GUESS: THE NEXT PHASE

Byline: Sharon Edelson / With contributions from Teena Hammond, Los Angeles

NEW YORK — Marking a new phase in its retail evolution, Guess has unveiled two U.S. flagships on opposite coasts that compared with the older generation of Guess stores, more closely fit the image of the firm’s young, sexy and high profile advertising.
The design of the flagships, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and on Broadway in SoHo here, takes Guess beyond the Americana theme of its original outposts. The 7,300-square-foot Rodeo Drive flagship opened on Friday, and the 10,000-square-foot unit in SoHo is officially set to open today.
Guess stores have long played on themes of the American West, with interiors of distressed wood, brick walls, vintage signs and props such as antique cowboy boots, which Georges Marciano, former Guess president, collected at auction.
By contrast, the Beverly Hills and SoHo units are larger, more spacious and contemporary, filled with retro furniture from the Fifties, fixtures made of clear maple wood, and glass and stainless steel tables used to display shoes, bags and sweaters.
Throughout both stores, the spare backgrounds and strong saturated colors of images from the fall Guess campaign photographed by Dah Len punctuate the walls.
The ads, which feature models Korina Longin, Diana Gartner and Quin Huntley, are a departure from Guess ad campaigns of the past, where Claudia Schiffer and Anna Nicole Smith were captured in black and white in such locales as Paris, Miami and Mikanos.
Andrea Weiss, president of Guess retail, said the Rodeo Drive store and the SoHo store — Guess’s first in New York City — are expected to be among the company’s top five volume units, each doing over $1,000 a square foot annually. That’s almost three times Guess’s chainwide average of $380 per square foot.
Guess’s retail operation has been moving at full-tilt since Weiss, former senior vice president and director of stores at Ann Taylor, joined the company in February 1996. In the past year, Weiss has opened 26 Guess stores, bringing the total to 83.
Guess is opening a second Manhattan store, a 4,000-square-foot unit at the South Street Seaport on Wednesday, and plans to open a 10,000-square-foot flagship in South Beach in Miami in the spring.
In addition, Weiss said she is looking for sites on Fifth Avenue near 57th Street, on lower Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron district, in Times Square and on the upper West Side. Guess would also like to establish a presence on Michigan Avenue in Chicago and downtown San Francisco, Weiss said.
To help establish a prototype for the expansion, “We did a brand positioning review to find the essence of Guess,” said Weiss. “It came down to three words: sexy, young and adventurous.
“Sexy and young is about loft space and modern furniture,” said Weiss, in an interview Wednesday at the SoHo store, located on Broadway between Prince and Spring Streets. “We tried to keep the integrity of SoHo. The building is owned by an artists co-op. We took a modern concept and applied it to a loft environment.”
At the downtown site, formerly a Real New York Bargain store, Guess kept the original wood floors, tin ceiling, brick walls and cast iron columns. In a nod to the neighborhood’s art community, Jonathan Browning, Guess vice president for store design and visual merchandising, hung an Alexander Calder mobile over the shoe and accessories area. “It adds some kinetics,” Weiss said. “In this community, it will be easily recognized.”
Three paintings by Seth Rosenthal made by transferring typewriter ribbon onto canvas are hung on a wall near the eyewear displays. “We will have a rotation of original art,” Weiss said.
A bed-sized ottoman in royal blue adds a shot of color to the shoe area, while eyewear displays and a counter behind the cash wrap get a jolt of chartreuse.
Weiss explained that the design for the prototype came together while the company was working with its U.K. licensee, which opened a flagship on Brompton Road in London in February. Elements from the London store are incorporated into the U.S. flagships.
The London store has a glass facade and orange glass awning, escalator, modular furniture in red, blue and gold, cobalt blue and black spiral carpets, terrazzo floors, and glass and metal fixturing.
“London is such a hot place and there’s so much going on in art, fashion and music,” she said. “They really pushed the envelope. That’s when the moon, stars and sun began to align. We were really ripe for something new.”
Guess liked what the British licensee did so much, it scrapped its plans for the Rodeo Drive store to adopt the new design. “At that point, Rodeo Drive was almost halfway designed,” Weiss said. “We delayed the opening.”
The front of the SoHo store is devoted to young, contemporary women’s wear, with short dresses, satin jeans, sweaters and leather jackets. Accessories and footwear are in the center of the store.
Men’s jeans and casual wear are next, moving deeper into the store, followed by the Guess men’s and women’s collections offering more sophisticated and dressier looks with European styling.
“This store has a fairly large emphasis on outerwear and leather. For Guess, which was seen as a California lifestyle brand, it’s quite a departure,” Weiss said, stopping to finger a brown suede coat with black pony collar, priced at $350.
She pointed out a new fixture for jeans called the denim disc. The circular table is lit from within and has built-in video monitors for each style, which run fashion loops.
The SoHo store will be used to test new merchandise because the neighborhood is trendy, Weiss said.
The two-level flagship at 411 Rodeo Drive, fills the space previously occupied by two Guess stores. One was devoted to sportswear; the other carried footwear.
It has 6,000 square feet of selling space, a 10 percent increase over the combined previous spaces. The extra footage is being used to display more of the women’s collection, more footwear, and the men’s collection, which was not featured in the previous store.
During the six-month renovation, Guess had a temporary store at 323 Rodeo Drive.
Steel and glass fixtures dominate the high tech interior of the store, which has white floors, colored lights, a skylight and large, brightly colored images from the ad campaign. Loud music enhances the hip atmosphere.
Footwear is displayed near the entrance, along with accessories such as jewelry and handbags. Women’s apparel occupies the remainder of the first floor, while men’s merchandise fills the mezzanine level.
According to Weiss, sales at the store have been running above plan since the opening. Bestsellers include bird’s eye pattern canvas knit separates in black and gray. Prices include $72 for pants, $116 for jackets and $44 for skirts. Other strong sellers include a ski-inspired dress in cotton knit for $84, fake fur-trimmed cardigans in black and ivory for $82 and a black poly-stretch sateen low-waisted boot cut pant for $58.
From the Guess women’s collection, knit sweater sets and glazed leather jackets have been the bestsellers, Weiss said. In accessories, metal watches with red or blue or green faces and shaped, structured bags are hot.
Weiss said she expects to sell a lot of black in the SoHo store.
“Guess has always had a lot of color,” she said. “Color is now a new form of self-expression. People are no longer afraid of color. We’re seeing brown very strong, but black is still very important and it would be wrong to downplay that.”
Renovating the Rodeo Drive spaces and building the SoHo store each had specific challenges, Weiss said. Guess’s store design in SoHo was influenced by the landmark status of the space.
On the other hand, “we completely gutted the entire building on Rodeo Drive,” Weiss said.
As for similarities, “There are tourists in both markets and both customers are really fashion-oriented,” Weiss said. “We never wanted to be the cheap and deep denim company.”

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