By Gloria Nicola
Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Lubov Azria studied ballet as a child, eventually training with the renowned Bolshoi Ballet youth division. But she was also always interested in fashion. In fact when she was studying ballet, she often fit her own costumes. “I spent more time as a ballerina working with the costumes than I did dancing,” she laughs. When her family relocated to Texas, she continued her interest in fashion, and in 1986, she moved to Los Angeles where she obtained a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. In 1991, she joined the women’s fashion and lifestyle brand BCBGMAXAZRIA after a mutual friend introduced her to the company’s founder and her future husband Max Azria.
As chief creative officer she leads the company’s design team and oversees marketing and merchandising for the brand’s 20-plus labels, which include the core brand BCBGMAXAZRIA and the high-fashion labels, BCBGMAXAZRIA Runway, Herve Leger and Max Azria. The collections span cocktail and evening wear, dresses, sportswear, separates, handbags and small leather goods, licensed outerwear, footwear, hats and swimwear, and since 2005, an eyewear and sunglass collection with ClearVision Optical.
Often called the brand’s muse, Azria describes herself as very detail-oriented. “My husband [who founded the brand, which takes its name from the French phrase ‘bon chic, bon genre,’ Parisian slang meaning ‘good style, good attitude’] is the visionary. It’s a perfect balance. We are a great combo.” She frequently uses herself as a fitting model, checks every detail on every product and personally tries on each pair of eyewear. “It only takes one bad style to spoil the collection,” she notes. “We are a brand that represents the dynamic lifestyle of the contemporary woman by focusing on the fit, construction and fabrication of everything we make,” she adds. Azria is also directly involved in every aspect of the business from merchandising and marketing to décor, displays, window installations and promotions for the more than 570 BCBGMAXAZRIA retail stores worldwide.
Azria says the defining and driving forces behind the company are innovation, passion and vision. “We want to make affordable, wearable fashion that is trendy, but never too avant-garde. Our goal is to provide every woman with stylish products that make her feel beautiful and good about herself every day. Our company is successful not because we are about money, but because we feel that whatever dress we offer should be the best dress ever made regardless of the cost. We know there is a lot of product out there, and we know everyone cost shops. We also realize consumers today are more educated than ever before. We have to work hard to give them what they want. As a company, we have a common objective throughout our product collections and retail locations: making a difference in the lives of our customers,” she continues.
With ClearVision, we feel we have a good partner for conveying our message through eyewear. We respect their expertise, aesthetics and support, and appreciate that they are willing to takes chances and push eyewear to the next level,” Azria notes. “When a woman puts glasses on, she should feel they are designed specifically for her. With this collection I think she does. I love where eyewear is going today. It’s become so chic and sophisticated and even a bit funky, and there is so much new technology that makes it a lot lighter and more comfortable.”
With eyewear as with all its product lines, BCBG works with underlying motifs that connect the various lines each season. “We are using a lot of studs and colorblocking in our clothes, so we have incorporated these elements into our eyewear collection for 2013,” Azria explains, pointing out examples. Color is also important in all the collections, she notes, and equally so in frames. “You can do so much with color in eyewear—even the temple tips can be a different color from the temple or frame front,” she says.
Azria’s personal eyewear favorites are the Jackie O style, aviators, cateyes and wayfarer-inspired designs. “I love experimenting with shapes. I find the older I get, the larger my sunglasses get.”
When asked what advice she would give to optical retailers selling the BCBG line, she emphasizes two key points: “Be educated and educate. Know as much about the product as possible, and pass that knowledge along to the end consumer.” Azria creates and stars in seasonal product-knowledge books and videos so that retail and wholesale associates have the tools they need to communicate with their customers. Visibility is also essential. “Wear the product. Have your staff wear the product. Everyone who works with me needs to wear BCBG,” she stresses. “And because we are a California-based company, we like colors. Some businesses expect their employees to sell a variety of colors, but want them to wear black. We want our employees to wear colors.” Her personal favorite color, she notes, is orange. “It’s so juicy.”
Whether it’s dresses or eyewear, Azria emphasizes the key to the BCBG brand philosophy is focusing on the customers. “You can’t separate the designer from the consumer,” she emphasizes. “You don’t always have to be right, but you need to pay close attention to your customers and those you want to be your customers. We must create designs as young and trendy as our clients. I frequently meet with our customers, and we invite them to events. We need to understand that consumers don’t shop primarily because they must. They shop for the experience, the excitement, the opportunity to recreate themselves. We market brands based on emotional connections. Because we are passionate about our brand, and we make products we love, we enjoy conveying this message to our customers. In return, consumers believe in and support us.”
For Azria, social media is an important tool for reaching out to customers. She maintains a blog with behind-the-scenes information and creative inspirations, frequently updates the company’s Twitter page and enjoys browsing YouTube. “Social media is an important tool because it gives consumers new ways to discover a brand,” Azria says. “But there’s no instant formula to success. Just be consistently innovative and exciting… and passionate.” ■