice's commitment to the product. In the book, Paul gives examples of some of Maurice's denim-related concerns over the years when it came to advertising. "'What's wrong with you, going to Spain to shoot a bullfighter when there's not a single pair of jeans in the whole shoot?' and 'Why put dirt on our jeans and tear them?'" are the kinds of things Maurice asked of Paul.

Guess' ability to evolve while staying true to its brand identity is another attribute those in the denim industry point to as a key to success.

"They started out as that basic jean with the triangle Guess label, moving into the basic jean with the leather trim," said Brian Hogan, president of Modamood, the New York-based wholesale distributor for Replay jeans. "Over the years they've matured themselves into not just classifications but a full collection."

In fact, Guess has been more than a denim collection for well over 10 years. According to the

company's first annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in 1996 only

approximately 40 percent of the company's product range consisted of denim items. No such breakdown was available for last year, but suffice it to say the company has signed 21 licenses for categories ranging from handbags to swimwear, opening additional Guess Accessories and Guess Footwear stores, which is a key element of the brand's growth strategy going forward.

Hogan said each expansion of the collection has added an element of maturity and sophistication, which has only helped solidify the company's image.

Of course, Hogan also couldn't discount the success of such compelling marketing. "When they first featured Anna Nicole, she was a newcomer with that wavy blonde hair — it made you stop and go, 'Wow,'" said Hogan. "They've got the same thing now with the new girl they've found. They haven't stepped left or right, they've kept their DNA in advertising."Jason Ferro, owner and president of Los Angeles-based Bread Denim, credits Guess with bringing a European flair to the American market. Ferro's perspective on Guess is that of a former insider. He spent three years as the brand's design director before venturing out on his own to start Bread. Prior to Guess, he logged design stints at Levi's and Abercrombie & Fitch during his 10 years in the industry.

"I think they're one of the first brands that really focused on premium denim. Back in the day, Guess was it, that's what everybody wanted," said Ferro. "They know how to create the environment and bring style to it, and they've kept on doing that over the years."

The label also has been the proving grounds for the designers behind a number of today's well-recognized premium denim brands. Jerome Dahan, said Ferro, worked at Guess before starting Seven For All Mankind and eventually Citizens of Humanity.

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