Paul Marciano – An interview with the founder of GUESS, Paul Marciano.
PAUL MARCIANO: So now we have like five or six stores two in Palm Springs, one in the Valley, one in Santa Monica, one in Century City and one in New York. Maurice said, “We should manufacture here .” So we decided to manufacture and I sent the styles back and forth from France.
INGRID SISCHY: Are you basically in France?
PAUL MARCIANO: Oh, I am in France but I am going back and forth . Don ‘t forget, again, that I closed in the winter. I came to America in the winter, stayed two or three months, and then would go back to France.
INGRID SISCHY : And are you all still living in the same apartment together?
PAUL MARCIANO : Same apartment . We ate the same thing : pizza and salad every night . It did not change until Spago opened in ’81. That’s a true story . I mean , if you talk to Wolfgang — we’ve known each other so well for 30 or 35 years. So, we decided to manufacture and that is how we do the first jeans .
SANDY BRANT : And this is 1981 now?
PAUL MARCIANO : Now we’re in 1981. The minimum you have to cut for any shop is 1,000 units, you cannot cut less than that . They will let you do two or three freestyles, but you have to cut 1,000 pants . We were only six stores . We didn’t know what to do with the inventory .
We had too much . So we manufactured that and I think the name of the jeans were MGA .
SANDY BRANT : Still?
PAUL MARCIANO : Still. Now we decided we had too much merchandise. We went to the mart to look for a rep to see if we could sell extra inventory . He said, “I can, but I also have a showroom in New York . I am going to send it to a showroom in New York.” Maurice sent to all the big stores in New York: Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s and another one, Saks Fifth Avenue .
We sent 12 pairs of jeans to each denim buyer .
INGRID SISCHY : And they’re just normal jeans . You haven ‘t broken the pattern yet?
PAUL MARCIANO : Now, these is the three-zip jeans .
SANDY BRANT : Oh, this is important .
PAUL MARCIANO : It ‘s completely important . This is a first because we are selling them in our stores.
INGRID SISCHY : So the first jeans that you created with your name —
PAUL MARCIANO : Yes, was the three zip jeans.
SANDY BRANT : But this is still MGA.
PAUL MARCIANO : MGA , but like two months .
INGRID SISCHY: How did you know to break the mold and do that?
PAUL MARCIANO : On what? On the jeans?
SANDY BRANT : Everybody else was five pockets .
PAUL MARCIANO : Oh yes . Because if you remember at the time, the craziness was Jane Fonda in Los Angeles.
Jane Fonda had the biggest studio of aerobics .Do you remember that?
SANDY BRANT : Of course.
PAUL MARCIANO: She went and created that craziness of aerobic classes three times a day, seven days a week . She opened studios everywhere . Maurice decided to do a very fitted, super tight jean, but we could not fit the foot through the legs, so he opened it up and put the zippers.
He wanted super tight for a super fit girl. We sent the jeans — we had the jeans in France and we had this process called stonewashing jeans . So Maurice decided to do stonewashed jeans with George and with the three zips.
INGRID SISCHY : Where is the third zip?
SANDY BRANT: The two legs and then the zipper at your crotch .
PAUL MARCIANO : Exactly . And those became the MGA jeans. We were looking for a name for the company and we could not find a name. We went to work in the downtown area, on Olympic Boulevard, in the same car everyday don’t forget we lived in the same apartment . George said, “I found a name of the company .” I said, “What is it?” He said, “It’s Guess,” and we don ‘t know what it is. What is it? He said, “It’s Guess .” I said, “I don ‘t know what that means .Maurice said in English, “In French it means….”
“And I said, “But what does that mean? I am going to call a company Guess?” He said , “Yeah , like the word because you cannot break it up. You cannot cut it in half, you cannot mispronunciation in any language. G-U-E-S-S. You have to say GUESS. You cannot say another name . Why? Why is that? He said, “Well, I will show you.”
We said, “Why did you take that name?” Why not take the name of a city or a flower or a magnolia or anything? Don’t forget we had the trademark Gap in France for 10 years? Gap, you understand that?
SANDY BRANT : Are you kidding?
PAUL MARCIANO: We had the trademark company called Gap. George, my brother, Armand, and me . We had the gap. Yes Miss, I’m not kidding . [GASPS)
SANDY BRANT : That ‘s crazy.
PAUL MARCIANO : We had three stores in Yare. Do you know where Yare is? Yare is next to Tulane . The three stores of that company were George , Armand, Paul — GAP. That ‘s crazy or what?
SANDY BRANT : That ‘s crazy.
PAUL MARCIANO : We had that between 1973 until 1992
when we closed all the stores.
INGRID SISCHY: And was it the stonewashed three-zip?
PAUL MARCIANO : Yes . Stonewashed three-zip.
INGRID SISCHY : What happened?
PAUL MARCIANO : Crazy. We sold all of them within the same like three hours. 12 pairs, huh?
Then, at the same time now, we created the company . We have the company now. We converted to Guess. We say thank you to McDonald ‘s every day. It came from McDonald ‘s advertising .
INGRID SISCHY: What do you mean?
SANDY BRANT: It was on the billboard, right?
PAUL MARCIANO : It was exactly that . We were driving and George stopped the car and said, “Now look at the billboard.” It was a national campaign for McDonald ‘s “Guess,” which was very big on the left side, and small along the billboard , “What is in a new Big Mac ” and then a picture of the new hamburger . The “Guess” was gigantic and the rest was all small . And the picture of the hamburger.
George said, “This is where I found the name .” We said, “But it ‘s a hamburger.” He said, “I love the name .” I
said , “It ‘s a hamburger.” Maurice said, “Okay, if you use Guess, grammatically you have to put a question mark .” Maurice put the question mark and designed the triangle.
The Guess original, to make it different , had two S’s that were not ‘S’ letters. They are two numbers reversed . Have you seen that?
It’s a 2 reversed.If you flip it, it ‘s a 2.
PAUL MARCIANO : So we put that , and the number on the triangle said 1201, 1203 on the triangle. You would see it on any Guess triangle . It came from the suite number where we worked which was 1201-1203. That was the Guess office.
SANDY BRANT : And that was downtown?
PAUL MARCIANO : Downtown, on Broadway 1201-1203. And people started to ask us weird questions . Is it numerology? Are they mystic numbers you put there for good luck? I said, “No , it ‘s the suite number. It’s just the number on the door.” But we didn’t know what to put on the triangle .
INGRID SISCHY: That ‘s wild. So this kind of trust- your-gut thing, which is really what we’re talking about here — we’re just talking about this extraordinary faith in each other and this ability to trust your gut instinct . You know what I mean? Like take the number of this. All that stuff, that mixed with this general theme of the rebel, the outsider, adventure, those are the things that to me are the DNA of this new company, but clearly they are the DNA of you guys from the beginning .
PAUL MARCIANO : Oh, from the beginning. Yeah, completely. I agree. So right away the numbers from all chose comments fall on our place. Don’t forget I continued to go back and forth between Los Angeles and Marseille and then we said, “We are going to stay here .” We had a fiscal problem with the IRS in France. We disagreed with them .
They gave us a huge bill to pay and we said, “We don’t agree . Absolutely we don’t agree,” and so we decided it was time to go . So Armand and I were there. We had 26 stores, 3 apartments , 1 house, and liquidated everything in six months .
At that time Mitterrand was elected , 1981, and we decided that’s it, and we moved to America. That was before GUESSs existed. I just went backwards a few months. Now the four of us were in Los Angeles. My parents and my sister were still in Marseille. Everybody was crying because we left . My parents had nobody left around for Shabbat. I mean, it was pretty hard
PAUL MARCIANO : I ended up in a hospital for like 40 days because I was very stressed and I hurt my back.
SANDY BRANT : You ‘re in a hospital in Los Angeles .
PAUL MARCIANO : No, no, no, in Marseille.
PAUL MARCIANO : I had surgery on my lower back and spinal column, which in the 80s we did not have the technology we have today . If you touch the spinal column surgery, you cannot go anywhere for at least 30 days. So I was on the floor, this, that — anyway . And I saw a friend of mine, an amazing girl, named Annie, who was a psychic.
Her husband was a denim salesman . I saw Annie and I said, “You know, I’m leaving . I’m moving to America, but I don’t know what we’re going to do because we have this huge problem here. We are losing everything . We are leaving .” She said, “I think it ‘s going to be great.” I say, ”Well,
I don ‘t think it’s going to be great, but we hope it’s going to be great but I’m not exactly happy to leave my parents here and all that, but we have to go .”
She said, “You don ‘t understand what ‘s going to happen to you .” I have that tape of her, as of today .
I tape every psychic I see, and keep the tape because it’s too much to forget. And she said, “One day, you will have stores like the stars in the sky.” I said, “What? We have 26 stores. We have closed all of them. “We closed all of them. We are going there with five stores. She said, “One day your name will be like stars in the sky .” She said, “Don’t worry, it ‘s going to be hard, but it gets better and better for you .”
She told me Anwar Sadat ‘s assassination a year before, I mean, this woman was amazing . She told me about Reagan , and a problem that he would be shot. I mean , months before. I ‘m not joking .
And anyway, I left and I was not in great spirits because we were losing everything we built for years in France and we were there, so we were a little bit disgusted. We said, “We are going to do real estate .” We lost everything and went back to what we knew, which were jeans and we had these five stores. That ‘s why I think we got confused here because I went too fast.
Then Guess started and now we ‘re in Guess.