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BCBGeneration Plots Jeans Renaissance

After a three-year hiatus, BCBG Max Azria is reviving the denim component of its casual grouping.

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VERNON, Calif. — After a three-year hiatus, BCBGeneration is reviving denim as a way to grow its young contemporary lifestyle business.

This story first appeared in the December 7, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

BCBGeneration, the more casual and less expensive offshoot of BCBG Max Azria, is appealing to its twentysomething customers with dip-dyed skinny jeans, stonewashed trousers, colored denim shorts and other fashion pieces that retail for between $58 and $118. It introduced 12 stockkeeping units this past fall in its 14 freestanding stores and with retail partners Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and Dillard’s. It will begin wholesaling this spring to retailers including Macy’s, with almost double the number of denim sku’s. In addition, the company will add T-shirts and fleece, ranging from $18 boxy long-sleeve tops to $38 printed rayon tanks and $58 hoodies. All the styles are designed for a fashion fan who aspires to shop pricy designers while staying casual and comfortable.

Joyce Azria, BCBGeneration’s 30-year-old creative director, noted that, with limited disposable income, customers are mixing new items with the jeans with which they’re highly familiar. As an example, she said, “they were buying this [BCBGeneration] trench to wear over cute bell-bottoms.”

Attuned to its customers’ lifestyle, which is filled with first jobs, dating and parties, BCBGeneration named all the jeans after boys. For instance, the straight leg is called Riley, while the bell-bottom is named Jacob.

“The concept is to have a crush on your denim so we named it after boys,” said Marine Azria, Joyce’s younger sister, who works at the brand as a stylist.

The five-person denim team is led by Sandrine Abessera, a designer who previously worked with jeans guru Paul Guez at Antik Denim, Yanuk and Taverniti So. Hiring denim experts who design and create washes across the hall from Joyce Azria’s office here is a change from BCBGeneration’s last venture in making jeans with sportswear designers. It also learned to lower its prices from its previous range that started at $78 and went up to $150.

The biggest challenge in BCBGeneration’s second attempt was “technically making the jeans at the pricing that we wanted,” Joyce Azria said. Even her father, BCBG Max Azria Group founder, chairman and chief executive officer Max Azria, emphasized that pricing and production should be meticulously handled, she said. “There’s such a perceived value in denim,” she said, noting that the jeans are made in Asia to help keep prices low.

“We’re not going to pretend we can go up against Citizens of Humanity and the big people,” said Stephen Budd, president of BCBGeneration. “A lot of vendors in this price point had schmaltzy and embellished [looks]. That’s not us. We’re clean and fresh and new at a good price.”

In its inaugural season, denim made up 10 percent of BCBGeneration’s total sales, which are estimated at $100 million, or a 10th of BCBG Max Azria Group’s total revenue of $1 billion. Azria’s goal for the T-shirt and denim offerings is to contribute as much as 25 percent to total sales in the spring.

To spur sales, BCBGeneration mixed denim for the first time in its spring ad campaign populated with cool chicks lounging in open-weave sweaters, skinny jeans and denim shorts rolled up to show a lot of leg. The brand is also planning to sell its jeans among leading denim brands at the Project trade show in Las Vegas in February.

No matter how much the denim business grows, Joyce Azria insists on merchandising it at retail with the rest of BCBGeneration, which encompasses shoes, bags, belts and jewelry. Gone is any notion of stand-alone denim stores.

After all, she said, “Our step into denim is one big step into understanding [our customer’s] lifestyle.”

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