it came to celebrating the brand he built from the
ground up, Max Azria, 65, of BCBG, known for his
extravagant lifestyle, kept things low-key and
close to home. He and wife Lubov, who is the
creative director of Max Azria Group, staged a
retrospective exhibition of their work.
ANGELES ó "Iím ready to launch the piece,"
said heavy hitter Max Azria, stepping onto the pitcherís
mound at Dodger Stadium on a recent Saturday. Thatís
fashion speak for throwing out the first pitch, which he
was invited to do to mark the 25th anniversary of his
fashion business BCBG Max Azria Group.
ball soared but bounced just short of home plate and
into the catcherís mitt, showing Azria still has
of the key figures to emerge from the Los Angeles
fashion scene in the last quarter century, Azria manages
an international empire that consists of the brands
BCBGMaxAzria, BCBGeneration, Max Azria Atelier and Herve
Leger by Max Azria, with 500 stores in 47 countries and
$1 billion in retail sales. The highest priced of these,
Herve Leger, has dresses that can run more than $10,000,
but the lowest priced, BCBGeneration, tops out at $168
and BCBGMaxAzria ó the bread and butter of the brand
ó tops out at $900.
selling most dresses and sportswear at prices closer to
$500 than $1,000, he helped to democratize fashion long
before "contemporary" and "fast
fashion" were hot categories in retail, back when
todayís star fashion players Alexander Wang and
Phillip Lim were still in short pants. And, when he took
his BCBGMaxAzria collection to New York Fashion Week in
1996, he helped democratize the runways too.
it comes to celebrating the brand he built from the
ground up, Azria, 65, known for his extravagant
lifestyle, is keeping things low-key and close to home.
He and wife Lubov, 46, who is creative director of Max
Azria Group, staged a recent retrospective exhibition of
their work called "Living the Bon Chic Life"
at company headquarters in Vernon, Calif.
in Tunisia, Azria moved with his family to France when
he was a teenager. He got his start selling jeans
imported from America, then managed his parentsí
apparel manufacturing business. He moved to Los Angeles
in 1983 ("for lifestyle, weather and space")
and opened a chain of multi-brand retail stores called
Jess, before creating BCBG, which stands for "bon
chic, bon genre," meaning "good style, good
attitude," in 1989.
a Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising grad,
joined the company in 1991. Daughter Joyce Azria, 35,
heads up the BCBGeneration label, which targets younger
after 25 years, dozens of runway shows, high-profile ad
campaigns and red carpet coups, dressing everyone from
Beyonce to Viola Davis, Azria is at a crossroads. He
should be on top of his game. But heís facing the
reality that he may have to hand over control of his
company to the investors who own part of his debt.
sat down with him recently to discuss his memories, his
legacy and where he goes from here.
Has the definition of L.A. fashion changed since you
Yes. From the time we opened to where we are today, L.A.
has become the No. 4 city in world in fashion behind New
York, Paris and London. And I think weíre going fast
to No. 3, 2 then 1. The beautiful thing about L.A is
that you have 50 countries in one county. Diversity
brings power and muscle.
What was your original vision for BCBGMaxAzria?
I was wondering why designers were selling products at
$1,000 that we can make a good profit and good living by
selling at $500. I wanted to give fashion to more
Over the years, the reviews havenít always been so
good. The most persistent criticism is that the clothes
arenít directional, that big manufacturers, especially
ones from California, are trend followers, not
Well, when editors say (he makes a whiny voice) this and
this, and they donít even know anything about proper
stitching, I have to laugh.
I found a quote from you from 1996, when you told the
L.A. Times, "I donít want to be part of the 2 or
3 percent that pretends to be artists. My biggest
influence is the consumer. If she wants leather collars,
thatís what sheíll get." Do you still feel that
Itís a mixture of teaching the consumer a new way and
what they want. Like this summer, all women want to be
in shorts, even if they are a size 14. Shorts have
become the new miniskirts. But you know what? They are
right because they are comfortable. Fashion is about
comfort and feeling good.
And since 1996, when you said that, fashion has turned
upside down. The idea that a designer or an editor
dictates is really not valid anymore.
Absolutely. For me, one of the biggest designers is
Azzedine Alaia. Everything he is doing is fantastic. But
itís too much dictating. He has to be closer to the
Over the years, you launched a lot of new business
ventures, creating the brand Max Rave, and designed a
collection with Miley Cyrus for Wal-Mart. You werenít
always successful, and some people say you expanded too
rapidly. Do you have any regrets?
Even if a project becomes bad, you love a lot about it.
So no, I donít have regrets. When I was working with
Miley Cyrus, I was working for the first time in my life
in a very narrow niche market, so it was very creative.
Sheís great and it was exciting to learn you sold
50,000 pieces. Thatís a lot.
When you started, there werenít so many companies
doing affordable fashion. Now there are a lot, from
Helmut Lang and Theory to H&M. How do you compete?
By not looking at what theyíre doing.
What are the challenges for the business going forward?
Life today is so fast. The challenge is to keep going
and always be on top of this. Itís like today, I
cannot give any age to my customer. They are 14, 20, 30,
40, 50, 70. So that is another revolution.
And the way people shop has changed.
Yes, e-commerce is a strange situation for an old guy
like me. You can buy a TV online, OK, but to buy a dress
or shoes? Ugh. The customer has to go back to the store
and breathe and smell and have a good time. Because
shopping is a good time ó like going to a nice
When you look back on 25 years, what do you see?
Of course the beauty, but also the work, the thousands
of hours and days.
If you are forced to leave your company and turn over
control to your investors, what will you do?
I would travel a lot like everybody does.
But you donít want to leave.
Itís not about what I want or donít want. Itís
that I feel I didnít finish my job. I need another one
to three years. People they are going to put in place, I
have to be behind. And I have to exercise every day
because if in six months they call me because someone
did a big boo-boo and we have to repair it, I will there
because I love BCBGMax Azria.
STORY CAN END HERE)
moments in the history of BCBG Max Azria Group.
Max Azria launches BCBGMaxAzria and opens first
headquarters on 9th street in downtown Los Angeles
The brandís first catalog is distributed.
Lubov Azria joins the company.
The first BCBGMaxAzria store opens in Brentwood
First international boutique opens in Montreal; footwear
launches; Azria is awarded California Designer of the
Year; Charlize Theron models in first ad campaign.
BCBGMaxAzria debuts at New York Fashion Week
Acquisition of Herve Leger
Opening of Paris flagship with Max Cafe restaurant.
BCBG Girls launches
Max Azria Atelier line of gowns is introduced
Sharon Stone wears Max Azria Atelier to the Cannes Film
More youthful BCBGeneration launches
Azria collaborates with Miley Cyrus on line for WalMart
called Miley & Max; Viola Davis wears Max Azria
Atelier to Golden Globes; first BCBGMax Azria fragrance
Launch of bridal collection
Madonna wears Herve Leger on her MDNA World Tour
Herve Leger partners with Mattel on a Barbie
BCBGMax Azria celebrates 25 years with retrospecive