LOS ANGELES, United States — When Max Azria’s LA-based womenswear brand BCBGMaxAzria launched in 1989, it was one of the first labels to make designer-quality clothing accessible to women outside of traditional designer price points. After Lubov Azria joined the company as a designer in 1991, becoming creative director in 1996, the brand became a lifestyle proposition, expanding into eveningwear, sportswear separates, handbags, small leather goods, outerwear, footwear, hats and swimwear.
Not only was BCBGMaxAzria a trailblazer within contemporary design, in 1996 it was the first Los Angeles- based, contemporary brand to show at New York Fashion Week. Expanding beyond the primary label, Lubov and Max acquired Hervé Léger in 1998, and relaunched the collection in early 2007. In Autumn/ Winter 2008, Azria presented three distinct catwalk shows in New York — Hervé Léger by Max Azria, Max Azria and BCBGMaxAzria Runway — the first time an American designer has ever done this.
The company has since continued to expand its portfolio, creating BCBGeneration in 2009. The youth brand produces apparel, shoes, accessories and underwear, interpreting the BCBG culture of “good style, good attitude,” for millennial consumers. Max’s eldest daughter, Joyce Azria, heads up the brand, as its creative director.
BoF: When BCBGMaxAzria first launched in 1989, what was the opportunity the company saw?
LA: When BCBGMaxAzria started the contemporary fashion market did not exist. Back then, you either had very high-end brands or lower priced mass brands — there was nothing in between. Max andI saw a need in the market to satisfy fashion-forward consumers. When I joined the company as a designer in 1991; my focus was on shaping the style and aesthetic of the brand. In the beginning, BCBGMaxAzria was purely item driven; slowly I was able to evolve the product by designing collections and building out a lifestyle brand. Within five years from whenI began, BCBGMaxAzria debuted its first runway collection during New York Fashion Week.
JA: BCBGMaxAzria has maintained its share of the market and continues to be a leader in its space because of its vision, passion and quality. My father and Lubov are the true American dream — they envisioned a brand with a European style and an American attitude — and never lost their focus.
We are a diverse organisation with a single passion and common objective: to make a difference in the lives of our customers
BoF: Today the market has many more accessible fashion brands. How has the company evolved to maintain its relevance?
JA: Our multi-brand approach keeps us well positioned in all markets, meaning that we can be successful consistently — regardless of the economic climate
LA: Protecting the brand is the singlemost important role of the corporate office. We hold the responsibility of maintaining the integrity and vitality of our brands by carefully guarding the reputation, service, product-quality and consistency of it, while continuing to develop a business that remains relevant to ever-evolving markets.
BoF: How have you grown a culture that provides opportunities for female leadership, and what motivated you to do so?
LA: There’s a quote that I love by Madeleine Albright, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I’m proud to say that 88 percent of our total company, including our field workforce, is female. We have special programmes designed to help our employees, such as the ‘Future Moms Programme’, which assists associates with support and resources in order to have asafe pregnancy and healthy baby. In addition, we also provide chiropractic and massage services onsite. Amazing perk!
BoF: What have been the greatest challenges over the last 25 years?
LA: In the beginning, our biggest challenge was being based in Los Angeles. Not only were the vast majority of buyers based in New York, but the press and the rest of the industry were on the opposite side of the coast too. This separation was very clear when we first started toshow at Bryant Park in 1996 — people did not know what to do with us as a result of being from Los Angeles — which at that time was known for denim, surfwear and t-shirts. It was also increasingly obvious when looking for talent to bring into the company; most people in fashion wanted to be in New York.
Now, what was once our biggest challenge has become one of our greatest attributes. People finally understand the creative force that comes out of Los Angeles. I am proud to say that BCBGMaxAzria undoubtedly had something to do with that shift.
BoF: What kind of talent are you looking for?
LA: I firmly believe that in order to be successful, you must surround yourself with people that make you better. We are a passionate team, who love style, innovation and creativity, we approach everything we do with a sense of humour and devote ourselves to growth, cultivating talent and fostering a true sense of family. We are a diverse organisation with a single passion and common objective: to make a difference in the lives of our customers.
In terms of candidates, we are looking for people who are passionate about the brand. The people I like to hire are those who say ‘I want to be here, this is my home’. That’s a huge thing for me — I like to hire people based on their passion before their qualifications.