Nicolai Marciano and Guess
About halfway through my interview with Nicolai Marciano, the heir apparent to the denim-upholstered Guess throne, I ask him to name three things he couldn’t live without. He quickly lists his family (his father is Guess co-founder Paul Marciano), his work (he manages Brand Partnerships and Specialty Marketing for the brand), and then he pauses. The walls of the conference room are practically gyrating with iconic black-and-white Guess advertisements from the past forty years, much like the rest of their sleek and sprawling DTLA headquarters. I raise my eyebrows at the Juul e-cigarette sitting in front of him on the conference table, and he laughs. “I don’t want to be that guy.”
He’s not. He’s eloquent and easygoing and effusively passionate about what he does, humbly yet extensively schooling me on everything from how Guess introduced stonewashed denim to the fashion world (“My dad and his brothers were telling these garment dye houses to put stones in their washing machines and everyone just thought they were insane”), to why Gen Z is challenging marketing campaigns to cut the bullshit: “We’re very prone to seeing fabricated marketing, and we see when something is clearly a money deal with no real substance to it. We want a true story. We want to believe in something. We want to be a part of that moment or that movement.” It goes without saying, but in the spirit of his surefooted authenticity I’ll say it anyways: Nicolai Marciano is not your average twenty-two year old. And he’s just getting started writing his story.
Every Thanksgiving, my dad drinks a lot of wine and goes around the table asking everyone to describe what their lives looked like five years ago and what they want their lives to look like five years from now. He is a time management consultant and calls this “taking inventory.” If Nicolai Marciano ever ended up at my family’s Thanksgiving, his inventory would look something like this: five years ago, he was a seventeen-year-old skater with style in his bloodline, heavy into sneaker culture and streetwear, building skate ramps in the Guess parking lot, and dreaming of someday starting his own line. In one of what would prove to be many decisions that were wiser than his years, he decided that he needed to learn the ins and outs of the industry first, forgoing college classes for an internship (told you he was humble) in product development at Guess headquarters. It was during that internship he discovered Guess’ extensive archives from the 1980s and 90s, and something clicked into place, seamlessly setting the course of his career. “It was a breath of fresh air,” he explains. “I grew up wearing Guess, but I only knew about the modern styles, not what they were doing back in what I call the ‘golden era’ of the brand. Going through the archives and seeing how they were pioneers from both a product standpoint and in their iconic ads – I couldn’t believe it. It was so relevant to streetwear from a graphic and silhouette perspective. The attitude was so special and timeless.”
He spent two years learning more about America’s favorite fabric than most people do in a lifetime. He then pivoted towards creative strategy—capitalizing on the raw energy of Guess’ early archives, the cyclical nature of the fashion world, and his own inherent understanding of the delicate ecosystem of ‘hype culture’— to reintroduce the brand’s iconic pieces to younger generations through limited-edition releases and capsule collections. Armed with infinite inspiration in the form of graphic archives spanning 40 years, he took a position at the helm of Guess’ vintage-inspired love letters to the creative culture, Guess Jeans USA, made in LA. It was a perfect storm, strategically speaking: his first project, a collaboration with rapper and well-known fashion killa A$AP Rocky, proved wildly popular and spawned three iterations of capsule collections with a vintage feel and vibrant pastel color-ways, honoring Rocky’s memories of the Guess he grew up wearing. “Collaborating with Rocky and reintroducing the archives through his lens gave a whole new perspective of GUESS to the younger generation, giving a newfound understanding and respect for the brand and its history,” he says, with an almost shy sincerity. “He grew up in Harlem and Guess was this aspirational thing for him growing up, so we did these pop ups that were trying to get at that nostalgic feeling of where he was when he was first wearing Guess. Everything we do is trying to tell a true and authentic story.”
Despite knocking it out of the park on the first try, he admits there were a few internal growing pains. “It was hard for such a big company to understand doing a huge campaign with an artist who is super influential but keeping it limited, keeping the distribution really tight, and only doing pop ups.” But once the project rolled out, the ripple effect of its impact was undeniable. “I’ve always been into the sneaker world, and the sneaker world is basically what became the hypebeast world. That’s the way fashion is working now. Everyone wants an exclusive product. Guess Jeans USA is not a money-making program – it’s about branding. We want people to have these pieces forever, like the pieces in our archives. The A$AP Rocky project was the spark for how we approach marketing now.”
As Guess continues to shrewdly shoulder their way through the wild West of millennial marketing, Nicolai and his team have ensured that spark remains lit in every sense of the word. Their recently wrapped project was particularly juicy: a spring capsule collection in collaboration with vintage aficionado Sean Wotherspoon with a farmer’s market theme, inspired by Sean’s staunch veganism (“the dude has a carrot tattooed on his hand”), and the idea that farmer’s markets are “culturally native to LA, and we wanted to own that since we’re LA-based.” They released the vibrant capsule collection at a massive and highly anticipated farmer’s market in their own parking lot, where you could shop tees and sweatshirts in startlingly vivid shades amidst fragrant rows of organic local produce.
Part of the reason it works so well, he reckons, is because his father, and the brand at large, has been quick to adapt. “He has a marketing and branding mindset, so he gets it. It’s all about finding new and real ways of connecting.” He plans to continue to uphold the legacy of the brand by seeking out a more global approach, and his tireless energy is the only thing about him that hints at his age: “It’s only going to get bigger and better from here.”
Next up is the imminent drop of their Fall collection—the first collaboration-free collection he’s worked on for Guess—which was inspired by a deep dive into their archival records of location scouting in woodsy locations like Deer Valley, Utah and Wyoming. “We always want to go back to the heritage of the company, and those are places that mean something to us, places my dad and his brothers would go to often, and I grew up visiting.” The resulting collection has a “utility and functionality aspect,” featuring plenty of rustic corduroy, moleskin, and canvas, yet as with anything Guess does, expect it to veer more edgy than cozy. The Fall collection is flanked by the release of two capsule collections that Nicolai is spearheading (did I mention that when I asked him what he does outside of work, he said “work”?), one a collaboration between vintage mastermind Dr. X Romanelli and Tetsuzo Okubo (founder of the recycled vintage project A Love Movement) for LA based luxury boutique Maxfield and one with Easy Otabor’s fledgling label, Infinite Archives.
Both capsules are aesthetically aligned with the Fall collection and will be released in tandem. Both also highlight Guess’ dedication to their vintage roots and appreciation for one of a kind craftsmanship. Dr. X Romanelli, who breathes new life into vintage garments by reconstructing them, and A Love Movement, who is known for his custom sewing and patchwork, worked together on the Fall capsule under the name Dr. Love. The capsule collection will be available exclusively at Maxfield. Infinite Archives, a label that marks the cultural and sartorial significance of years past by choosing a specific year to spotlight each season, has created a Fall capsule that speaks to the truest part of the story Nicolai is telling: the archives. The year that Infinite Archives has its lens on currently is 1991, so Otabor pulled pieces and silhouettes from the Guess archive and reworked them within their Fall color story.
Also on the horizon is a partnership with 88 Rising, a record label with a roster of primarily Asian artists. The collections Nicolai is curating may be unearthing the classic comfort of years past, but rest assured Nicolai’s focus is firmly on the future, specifically on widening Guess’ influence to include the rest of the world: “It’s up to us to curate projects that have an approach to the world that is not only specific to the United States but reaches the global citizen as well.”
Late in our interview, I ask if he has a piece of advice that has stuck with him over the years. He thinks for a moment and then chuckles. “Something my dad always told me was, ‘work hard, play hard,’ which means, like, work hard and enjoy your vacation time. But I always interpreted ‘play hard’ as ‘play hard within your work,’ and that’s always stayed with me. I thought he meant ‘work hard and hustle harder.’”