The reggaetón superstar speaks with Boardroom about his 47-piece collection with GUESS that celebrates his musical mantras through the canvas of clothing.
“No” is used in 110 different languages, but it’s not a term typically told to global icons. Nevertheless, J Balvin swears Nicolai Marciano told him no the first time he visited the GUESS vault.
“Nicolai has been in the archives since he was a kid, but the day I went there? It blew my mind because I wanted to keep everything,” J Balvin tells Boardroom. “Unfortunately, I didn’t take anything. I wanted all these beautiful pieces from the classic denim from GUESS to pieces from the ’80s.”
Nicolai, whose father Paul co-founded GUESS in 1981, remembers that first visit differently. “He took a few things home,” he says, laughing.
Despite different accounts on the introductory trip to the archives, both agree that their relationship started as a friendship and evolved into a creative collaboration. In November 2018, GUESS announced the artist born José Álvaro Osorio Balvín as the face of their Spring 2019 Vibras campaign. It began a fruitful partnership.
This week, Marciano and J Balvin’s kinship continues with the release of their latest “Amor” capsule collection — Spanish, of course, for “love.”
Thursday’s launch features 47-pieces ranging from vibrantly printed denim to crochet cardigans. All genders and ages are considered, as is a reverence for the brand’s rich past meshed with a message for tomorrow’s trailblazers. Despite the ample amount of items co-created with Balvin, the “Amor” line is leaner than previous pairings but all the more meaningful.
“This collection is the most refined and focused,” explains Marciano, Director of Brand Partnerships for GUESS Originals. “The first two collections were like 150 pieces that were explosive from a color standpoint. That’s amazing because that’s who José is. But we wanted to switch it up and make it a little more classic. Everything is a heater, everything [is] a key piece.”
When working on the capsule, temperature and tone were as important as ever. This proved true when wear-testing all items for the celebratory campaign shoot, directed by Colin Tilley.
“That day was freezing!” Balvin admits. “It looks like it was sunny, but it was really cold. It’s the magic of entertainment, but we had a lot of fun.”
Whether on record or through fashion, Balvin has no trouble creating warmth. The vocalist who’s held the title of most-streamed artist in the world has cozily crooned fans from his native Colombia to Antarctica despite a language barrier in many major markets.
This ability to connect is, as the kids say, very rare. In an era where every brand sells a smiley face, Balvin is one. Despite audible obstacles in music, his lyrics live like a sonic emoji — emitting feelings through melody as messaging. In working with GUESS, Balvin brings that same energy to fashion as a beacon of light for love, positivity, and all-around good vibes.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about expression,” says Balvin. “Fashion is how you talk about yourself without speaking. Music and fashion are really related because they’re both art. The fact that we have this global reach? It helps us to spread more peace and love, so it’s a total success.”
“It’s really in line with who GUESS is as a brand,” Marciano says. “We’re in over 105 countries, and if José is one thing, he’s global.”
Balvin’s numbers speak for themselves, as he currently boasts 52.1 million Instagram followers alone. But the proof of global appeal that means the most to the multi-Platinum icon comes when he’s roaming the real world.
“GUESS goes all-in on the billboards and everything. If someone lands in Italy, they’ll send me a picture like, ‘Oh, I see you here!’ It’s everywhere, and that feels great.”
“A week ago, I was walking SoHo in New York, and I see a guy in my Air Jordans, which are really hard to get, and he had one of the pieces from my first GUESS collection,” he adds. “And he wasn’t looking for me! He was just walking around in the streets. So, I’m the one who stops him and says, ‘It’s so cool to see you rocking what we do and what we love.’ It makes me as happy as when I see someone in a car blasting my music or playing my song in a nightclub.”
With the recently released collection from Balvin and GUESS, both the artist wooed by the archive and the designer who grew up in it have created even more items to spread love and break barriers. Though this capsule is slimmed down from 150 items to that of 47, it’s still pulling teeth to pick just one favorite.
We asked them anyway.
Balvin goes first. “The black jacket. It really goes with the style I’ve been into lately. We’ve always wanted to give ideas about peace and love through colors, even my colored hair. But in this case, my favorite piece is because of the balance between the black and the colors.”
And Marciano appreciates Balvin’s choice before expressing partiality to a different piece. “The cargo pants,” he says. “José likes them a lot as well. It’s fairly simple, but it’s a really great fit based off a personal pair I’ve been tailoring over the years. José really likes the double-pocketing, and I really like the subtle hints of embroidery.”
While the friends-turned-collaborators have amassed their very own archive of clothing that celebrates both J Balvin and the everyday consumer, their real win is translating the traditionally American appeal of GUESS to a global audience born years after the brand’s first heyday.
“I’ve grown up on the company my whole life,” begins Marciano, “but the past five years working on these programs has brought in a whole new audience. To see young teenagers wear the brand a lot is such a good feeling because it shows that it’s translating.”
Translation, like love, is a key component to the success of both the brand and the artist.
“I respect Nicolai so much because he took the responsibility to transfer the old DNA of GUESS and put it in the future and making kids feel like they’re cool,” J Balvin says. “When we love fashion? We love to go get the OG shit. We feel even cooler because we can get the vintage thing that no one else can. But the kids have grown up with another version of fashion, and Nicolai knows how to transfer that and make it young. If it wasn’t for Nicolai, it wouldn’t be the same without his vision.”
While the world is benefitting from J Balvin’s expression through music and his forays in fashion, his growing work with GUESS has exploded since his first fateful day in the archives where he claims to have come home empty-handed. In fact, he hints there are still pieces deep in the depths of the world Marciano was raised within that he still covets.
“If we don’t do it the commercial way,” Balvin says coyly, “we’ll do it for ourselves.”