Fashion pioneer, inventor of fast fashion, industry disruptor, champion of the LA fashion scene and family man, Max Azria, founder of BCBG Max Azria Group, passed at the age of 70 in Houston yesterday due to lung cancer.
The Tunisia born Azria was the youngest of six children whose family relocated to Paris when he was a teen. He got his start in the French fashion scene at ground zero of the denim craze in the 70s which laid his foundation for embracing accessible luxury fashion. After a series of businesses in Paris and Portugal, Azria relocated from Paris to LA in the early 80s opening a series of multi-brand retail stores called Jess. In 1989 he launched BCBG named for the French phrase “bon chic, bon genre,” a Parisian slang meaning “good style, good attitude,” starting the brand with a single knit preppy dress. He would go on to building fashion’s first contemporary brand, LA’s first multiple brand portfolio fashion conglomerate, and a global retail empire with more than 595 stores in 47 countries and over a $1 billion in sales.
Azria and his wife Lubov, who joined the firm in 1992, going on to become Creative Director of BCBG Max Azria, were the first to bring contemporary price points to high fashion launching their first runway show in 1996 at New York Fashion Week. The move to show designer fashion at accessible prices was unheard of at the time and the house met with resistance at first by the fashion establishment. Department stores too were originally befuddled in how to showcase the designer who offered compatible looks at one-third of the prices. Eventually, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Lord & Taylor launch contemporary departments with BCBG Max Azria as the cornerstone of the department. Azria paved the path for a series of LA-based contemporary brands which followed suit from Juicy Couture to Vince.
Always the industrial innovator as well as a designer, Azria was the first runway designer to launch a website, doing so at a time when established design houses issued proclamations that they would never be online. His foresight paid off as the house went on to win several Webby Awards. Later he would go on to embrace online shopping and at a time when many were working to figure out fulfillment he was the first to offer ‘ship from store.’
He was also the first American designer to battled giants until he became one, counterbalancing the leverage of department stores by opening mall-based stores adjacent to the anchors he had shop-in-shops in. Going on to prove that the two could coexist and one enhanced the other.
In 1998 Azria acquired the Paris fashion house of Hervé Léger, marking the first time in history that an American designer had acquired a French couturier. His portfolio included BCBG Max Azria, BCBGeneration, To the Max, Parallel, Max Azria Atelier and Hervé Léger by Max Azria. In Fall 2008, Max Azria presented BCBG Max Azria Runway, Max Azria and Hervé Léger by Max Azria at New York Fashion Week, marking the first time an American designer produced three major fashion shows during one New York Fashion Week.
While known as a shrewd businessman and negotiator, Azria had the gift of warmth. Those who negotiated, and often got the short end of the stick, walked away not only respecting him but liking him. He was a self-made, innovators innovator who had tremendous energy and played with equal enthusiasm as he worked. He kept his house open every Friday evening for family, friends, and guests for dinner that would often lead to furniture pushed back to walls to make way for an open dance floor. He could be found with a drink playing his favorite game of backgammon, sitting with his children, or dragging guests to the dance floor. Max Azria lived life with a keen eye, empathetic family ear, sharp mind, boisterous laugh, and warm grin. He will be sorely missed.
He is survived by his wife Lubov Azria and six children: Michael, Chloe, Marine, Agnes, Anais and Joyce; and his brother, Serge Azria.