When Paul Marciano, the creative director of Guess, decided he wanted Paris Hilton to be the Guess model _ the one featured in all the coming advertisements _ he called her agent, who quoted what Marciano called "an astronomical fee."
That did not go over well.
Speaking with a trace of his French origins, Marciano said he told the agent, somewhat tartly: "That is not the way we work with our models." Finis.
When his office phone rang two weeks later, Marciano was not surprised. "Paris Hilton wanted to be the Guess girl," he said. "I told her I didn't want to meet business managers, lawyers; it would be just the two of us, no contract. We pay her, yes, way less, but think of the exposure for her _ worldwide!"
They each got their way _ the amount actually paid is a secret _ and now Hilton, photographed in demipornographic poses wearing silky pink cocktail dresses and much less, is the face (and body) of Guess, which, as a company, is getting its own makeover.
Last week, Guess introduced two new store concepts: the Marciano chain for a slightly older consumer _ grownup men and women eager for sophisticated tops, fancy jeans and, yes, even glittering evening dresses and fur capelets; and Accessories, mall-based boutiques with only handbags, hats, small leather goods, but no clothes.
The Marciano store openings _ one in a Los Angeles mall a week ago; one on Wednesday in McAllen, Texas; and one in Toronto on Friday _ were just the first.
The company will open nine more Marcianos in this country in the next 12 months, and 27 more Accessories stores, here and around the world. And it is still opening Guess stores; altogether, 100 store openings are planned in the next 12 months.
There will be no change in image _ Hilton's ads prove that. Guess has chosen to reinvigorate its roots, trying to recapture the Guess customer of old, club-hopping 18- to 22-year-old men and women, as well as the fashionable crowd who wore Guess a decade (or two decades) ago, and now may feel left out of the scene.
With better management and announcements of the new chain concepts, Guess' stock price has risen more than fivefold, to $17.67 on Friday, from its low of $3.32 on March 10, 2003, and is up nearly 50 percent this year.
Yet the price is still little more than half its peak of $32 on March 31, 2000. The spring of 2000 was a peak time for the company, which made its name by putting sexy jeans and short-shorts on Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova, Claudia Schiffer, and Anna Nicole Smith _ those Guess girls of yore.
In photographs, Hilton lies in various sultry poses, holding a Champagne glass, and cuddles _ apparently wearing only jeans and a jeweled belt _ with a very fluffy white stuffed animal.
"It's kind of scary," said analyst Eric M. Beder. "But managers tell me customers come in, pointing at these pictures of her, begging for the whole outfits. They consider it, er, aspirational."