Guess Clothing History

By Lilian M Raji

In 1979, four brothers from Marseille, France, left the country of Champagne, baguettes and 35-hour work weeks to claim the American dream. In 1981, Georges, Maurice, Paul and Armand Marciano launched Guess as a boutique in the tony Beverly Hills area of Los Angeles. More than three decades later, Guess has grown to become a $2.6 billion behemoth, with more than 1,600 stores worldwide as of 2014.

jeans clothes on shelf in shop
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Close-up of denim jeans in store

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Becoming Businessmen

The Marciano boys were born and raised in North Africa until their father, a third-generation rabbi, was transferred to a synagogue in Marseille, where the bustling life of local businessmen attracted Georges. He started making and selling neckties to local stores. As his business grew, his brothers decided to join him -- Maurice abandoned medical school; Armand gave up his bookkeeping job; Paul quit his store clerk position. Within a few years, they expanded their production to include shirts, casual wear and denim, while also opening multiple shops in Cote d'Azur. A fortuitous trip to LA in 1977 opened their eyes to the possibilities of becoming an American company.

Quick Growth in a Welcoming Market

The brothers arrived in Los Angeles in 1979. After learning about the U.S. market through trial and error, they launched Guess in 1981 with a vision, according to "Los Angeles Times" reporter Jim Schachter, to "make jeans like the ones women were wearing in St. Tropez, and persuade Americans to buy them for $50, $60, $70 or more." And so they did -- reviving what was once considered a dead denim market and reaching sales of $12 million in one year. Motivated by their tremendous success and wanting to continue their growth, the Marcianos sold a 51 percent stake in Guess to the Nakash brothers, owners of the Jordache brand, in 1983.

Perils of Partnership

The new partnership between the Nakash and Marciano brothers started off on the wrong foot. Six months after inking the deal, the two families were in court, arguing that the Nakashes weren't upholding their responsibilities under their agreement. The case was settled, and a new agreement was reached, making both sets of brothers 50-50 partners. The relationship, unfortunately, was now damaged beyond repair, and the two groups would continue to accuse each other of deceptive practices, including, according to the "Los Angeles Times," "scheming to steal from Guess, divert company funds or engage in underhanded competition." When the smoke finally cleared in 1990 after six years of courtroom battles, the Nakashes agreed to give up their stake in Guess and split company profits earned during the previous years.

What Doesn't Kill You ...

brand new interior of cloth store
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Smart decision-making by the Marciano brothers has created more than 1,600 Guess stores worldwide.

The bitter fight with the Nakashes surprisingly made Guess into a much stronger company, with sales reaching $350 million during the acrimonious battle and $575 million by the time the case settled. Divested of their former partners, the Marcianos pushed forward into new markets in children's and men's clothes, and more sophisticated womenswear. Georges sold his stake in the company in 1994 and started rival brand Yes when he couldn't convince his brothers that mass marketing was the way to go. The remaining brothers continued to expand Guess's product offerings, producing golf apparel and home furnishings, while entering licensing agreements for footwear, watches, handbags, eye wear, and fragrances. In 1996, they took the company public to help fund their expansion into Europe. As of 2012, Guess directly operated 504 stores in the U.S. and Canada, and 251 stores internationally. Their distributors and international licenses operate 804 stores outside the U.S. and Canada. Guess products can be found in over 80 countries worldwide.