Byline: Katherine Weisman

PARIS — Max Azria, owner of BCBG, is not one for modesty. So it’s no surprise that he chose a huge 12,400-square-foot multilevel space here for his first European flagship.
The BCBG store, which opened Sept. 11 and is located right off the Place de la Madeleine, is hosting an inaugural party tonight catered by French chef Alain Ducasse. It will be another milestone for the Los Angeles-based company, which is projecting a total volume of $300 million this year.
The flagship also is one more step in what will be a measured European expansion for the American label. Last May the firm opened a small shop in Rue du Faubourg St. Honore, and in a few weeks, BCBG will have a 1,000-square-foot boutique on the Left Bank’s Rue Bonaparte. The company also is negotiating an in-store shop in the Galeries Lafayette flagship here for spring 2000. Beyond these plans, nothing is firm for European expansion, although the company has already started to look around Milan for a possible flagship.
The three-level Paris store was designed by Franck Alezra of interior architecture and design firm Metropole Concept here. With steel staircases and exposed air ducts contrasted against white walls, the store has a modern, industrial feel. But warmth comes from dark-brown wenge wood shelving and display cases, red rugs and gray resin flooring. A handful of television monitors are scattered about, showing the current season’s runway show.
The BCBG collection is grouped by theme or color in separate areas. Accessories are mixed in throughout, with a concentration of shoes and handbags on the store’s lower, or basement, level, where the sportswear side of the collection is also highlighted. The store is unusually spacious, and the customer can wander around without feeling cramped.
Several details make the store a standout. For one, the dressing rooms, with their high ceilings, area rugs and white canvas curtains, are very big, which is unusual for Paris stores. Also, there is a sitting area with magazines and books along with the Max Cafe on the upper, or second-story, level.
The cafe serves up light fare, including salads, sushi and carpaccio and desserts ranging from American cheesecake to the traditional French fromage blanc, a yogurt-like smooth white cheese. And trendy compact discs are sold at the cashiers’ desk.
There is only one BCBG Max Azria collection worldwide, but the pick for the Paris store, and for future units here, focuses on the more embellished, or trendy pieces, noted Jean Amzelek, the vice president of retail for BCBG here.
“In France, there is no reason to sell our basics, since we have competition here,” said Amzelek. Stylewise and pricewise, he said, the BCBG collection competes here with Joseph or Barbara Bui, “but they don’t have as much choice as we do.” The French division was helped in narrowing its buy thanks to testing the collection in the Rue St. Honore shop last May.
BCBG retail prices in France are in line with those in the U.S., Amzelek said, noting that BCBG headquarters took a small hit on margins in selling to France. The clothes, 30 percent of which are made in the U.S. and the remainder manufactured in Asia, are shipped directly to France from the manufacturers, he said.
In addition to his responsibilities at BCBG, Amzelek is also managing the retail expansion of Herve Leger, the French design house that BCBG acquired in September 1998. Two more Leger units should open for summer 2000 on the Left Bank and Right Bank for a total of three shops, including the existing boutique on Rue du Faubourg St. Honore.
In the U.S., one of the two BCBG shops on New York’s Madison Avenue will be converted to a Leger store for an opening next March. The shop slated for conversion had opened in mid-August with about 800 square feet at 744 Madison Avenue at 64th Street. The other BCBG shop with 1,200 square feet at 770 Madison at 66th Street has been there for several years.
In other plans, both labels are slated to open stores at the Venetian in Las Vegas next spring.
Designer Herve Leger was dismissed by management earlier this year, and his successor, Eric Sartori, will show his first collection for the house on Oct. 4.