By  on April 23, 2010

Fragrance is back in focus at BCBG Max Azria Group — even as the company itself is seemingly for sale.

As part of what Lubov Azria, chief creative officer of BCBG Max Azria Group, described as an “evolution” of BCBG’s fragrance business, the Vernon-Calif.-based fashion house signed a licensing agreement earlier this month with Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based New Wave Fragrances LLC to create a signature BCBG Max Azria women’s fragrance due to be introduced next March. The exclusive, worldwide licensing deal is projected by industry sources to be for 10 years, with an option to renew after the first five years.

Market reports published by the New York Post say that the BCBG Max Azria Group has placed itself up for sale. “BCBG Max Azria Group continues to realize strong performance and is very comfortable with its business prospects, outlook and current capital structure,” a BCBG Max Azria spokesman told WWD Thursday. “We have a policy of not commenting on rumors or strategic initiatives.” BCBG Max Azria Group, which, sources said, had wholesale sales of $1.7 billion in 2009, counts more than 20 brands, including its namesake brand, Max Azria and BCBGeneration.

When asked about the importance of fragrance within the BCBG fashion business, which includes dress lines, jackets, separates, swimwear and a wide range of accessories, Azria — who is married to Max — responded, “For BCBG, it’s completing our lifestyle brand. We have so many different products and perfume is a finishing touch.

“We haven’t had a fragrance in a while,” she added, “so we thought it was a great time.”

“I love fragrance, my wife loves fragrance and we believe fashion and fragrance go hand in hand as a natural extension of BCBG Max Azria,” said Max Azria, chief executive officer and chairman of BCBG Max Azria Group. “Fragrance is important to any designer’s business. It enables us to reach a much broader audience. We expect to be very successful and for it to represent a significant portion of our business. We believe we have found a partner who truly understands the DNA of our brand and can successfully translate fashion into fragrance,” he said of New Wave.

The deal stands to put BCBG, which was founded in 1989, back on the fragrance playing field in a major way.

Plans call for the fragrance, which is in development, to be launched at BCBG’s boutiques worldwide; at U.S. stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Bon-Ton, Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor, and at more than 1,000 specialty stores, including Sephora and Ulta, New Wave and BCBG jointly stated. The firms are also planning an international rollout to Europe, Japan, Korea, Canada, Mexico, Australia and South America, as well as duty free stores in the U.S. and Caribbean.

There are 389 branded BCBG Max Azria boutiques worldwide, including more than 210 in the U.S., and 234 global “partner shops,” or leased spaces in department stores, including more than 170 in the U.S. BCBG’s wholesale business comprises 675 doors worldwide, including 630 in the U.S.

BCBG Max Azria Group is no stranger to the fragrance business.

The firm launched a signature Hervé Léger women’s scent with Procter & Gamble Co. in March 1999, the year after BCBG acquired Hervé Léger.

In 2001, BCBG launched four fragrances under its BCBGirls brand with then-licensee Unilever. “2001 wasn’t a great year,” Lubov Azria remarked. “There were a lot of differences.” Those scents, which were called Nature, Sexy, Metro and Star, are no longer marketed and the Unilever agreement expired on Dec. 31, 2005.

Within its Hervé Léger business in March 2006, BCBG launched a women’s scent called Rose Léger, an in-house effort.

And, BCBG dipped its toe in fragrance last year with the November launch of a limited edition, evening fragrance called Within. The limited distribution scent, which was developed by Lubov Azria and California-based perfumer Sarah Horowitz-Thran, is slated to be phased out.

“People still request” the BCBGirls fragrances, said Lubov Azria, adding, “That spurred the idea that we need to launch something again.”

Of the development process for the new fragrance, whose scent she declined to describe, Azria said, “The bottle design [by Lance McGregor] is almost done and the scent is on its way — one more revision and it’s perfect.” While working on fashion is tactile, she noted, “Fragrance is an elevated sense. I love working with an incredible team of designers.”

Master perfumers Caroline Sabas and Olivier Guillotin of fragrance supplier Givaudan are composing the fragrance.

New Wave, which was founded in April 2007 and manufactures and distributes worldwide Ed Hardy, True Religion and Christian Audigier fragrances, did more than $100 million in wholesale sales with those brands last year, according to industry sources.

Zalman Lekach, ceo of New Wave Fragrances, indicated he sees a lot of promise in the BCBG deal.

“I think BCBG will catapult us into the top tier [of fragrance marketers],” he said, citing data from The NPD Group that put New Wave among the top eight fragrance marketers in U.S. department stores last year. “It’s absolutely the biggest license we’ve done to date.

“We’re looking at introducing a new BCBG fragrance every 18 months or so,” continued Lekach. “We plan to work on a wardrobe of fragrances for the professional woman to take from her work day to her nightlife — in other words, we’re going to follow what the BCBG clothing does.”

Lubov Azria said “we’re open” to developing fragrances for other BCBG Max Azria Group brands. “But, we’re really putting all our energy on this. [New Wave] has amazing distribution; they invest in people, in training.”

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