Guess Co-founder Maurice Marciano On The Brand’s ‘Revolution In Footwear’

After launching one of America’s most iconic denim brands in the 1980s, Guess co-founder Maurice Marciano says his next step was entirely pragmatic.

“We love jeans, and the natural thing at the time was to wear cowboy boots,” Marciano explains to Footwear News on Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual gala in Los Angeles. “I was coming from France and all of this was new to me, and I just loved it.”

Marciano established the label with his brothers Paul, Georges and Armand, and opened their first boutique in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 1981.

Guess was among the first to popularize designer jeans, later expanding to watches, jewelry, accessories and shoes.

Marciano says that it was an unexpected design edit to a pair of cowboy boots that catapulted the brand’s shoe line to success.

“The great moment of Guess footwear was when we took the cowboy boots and we cut it — actually cut it,” he recalls. “While shooting, one of the stylists cut it at the ankle and that has been a revolution in footwear and we were doing amazing. Since then, it has flourished into an amazing business.”

He says his love affair with cowboy boots was realized during a trip to Texas when he had a pair custom-made. “I did it in ostrich and I kept it all these years, over 20 years now,” he shares. “That’s the American lifestyle.”

Guess’ block-heel ankle boot with studded harness
Guess’ block-heel ankle boot with studded harness

Marciano served as the MOCA gala’s co-chair along with Lilly Tartikoff Karatz. The soiree kicked off the museum’s new retrospective exhibit “Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA.”

MOCA’s director Phillippe Vergne says the exhibit is curated from the museum’s archives and serves as a love letter to the cultural metamorphosis of the time.

“I totally don’t remember the ‘90s, I was dazed and confused, so for an entire generation of artists, they’ve never experienced the ‘90s in terms of what happened with this world and country and what happened aesthetically,” he explains.

“Politically, it was a moment where the world was opening, becoming more global,” he adds. “It was a moment where civic and social political awareness was extremely present and that’s what we’re showing here. Artists directly responded to that.”

Balthazar Getty moca dj
Balthazar Getty (L) and Rosetta Millington.
CREDIT: Rex

For actor Balthazar Getty, the ’90s reminds him of a time when sneakerheads met in secret or had limited options for acquiring a pair of kicks.

“Adidas shell toes shaped my youth,” says the former “Brothers & Sisters” star, who rocked a pair of high-top Vans and DJ’d at the gala. “In the ‘90s, you couldn’t go to wherever and get them. You could only get them in Manhattan on Canal [Street], and you could get them downtown at a few places. They were the Adidas shell toe with the fat laces. You used to have to literally go into the black market to find these shoes.”

Retro Sneaker Re-Releases
Adidas' Superstar shell-toe has long been the epitome of a classic street sneaker. Now, it comes in a wide range of finishes, including subtle metallic detailing.
CREDIT: George Chinsee.

Looking back at the decade, “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr recalls, fondly, that “shoes were more important than food to Carrie.”

Starr adds that if the series’ heroine, played by Sarah Jessica Parker from 1998 to 2004, had an unhealthy obsession with a particular label of shoes, it was by no coincidence.

“Even in the column on that the show is based on, there’s always a Manolo Blahnik shoe,” he says of Candace Bushnell’s real-life New York Observer column that launched in 1994. “It was her signature.”

Joy Venturini Bianchi moca
Joy Venturini Bianchi.
CREDIT: Rex

By the time the ’90s came around, Joy Venturini Bianchi already had a shoe collection to envy.

“I have 1,000 pairs of shoes at home,” Bianchi says. “I’m 77 years old — so the ‘50s and ‘60s were really my era in a great way.”

Her appreciation for shoes is like a tribute to her father, who she says began working with a shoemaker in Italy when he was 5 years old. “He worked with Ferragamo and came over to this country when he was 16,” she explains. “He made orthopedic shoes, designer shoes, shoes for my mother, embroidered shoes. He did incredible work, so shoes have been the love of my life because I was so fabulously in love with my father whose name was Mansueto, which means purity.”

Bianchi, who serves as the director for Helpers House of Couture, an organization that sells high-end clothing and accessories to benefit the developmentally disabled, says that the first pair of shoes she bought was when she turned 16. “We bought alligator Roger Vivier shoes with a matching handbag that was Lucille de Paris.”

Lisa Edelstein moca gala
Lisa Edelstein.
CREDIT: Rex

“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” actress Lisa Edelstein has one word that best describes her relationship with shoes: “pain.”

And no time is worse to stand in heels than while walking down a red carpet, she shares.

“The worst time was at the Emmys when I wore this beautiful Dior-shaped dress — tight at the top with crinoline and these beautiful Yves Saint Laurent shoes with platform toes and long, skinny heels. They were a pump and so high.”

lisa edelstein pumps
Lisa Edelstein attends the 2008 Primetime Emmy Awards.
CREDIT: Rex

The Bravo star remembers being in agony for two hours in the pumps, and by the time she made her way to the end, “walking was a miracle,” she adds.

“I remember seeing glass doors at the end, thinking, ‘As soon as I get through those doors, I’m taking off my shoes and going to walk barefoot to my seat,’ ” she says. “I go through the glass door and there was a 100-foot-long pathway of fans. Literally, it was, at that point, like walking on bloody hooves.”

The MOCA gala, which raised $3 million to support the museum through sales of limited edition art pieces, attracted a haul of other stars, including Patricia Arquette, Elizabeth Olsen, Nikki Hilton Rosthchild, James Marsden, Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson.

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