Right Guess ... Wrong Industry
At the risk of getting all nostalgic and caught up in the past, the celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the Guess fashion brand have taken me back to the company's ill-fated attempt to get into the bed and bath business in the mid-1990s.
Guess certainly made its mark in the denim and juniors market, becoming one of the iconic labels in those fields and helping to invent the entire "designer jeans" classification. Its mix of denim and sex - as personified by model Claudia Schiffer - instantly hit a nerve, and there had to be an entire generation - male and female - permanently transfixed by the Guess advertising campaign.
It was against this success in the fashion business that a member of the Marciano family that owned Guess decided to get into the home textiles business. Unlike many apparel brands that moved into bed and bath, Guess came in as a direct seller of its goods instead of just as a licensor renting out the brand to an existing vendor.
And while many brands from the fashion world - from Laura Ashley to Bill Blass to Ralph Lauren - were already well established in home, Guess was the first, at least in my mind, to bring a true fashion marketing sensibility to its textiles offering.
Everything it did said fashion ... not home textiles. The goods themselves were stylish and absolutely related back to the apparel lines, though frankly it wasn't the merchandise itself that made Guess stand out.
The ads and packaging were sexy and hot, two adjectives rarely used for sheets and towels - even today. Guess, as I remember it, was the first to use actual sheeting fabric as product packaging.
The pricing - probably as much due to the sourcing and distribution model as it was to any master plan - was full mark-up, a step up from the competition, which is saying something for an era when retail price points were still not ridiculously lame.
But the crowning moments of the Guess home textiles program were the runway fashion shows for the trade. These were not modest little showroom events with a model or two wrapped in sheeting fabrics.
The one I remember most distinctly was a spectacular show at the Puck Building in lower Manhattan. There was a real live runway with real live models ... lots of them. Men and women ... and a few kids, too, if memory serves, for the children's bedding line that was part of the overall Guess program. There was cool music, lighting and staging. And there was sex ... lots and lots of sex.
It was an amazing night.
And none of it worked. Stores said it was too expensive. They hated the packaging because it could get shopworn on the sales floor. And while no one would come right out and say it, they didn't believe the sex card would translate from fashion into home ... into the bedroom where you actually do have sex. Hmmmmm?
Guess stuck around for a few seasons, eventually licensed its brand to somebody else and finally pulled out of home. Just another case of a missed opportunity for the home textiles business and another reason why the industry is so mired down in the crap-in-the-bag business.
Just another example of the industry guessing wrong.