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LOS ANGELES — Apparel mogul Max Azria has added a new title to his résumé: theater producer. Beginning Sept. 18, his new Beverly Hills-based company, BCBGMaxAzria Entertainment, will stage the first U.S. production of the French hit “Ten Commandments: The Musical,” starring Val Kilmer as Moses, at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre. (A run in New York is slated for January at Radio City Music Hall.) For many designers seeking to break into showbiz, the idea of producing and financing a $12 million spectacle would seem as daunting as parting the Red Sea. Here, Azria, who built his $350 million clothing empire after emigrating from Paris by way of Tunisia 20 years ago, speaks about his leap of faith.

WWD: It was the show, rather than the idea of becoming a producer, that spurred you to form a production company. How did it happen?

Max Azria: It was Paris 2001, and I was reading a newspaper article about Elie Chouraqui, who created the musical, and I said, “Oh my gosh, that is such a strong idea.” Especially at this moment when the world is in such trouble, it’s very apropos. So I called and said, “I want 100 tickets for the first night.” Two months later, I was back in Paris. I met with my partner, Charles Cohen, and I said, “This show is mine. I’ll pay for it, I’ll produce it.” Naturally, he said, “Are you joking? It’s not your job.” I said, “I will make it my job.” After opening night, I went to dinner in Rouen with Elie, and at midnight, we wrote a contract on a paper towel. I’m not joking.

WWD: Why did you select Hollywood as a venue over New York, which is better known for theater?

M.A.: Los Angeles is where I see the creativity of the entertainment industry. For the last five years, we’ve seen fashion and entertainment become closer than ever. For the last two years, there’s been no fashion book without an actress on the cover. Now, what entrepreneur wouldn’t dream of developing a house of entertainment? I will have so much fun with this, because entertainment is a lot like fashion. It’s the same gymnastics of the spirit. We always have to have vision and to look forward.

This story first appeared in the August 10, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

WWD: How does the L.A. show differ from the Montreal production in March 2002, which was your first experience with producing?

M.A.: It will all be completely different — the music, the lyrics, the sets and costumes, which I will be designing. In Montreal, I wanted to experiment in a smaller place. It was like school. I learned that you have to surround yourself with the best possible team, which I have in L.A. [director Robert Iscove, whose credits include “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and composer Patrick Leonard, who wrote Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”] I got rid of the French people, because it has to be 100 percent pure American wine. I’m making a real Hollywood spectacle. It’s much more rock ’n’ roll and straight to the point.

WWD: What about the costumes?

M.A.: They will look totally Egyptian from the period. I will imitate the fabric, color and styling that they used to wear. We want it to be very colorful without taking too much away from the spectacle. In fact, a poncho from my current collection is very Moses.

WWD: How will the show affect your focus on the apparel business?

M.A.: I think it’s good to take on new challenges, because repetition doesn’t help you grow. People make fun of me for being here and doing this, but I think it will only inspire me to do new things with my apparel business.

WWD: What about skeptics who say designers can’t make it in showbiz?

M.A.: There were many people in the apparel industry whom I invited to partner with me, but they didn’t want to share the adventure. There were also a lot of people in the entertainment industry who didn’t open the door to me. I know all about that. But I can only try to make this a success. If I do, this will become a house of musical entertainment. There will be 10 or 15 such projects in my library. The musical is my favorite form of entertainment. Film and television don’t interest me right now.

WWD: What’s next after Los Angeles?

M.A.: I’ve had other offers in the States. And I am sure I will go to Paris, and maybe London, with this American version. It’s all about moving, not sleeping. Plus, it makes me feel young. When you stop challenging yourself, you start to grow old and you die. Now, it’s like I’m 18 years old — or I’m trying.

— Marcy Medina

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