By  on October 16, 2007

NEW YORK — Max Azria has never been a man of small ambitions.

Azria's global retail empire includes 386 stores and his ready-to-wear collections continue to grow in diversity. So when he stood outside the entrance on Monday of a new 12,000-square-foot BCBG Max Azria flagship at 461 Fifth Avenue here — his biggest store in the world — it was with no small measure of satisfaction.

"I'm extremely happy," he said. "I've been looking to open a large store in Manhattan in a good location for some time. Between the [New York Public Library], Fifth Avenue and all the offices, there were many reasons" for choosing this spot, which is on the corner of 40th Street.

"The BCBG Max Azria product is much more visible and the store is comfortable to shop," he said. "I think it's a paradise for a woman."

The designer said he expects sales of $1,500 per square foot. The company's annual worldwide volume is $1.5 billion.

The Fifth Avenue store is 1,000 square feet larger than a unit on Boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris, which also has an eatery, Cafe Max.

"In two or three weeks I'll make a decision on 10 more stores this size in the U.S.," Azria said, noting that he is reviewing the real estate. With 161 stores in the U.S., Azria believes there's room for another 150.

"Chicago deserves another two or three stores," he said. "Washington deserves two or three more stores. There are a lot more cities" that could use additional units. Manhattan, which has six BCBG shops and one MaxAzria store, is ripe for another three to four locations, the designer said. "We have to be close to our customers. It's part of our service."

The Fifth Avenue store is light and airy with limestone floors and acacia wood floors on the main level, laser-cut garlands made from brass-plated steel that creep up walls and cover ceilings, concrete and glass stairs and custom-made furniture, which includes a brown Ultraseude pouf and lime green couch. A mural by Carmichael and Edwards of Ironwood consisting of circular pieces of powder-coated steel hangs on the main level. Colorful birds dangle from mobiles in the oversize windows."Only BCBG Max Azria is sold here now," the designer said. "I plan to bring MaxAzria, the designer price point collection, here in a few weeks."

The MaxAzria line is sold in only a handful of stores, including Madison Avenue, SoHo and the Flatiron District here, Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and Worth Avenue in Boca Raton, Fla.

Two rolling racks near the store's entrance display the BCBG runway collection. A spokesman said runway is in the top 20 U.S. doors. Prices are higher than BCBG Max Azria, reflecting the limited distribution of the product. Styles include an edgy long black strapless gown with covered buttons on the bodice for $740, a long brown jersey dress with leaf-shaped appliqués, $800, and a beige and dark brown sleeveless woven satin dress, $600.

The highest price point in the store is $2,000 for a fur coat. The main level is devoted to coats, separates and sweater dresses, including one with a fair aisle pattern for $118, and accessories such as handbags and shoes. The white leather Signature style with black contrast stitching is a bestseller for $498. Shoes range from blue or gray leather flats with matching crochet trim, $198, to sexy patent leather high-heeled pumps in merlot or black, $230.

The lower level, with its garland ceiling and acacia wood floor that rolls up one wall, is home to quilted jackets and coats, some with fur collars, tunics, sweaters, jeans, sunglasses, watches and belts. Dresses and more dresses occupy the vast third floor. Half of the room is devoted to evening styles such as a long teal dress in a burnout print fabric, $380, and a sleeveless crème trapeze number with a sheer overlay embroidered with circles, $320. An enormous crystal chandelier hovers over a long white display case filled with baubles like gold bangles and chunky cocktail rings, and gold mesh clutches and evening purses. Day dresses populate the other side of the floor and the variety is daunting.

The much speculated upon initial public offering is still on the horizon. "Not yet," a spokesman said.

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