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How the Guess Empire Fell Apart

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Photo: Guess

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"It's no secret that our business has changed drastically," Paul Marciano, the last remaining brother in charge of the Guess empire, told Forbes, and he's right. The history of Guess aligns with similar logo-crazy, sexed-up retailers who hit their stride in the mid-aughts and still haven't figured out how to adjust to a new customer. In its heyday, Guess was known for the curvy models that repped the brand's jeans and not much else. In Forbes writer Abram Brown's words: "Sex sold Guess jeans." Guess was instrumental in launching the careers of supermodels like Claudia Shiffer, Naomi Campbell, and Anna Nicole Smith.

Before the company went public, the brothers thrived on brand exclusivity. But in 1996 they decided to take the company public in order to ease some financial difficulties. It only raised the tension, one former executive told Forbes, while recounting a particularly insane product meeting involving a logo on a pair of jeans.

Now, almost 40 years after Guess was founded, only one Marciano brother remains at the company. He remains optimistic, even if, from a customer perspective, Guess has long dropped out of popularity. "We believe in our brand. We believe that if it has to be a smaller company, so be it," he told Forbes. "If that means we have to shrink the number of stores from 1,600 stores to 800 stores, we will do that. Our effort every day is to believe that we will be in business 10 years from now, 20 years from now, because that is my dream."