PARIS — Millions of European women will soon come into contact with designs by Max Azria — at prices not much higher than a bottle of Champagne or a baked ham.
Carrefour, the world's second-largest retailer after Wal-Mart, unveiled its new Tex by Max Azria collection, a contemporary line slated for August delivery at 718 locations in Europe and designed to help ignite the retail giant's nonfood business.
"We are going to reach a lot of women that are very difficult to reach," said an ebullient Azria, in town for a fashion show and launch event Tuesday night at the Musée de l'Homme here. He was referring to the fact that Carrefour stores in Europe are typically located on the outskirts of large cities or in smaller towns, giving him unprecedented access to women, who make up 80 percent of footfall at its stores, which totals 20 million people daily.
The Tex line initially will be sold in France, Greece, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Portugal, with the Carrefour-Azria deal calling for a minimum guaranteed volume of 1 billion euros, or $1.35 billion, through the end of 2011.
Carrefour declined to specify its future rollout plan, but it is understood the label will ultimately be expanded to other doors in additional markets. There are 1,040 Carrefour units in the world, while the group operates more than 12,000 stores in 29 countries. Carrefour recently has seen some turmoil with the departure of its chairman, Luc Vandevelde, and Bernard Arnault's Groupe Arnault linking with Colony Capital to buy a 9.1 percent stake in the retailer.
José Maria Folache, Carrefour's general manager for Europe (excluding France), noted that only one in five Carrefour shoppers purchases apparel in its aisles, a ratio it aims to increase with Azria's contemporary and mostly casual styles, which range from lantern-sleeved cardigans and tailored coats to low-slung jeans and fringed suede boots. In the first quarter, sales of nonfood items rose 0.4 percent at Carrefour.
The giant retailer's aim is to bolster "pleasure-related purchases. This is our new strategy," Folache said during an informal press conference held on the middle of the catwalk before the show. "We're looking to convert this brand into a full-fledged fashion label."The Tex label has existed for 25 years at Carrefour, and the retailer sells more than 75 million Tex items per year in France alone. But Azria's mission was to make women's styles more "fashion-oriented and sexy," Folache said. The label, to be merchandised with special fixtures, will be the main women's ready-to-wear offering at Carrefour, which also carries such apparel brands as Levi's, Dim, Terre de Marin and Auber.
Azria said the Tex line is aimed at a "contemporary type of woman, relatively ageless," with an accent on casual styles and broad choices in accessories. Most items are priced between 10 euros, or $13.50, and 40 euros, or $54.
But adding the right fashion touch was only part of the equation. Folache noted that BCBG Max Azria Group's expertise in retailing and apparel manufacturing helped seal the deal. "Max has enabled us to gain access to a complex, specialized business. We would never have been able to do it alone," he said.
"It's not just clothes; it's scientific," Azria agreed. "There's the product on the one hand, and the technical aspects of the products."
Azria said he's employing a category management business model for the Carrefour venture, which will streamline product flows and allow it to compete better against retailers such as Zara, which often has stores near Carrefour in suburban locations.
The debut collection, spanning some 400 styles and 1,000 stockkeeping units, has a polished bohemian vibe and includes layers of soft knits, short dresses, tunic tops, oversize bags and a broad assortment of sweaters. The most notable BCBG-inspired piece was a billowy knit cardigan wrap that has been seen in recent collections. Coming later in the season are major offerings of denim, dresses and coats.
Meanwhile, Azria's business is enjoying strong momentum on other fronts.
In an interview, the Los Angeles-based designer disclosed plans to open 25 BCBG Max Azria stores in Europe this year, primarily in France, but also Switzerland and Belgium.
BCBG's European business should total $400 million over the next 12 months. Azria also said that in August he will relaunch Alain Manoukian, the French sportswear firm his group acquired in 2005. Nameplates will be converted to Manoukian, with close to 100 stores, most of them in France, displaying a new decor, graphics and colors. Azria also overhauled the Manoukian design team and promised a collection that would be "more affordable and more designer and value-priced."It was always my dream to sell a product at many prices, from $10 to $5,000 and be good at every one," he said in an interview. "French fries are good, but caviar is good, too."