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Guess Again

The L.A.-based fashion powerhouse hits the big 3-0 this year. The Marciano brothers’ vision reappears in a collection of their most iconic designs

Who could forget those ad campaigns? In an era awash in neon, Paul Marciano presented the most beautiful women of the ’80s—Claudia Schiffer, Eva Herzigova, Anna Nicole Smith—in evocative black-and-white photos wearing Guess jeans and not much else.

Along with his three brothers, Paul reignited the designer jeans craze with the 1982 “Marilyn”—a stonewashed, high-waisted version with ankle zippers. That, along with the “Claudia” corset, the “Anna” boyfriend tee, and the “Drew” distressed shorts modeled by Drew Barrymore in the ’90s, are among the archive pieces being rereleased for the limited-edition 30th-anniversary capsule collection. It’s available this month at select Guess boutiques.

Marciano, some of whose most iconic Guess ads appear below, talked with us about setting up shop in L.A., the inspiration for the brand’s evergreen campaign, and the man who wouldn’t kiss Claudia Schiffer.

Did you always want to work in fashion?

Not really. I left school early. At 16 I started to work in clubs as a DJ. I spun a lot of R&B—you know, Otis Redding, Kool and the Gang, Ray Charles. I had to have two jobs because I couldn’t make a living DJ-ing, so during the day I was a salesman in a jeans store. Eventually my brothers and I went into business making ties. 

Why ties?

It was the easiest thing to do—one size, one style, and we were making them with leftover fabric from fabric stores and paying a fraction of the price. From there we moved to women’s [clothing]. We made one style: a peasant blouse, white, one size, one color; then the wrap dress, same thing, using leftover fabric, one size, and one style. Then we started to make jeans in the south of France in Marseille.

What was your first impression of Los Angeles when you arrived in 1977?

It was unreal. It all looked exactly like the TV shows we had in France—Charlie’s Angels, Dirty Harry, Starsky and Hutch—exactly like that, beaches, palm trees, and the houses! The size of homes were unreal to us. We never saw houses like that back home. And the girls…and girls…and girls! We were all single, I was 24 years old, and I’ll let you make up the rest. It didn’t take us long to decide this is where we were going to stay. We came for two weeks and never left. 

What inspires your award-winning ads?

For years it has always been the same actresses who inspire me: Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe. It has never changed.

Why shoot in black and white?

Simple: To be different. Shooting in black and white is not helpful for clothing; you can’t see it as well and it was a big risk, but I wanted the ads to reflect my passion for old movies, especially Italian movies and Fellini. 

What was your most memorable photo shoot?

We shot Claudia [Schiffer] in 1988. It was her first campaign. We had discovered her. We were shooting in Memphis, Tennessee, with Ellen [Von Unwerth], and we had hired guys there to be male models. One refused to kiss her. He said, ‘No, I cannot kiss her. I am married. I have four kids, and I am a Mormon.’ I asked him, ‘Do you know how many men would die to kiss Claudia Schiffer?’ The guy looked exactly like Clint Eastwood: tall, blue eyes. We put Claudia in his arms, and he held her around the waist, but he would not kiss her. 

Where did you discover Anna Nicole Smith?

I met Anna in New York. She brought in her kid, Daniel, for a children’s campaign. I was blown away by her presence. She was larger than life, just magnificent. She was Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita. We set up a shoot in San Antonio with her that day. 

Describe the L.A. Woman as you see her.

In London, New York, and Shanghai, career supersedes all priorities, and women in those cities sacrifice a lot of personal stuff. Here in L.A. most women have a very strong balance between life and work. It’s a very healthy attitude. 

What makes a woman sexy?

She doesn’t have to be the perfect model with a C cup and 26-inch waist. A woman can be sexy with her attitude, her hair, her makeup or no makeup, just with the way she puts herself together and the way she moves. 

 

 
All photographs courtesy Guess