GUESS GETS SERIOUS

Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — Guess is taking another shot at wholesaling its pinstripes.
Starting with fall, the Los Angeles denim and sportswear company, which does about $500 million in annual wholesale volume, plans on offering its sportswear collection business to department stores on a limited basis.
The sportswear, which is priced for the contemporary market, is being produced under the label Guess Collection. It has been sold in the company’s 64 freestanding stores for about two years, said Maurice Marciano, chairman of the 15-year-old company.
Guess Collection marks a return to a sportswear market that the company had pulled out of about three years ago. At that time, it had a sportswear business under the name Marciano Collection, which was designed by Georges Marciano. When the three Marciano brothers who currently run the business — Maurice, Paul and Armand — split with designer brother Georges — the Marciano division was closed.
About two years ago, the company introduced Guess Collection, for which Maurice Marciano is design director. It tried the new brand out in some department stores, but sales were disappointing.
“It was not performing as well as I wished, so I decided not to put it out to the wholesale customer, and to have it only in our stores,” said Marciano in a telephone interview from Milan the other day.
“I wanted to really fine-tune it, to have it well detailed and well under control, to make sure that when we did come back to a full-scale collection, that it will be a successful line. I would say that for three seasons, for about a year and a half, it’s been performing extremely well.”
Last season, Marciano felt confident enough about the product to quietly test the line with two key retailers — at the flagship stores here of Macy’s East and Bloomingdale’s. Sales results, he said, were encouraging.
Bloomingdale’s Frank Doroff, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for women’s, agreed.
“The Guess Collection has been performing exceptionally well,” said Doroff. At Bloomingdale’s, it is featured on the second floor of the contemporary department.
Kathryn Bufano, general merchandise of ready-to-wear at Macy’s East, said the Guess Collection “performed very well in juniors, and Guess has requested we move it up to contemporary.”
“We’re investigating that right now,” Bufano said. “We can’t imagine it wouldn’t perform equally well in contemporary.”
“With the success in our stores, and in those two key doors, we felt it was time to go back in the market,” Marciano said, adding that he believes the line can do about $40 million to $50 million at wholesale in its first year.
The target customer, he said, is a young woman “who knows Guess, and has been buying Guess since she was a teenager, but now she’s a woman.”
“We wanted to keep that customer and dress her in a dressier way, but still very much in tune with new trends and fashion, with something very fresh in the matter of style and fabric and new fabrications. It’s dressy, but it’s not too serious,” he said.
Marciano noted, however, that he plans to keep distribution fairly limited to retailers such as Federated Stores, as well as Guess’s own stores.
“I want to keep some exclusivity,” he said. There are also plans to sell the line internationally through Guess’s distributors, particularly in Asia.
Fabrics in the fall groups run from basics such as twill, corduroy, wool crepe and acetate crepe, to more exotic pieces such as velvet and crushed velvet, laminated stretch twill and nubbly tweeds. There are also coordinated knit pieces in stretch velvet, peluche yarn and wool blends.
There is even some denim — but it’s made from a pricier Tencel fabric rather than cotton. Guess’s junior jeans cost $29 wholesale, the Collection’s cotton five-pocket jeans are $38 wholesale and the Tencel jeans are $38 to $55. But Marciano said he feels it’s right for the Collection.
“Tencel is a little bit dressier, a bit more drapy,” said Marciano.
Marciano, who is overseeing design on the new line, said he’s trying to give women a choice of straight, classic sportswear, trendy new looks or a mix of both. The silhouettes, he said, “are very feminine, very sensuous.”
“I don’t sketch,” admitted Marciano. “But I’m really emphasizing the direction, selecting the color and fabrics, and pulling together the line in terms of what we need in tops, bottoms and so forth.”
Styles in the fall line include four-button jackets, long high-waisted double-breasted jackets, hip-huggers, fitted dresses and long and short skirts.
Wholesale prices on jackets range from $124 to $169, while pants are $62 to $78, skirts are $43 to $58 and shirts are $54 to $72.
“As for colors, I believe very much in blending basic colors such as navy, black, of course, and camel, which is going to be very big for fall, with a touch of other colors,” said Marciano. “We have colors like a touch of a very rich burgundy, a touch of loden, and then some much softer colors. Just because it’s fall doesn’t mean you have to dress in dark colors.”
Other hues include soft green, eggshell, pale yellow and lavender.
For the first season, Marciano said he’s not pressing for the Collection to have its own shops.
“Maybe for spring,” he said.
And with Guess, which has licenses for categories ranging from footwear to watches to home furnishings, Marciano said there are “definitely” plans to build a program with the Collection.
“My goal is to open up an entirely new area of product development, with handbags, belts, shoes and, later on, hosiery, but with everything a bit more sophisticated,” he said.
Marciano said there are some plans for a small ad campaign, although final details haven’t been worked out yet.
“It will be a print campaign and different from what we are doing for the jeans,” he said. “It will be more oriented to the product.”
Guess Collection will also be part of the company’s Web site, and there’s even been some talk about Guess showing during some future Fashion Week here, said a company spokeswoman.

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