The bold and eminently hype-able business practices that originated in streetwear, from drops to high-profile limited-edition collaborations, have seemingly infiltrated every level of the apparel industry.
But many brands, particularly those outside of the decadent luxury houses of Europe, do not have the ability to upend their entire business model in order drop an exclusive collab through Instagram. Guess has found the solution by balancing the more traditional retail model of its main brand with a new division called Guess Jeans USA, headed up by Nicolai Marciano, which focuses exclusively on those kinds of experiments.
Founded just over two years ago, Guess Jeans USA made a splash initially with a collection designed in collaboration with A$AP Rocky. Since then, Guess Jeans USA has released several capsules and pop-ups with collaborators like streetwear and sneaker influencer Sean Wotherspoon. The brand’s fall collection, announced Thursday, is Guess Jeans USA’s first full collection without a collaborator. The collection comes at a time of growth for Guess, with second-quarter revenue for fiscal 2019 up 14 percent year over year, with particular growth coming from Asia. (There, sales increased 32 percent.)
Marciano grew up surrounded by fashion as the son of Guess founder Paul Marciano and has made Guess’ long legacy through the ’80s and ’90s a key part of Guess Jeans USA, along with a focus on high-profile collaborations with streetwear luminaries.
“Guess Jeans USA is the incubator brand for Guess,” he said. “It really focuses on innovative stuff — pop-ups, collaborations, activations — and it’s all directly derived from the archive. Guess Jeans USA is the halo part of the brand. It’s more for people who know about fashion — people who are into the hype and everything.”
Glossy sat down with Nicolai Marciano at the Guess office in Manhattan to talk about Guess Jeans USA, the lasting influence of streetwear and his dream collaborations.
Has the philosophy of Guess Jeans USA had any influence on the rest of Guess?
I think being able to connect with the younger generation of consumers is naturally bringing a different perspective to the brand as a whole. When [young consumers] see Guess now, they are thinking the stuff they see on Instagram or things we did with people like A$AP Rocky. Guess is a massive brand — hundreds of stores in 95 countries — but this is a little more focused.
We reference a lot of stuff from ’81 to ’95. That was when Guess really established its vision for the brand. After that, we started expanding a lot more, and the brand become more lifestyle and got into huge licensing deals.
How do you balance between paying tribute to Guess’ legacy while still doing something new and appealing to a younger crowd?
I see all of our archived product as timeless. Back [in the ’80s and ’90s], we were pushing in our own direction. We weren’t chasing trends, we were creating our own statements. So the product is indebted to the brand’s legacy, but the business model is modern.
From the very beginning of Guess Jeans USA, we’ve been doing drops. It’s been a great way to build energy and hype. We also do a lot of pop-ups — we call them installations — because we like to immerse people in the vibe of the collection. Drops, pop-ups — those are all part of our DNA. It’s the new way of keeping the conversation interesting. Luxury brands are seeing that this is the new way of having energy around a new collection.
We try to balance between online and offline. For the Farmer’s Market [a collection designed with Sean Wotherspoon that had an accompanying outdoor pop-up, hosted by Guess Jeans USA in Los Angeles earlier this summer], we had the installation on the weekend and the online store the next week. So people could experience it in person first, and through social media, everyone can see what happened at the event. Then if you couldn’t make it to the actual installation, you could buy it after.
How do you pick your collaborators?
It always comes down to storytelling. We’ve been approached by a lot of people, but it doesn’t always feel right. We always want to do something that is interesting and unique; we don’t want to do something that feels fabricated or artificial. Shane [Gonzales, lead designer of streetwear label Midnight Studios,] was a great collaborator. He designed all these great punk-rock denim pieces for us — he took inspiration from our archive but added a double waistband or D-rings.
You have to find the right story. That’s one of the most interesting parts about this project for us. Whenever I bring [a collaborator] back into the archive, they’re drawn to something different. It’s so cool to see so many different perspectives on the heritage of Guess.
We also try to push the envelope on who we work with. Sometimes collaborations just make sense, but sometimes it’s more interesting to work with someone who is not expected — someone with a wildly different point of view than ours — and put together a story that you would never expect.