If you've ever thought of starting your own business, I've got just the trade name for you -- Xerox. Not classy enough? Then how about Polaroid or Coca-cola? Or maybe Bloomingdale's?
Before telling me you can't get away with blatantly using a wellknown name for your new firm, then maybe you ought to talk to 34-year-old, Tunisian-born Paul Guez. He'll give you a whold new slant on the subject. He has exploited a famous name -- by slightly altering the spelling -- and it has ehlped him make millions. The money-making namd: Sasson, pronounced by Gez as Sa-soon, one of the hottest-selling fashion (or designer) jeans in the country.
I've checked with a number of people, and they happen to believe (as I did) that the Sasson jean -- whose U.S. sales in just two short years have rocketed from $30,000 a month to $2.5 million a month -- is named after Australian-born Vidal Sassoon, the country's best-known hair authority.
Not so. It's named after an Israeli, Maurice Sasson, who in September of 1976 went into business with Guez under the name Sasson Jeans Inc. (Sesson subsequently left after his pitch for a association with the Vidal Sassoon name -- unreal as it it -- undoubtedly helped business. "A lot of people," says Guez "thought these were Vidal Sassoon's jeans, they rushed in and bought them... and other designers jumped in, giving us greater credibuility. And now, because of our success, we're probably helping Vidal."
After one letter of complaint, surprisingly, Vidal Sassoon never again challenged the use of his name on the jeans (although, of course, the spelling is different). "In one way, it's a compliment," Sassoon told me. "The Sasson jean is a fine product." However, several other companies have also begun using his name -- but they may not get off as easily as Guez: "I've put my lawyer on them," says Sassoon.
It's a shame, though, that Sassoon, with his chain of stylish hair salons, never got the urge to expand into the jean business. Just listen to the way Guez is raking it in. In his company's first full fiscal year, ending Oct. 31, 1977, revenues were an impressive $12 million. But the profits that year were a not-so-impressive $600,000 before taxes. How come so low?
"I've got to hide something," Guez says. "You can't show everything to the IRS." Fiscal '78 sales took another leap to $30 million and so did the profits -- close to $6 million, with pretax profits riscal '79 forecast: another big gain in sales to between $40 million and $45 million, with pretax profits rising to about $8 million.
If you think those figures are impresive, hear this: Guez, who also has a jean business in France, estarted his U.S. enterprise with just $10,000. And very recently, he had a feeler from an Atlanta attorney about a potential acauisition of Sasson Jeans for upwards of $10 million. But Guez isn't interested is selling. "I believe in what I'm doing... and I want to do it even bigger," he says.
He's doing just that. The Sasson name will soon be featured on a host of additional products (via licenses) such as men's and women's usits, sunglasses, jewelry, dresses, and hanbags.
Obviously, the unauthorized Vidal Sassoon link is not the sole reason for Guez's meteoric growth. Apparel-industry watchers point to the exploding jean business itself (with Americans squeezing into more than one billion pairs of domestic and imported jeans in the last two years).
There's also the fashion onslaught -- with jeans getting fancier and fancier. And it's precisely that -- a trend-setting fashion look plus a great in -- that's the big appeal of Sasson jeans.
Guez agrees. He credits much of his success to a steady array of jean offerings in a rainbow of colors and different fabrics (satin, leather, corduroy, and velvet). "We took a prosaic item and gave it fashion excitement," he says. "This is not like a Levi jean, which makes most women look like a bag."
Guez accents the French cut in jeans -- a skintight, straight-leg model, he explains, that's designed to enhance a womanhs curves. "It uplifts her ass, fits her like a corset, and takes out the flab. For the first hour, a Sasson jean is very uncomfortable," says Guez, "but then the fabric gives a bit and there's breathing room. It's not for two-hundred-pound women."
Although basically aimed at women, Sasson's jeans are a unisex item and therefore are sold in men's and children's separtments as well. You pay, by the way, a stiff price for theat Sasson label on the back pocket. They retail from $35 to $270 for adults, $18 to $24 for children.
Though things sound great for Sasson, there's an obvious worry -- the burgeoning number of U.S. fashion competitors (like Calvin Klein and Gloria Vandrbilt), coupled with soaring jean imports. Guez, though, thinks the company's fashion creativity will continue to give it an edge over the rest of the fashion-jean producers. Adds Guez (a one-time furniture retailer in Lyon, France): "I'm not a genius but a good promoter with a good sense of business and good taste. The jean look has been around for over a hundred years; the fashion look in jeans for only two years... and I can't see why it won't last for another hundred years."
The success of Sasson -- it means "happiness" in Hebrew -- is already leading the ambitious Guez (an Israeli who plans to seek U.S. citizenship shortly) to talk about the possibility of going public. "I don't want to worry about lacking for money."
Guez, of course, has written a great success story. The question is, What happens if he falters? Judging from his interest in names, you might want to check in with him if your birth certificate identifies you as Tiffany, Ford, Gucci, or Rockefeller. He may just want to borrow your good name -- give or take a letter -- if the jean boom should take a breather.