Max Azria, Designer Who Sold Couture for Less, Has Died

Max Azria, Designer Who Sold Couture for Less, Has Died

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Max Azria, a fashion designer whose BCBG Max Azria line became a global powerhouse by offering chic apparel for considerably less than many of his competitors, died on Monday in Houston.

A family member said the cause was lung cancer, but added that Mr. Azria’s family did not want to release other details about his life. News media accounts said he was 70.

Mr. Azria created BCBG Max Azria in Los Angeles in 1989 as a practical alternative to the expensive, ornate styles that proliferated during the conspicuous consumption of the 1980s. He later said that one of his goals was to democratize runway-quality fashion.

“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,” Mr. Azria told The Los Angeles Times in 2014. “I wanted to give fashion to more people.”

He also designed for celebrities like Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Halle Berry and Viola Davis.

But the bulk of his business was aimed at ordinary consumers, who sought his ready-to-wear pieces even if some critics were lukewarm about them. BCBG stands for “bon chic, bon genre,” a French slang phrase that roughly translates as “good style, good attitude,” a philosophy Mr. Azria liked to live by in the face of criticism.

Writing in 2008 about designers like Mr. Azria, Ruth La Ferla of The New York Times said his “collections may not break new ground, but as he likes to point out, they sell at several hundred BCBG boutiques in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as at department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Saks.”

She added, “To call them commercial is no insult, he said. ‘It’s a fact.’ ”

In 1996, BCBG became one of a handful of commercial brands to introduce collections at New York Fashion Week. Critics were concerned that such clothing would not measure up to more expensive competitors, but, as Constance C. R. White wrote in a review in The Times, “BCBG, by Max Azria, displayed enough muscle to turn back the naysayers.”

“He made his point,” she continued, “with a sweeping gray maxi-coat with epaulets, flat-front pants and mélange turtleneck; a brown and beige wide-lapel jacket with black fur collar; a black suede belted shirt jacket and black denim bell-bottom pants with white topstitching tracing a line down the back of the leg; and languid jersey evening dresses, including a plunging V-neck topped with a fur-collared greatcoat.”

Mr. Azria expanded into new brands, like BCBGeneration and Max Azria Atelier, and he designed a collection for Walmart with Miley Cyrus in 2009. In 1998 he acquired Hervé Léger, the French couture label famous for its form-fitting bandage dresses. A year later Mr. Azria fell out with Mr. Léger, but he kept the rights to his name and released clothing under the label Hervé Léger by Max Azria. (Mr. Léger, who died in 2017, changed his name to Hervé L. Leroux and opened an independent house under the new name.)

At its peak, BCBG Max Azria Group operated more than 550 stores around the world and was said to generate more than $1 billion a year in retail sales.

But in recent years the company suffered, as online ordering threatened retail and more affordable fast fashion brands like H& M and Zara crowded the marketplace. It also struggled to deal with more than $400 million in debt, which it had accrued over many years of acquisitions.

BCBG Max Azria filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017 and closed 120 stores. Marquee Brands bought the company for more than $100 million later that year. Mr. Azria had already left, as had his wife, Lubov, who joined BCBG in the early 1990s and for many years was the company’s creative director, and his daughter, Joyce Azria, formerly the creative director for BCBGeneration.

Complete information on survivors, who include his wife and daughter, was not immediately available.

Mr. Azria was born in Sfax, Tunisia, in the late 1940s. When he was a teenager his family moved to France, where he acted in the theater and later sold imported American jeans.

He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s and opened Jess, a chain of retail clothing stores there, before starting BCBG. He lived for many years in a 17-bedroom mansion in the Holmby Hills neighborhood, where he often hosted Shabbat dinners for his family, friends and celebrities.

After leaving BCBG, Mr. Azria became the chief executive of Zapplight, a company that makes light bulbs that also function as bug zappers, and founded a housing design venture, Azria Home.

Mr. Azria acknowledged that shopping online was convenient. But, he said, it robbed consumers of enjoyment.

“You can buy a TV online, O.K., but to buy a dress or shoes? Ugh,” he said in 2014. “The customer has to go back to the store and breathe and smell and have a good time. Because shopping is a good time — like going to a nice restaurant.”

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