Byline: Kristi Ellis

SEATTLE — Max Azria would rather knock himself off than let his competition do it first.
Azria, president and designer of BCBG Max Azria, made his first in-store appearance at Nordstrom here last Thursday for the launch of BCBG Exclusively for Nordstrom. It is a lower-priced contemporary casual line that incorporates the spirit of his BCBG signature line.
The company, based Vernon, Calif., announced in January that it was teaming up with Nordstrom to create an exclusive collection for the chain.
Nordstrom launched the line in all 72 doors in mid-February and it has been performing well, according to Marty Wikstrom, president of full-line stores.
“When you start at zero, you have to get the line up and rolling and educate the customer,” said Wikstrom, in an interview at the flagship here. “You could have really written February off, but we had a great month.”
As its label implies, the collection is exclusive to Nordstrom. It runs from size 4 to 14 and ranges in price from $50 to $150. Suits account for 15 percent of the spring offering but the bulk is sportswear, including T-shirts, casual pants, skirts and dresses, cotton knit sweaters and hooded tops.
Azria said that he will offer 250 new stockkeeping units every month.
“We are fast to respond to the bestsellers to improve profitability,” he said.
The venture could be very profitable indeed for both Azria and Nordstrom. Although both declined to give first-year sales projections, industry sources estimate the collection could generate sales of $30 million to $40 million chain-wide.
As reported in these columns in February, Nordstrom initiated a major revamp of its women’s business this year, including the repositioning of all of its women’s floors by bringing in a higher percentage of modern and casual goods, establishing boutique-like settings and adding new private labels, among other plans.
The BCBG exclusive label is housed in t.b.d (to be determined), a newly created department of forward, contemporary lines at prices lower than bridge. The department also houses such lines as Halogen, Big Star and DKNY Jeans.
“We have worked hard on our women’s apparel strategy over the past 18 months, looking at where customers want to shop,” said Wikstrom. “Our customers talked a lot about modern product, and the price point that we were missing in modern product was not in the bridge area but in lower price points.”
Nordstrom executives approached Azria, who turned the line out in four months.
“One of the things that Max understands is how to sell a lot of product,” Wikstrom said. “He also understands what American women want and how to make designer products at great price points.”
Azria launched the line to reach a much broader customer base that “wants to wear something classy with a touch of hip.”
He plans to cater to the “real American woman,” who averages 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 140 pounds.
“It is not more casual, but a little bit less designer,” said Azria. “We are giving them an alternative between basics and a designer line. It has a touch of fashion but not exaggerated fashion.”
Azria’s signature collection is currently carried in 47 Nordstrom doors, in the Savvy department and a total of 300 store doors overall.
He said that his new alliance with Nordstrom might change the way he does business with other department stores.
“My collection will be in fewer department stores but much more present,” said Azria. “We will be more selective in the choice of stores and in the way that our clothes are presented. What will direct our future decisions is the quality more than the quantity of stores.”
Azria also noted that he is not worried about the exclusive line cannibalizing the signature business.
“A lot of American consumers were saying that BCBG Max Azria was ‘too much designer,”‘ said Azria. “The price on my collection is a little bit higher than what the [broader] consumer wants to see.”
“It doesn’t exclude people, it includes people,” said Wikstrom of the line. “I can be a part of what is happening and not spend $2,000 on an outfit.”
BCBG launched an ad campaign featuring the new line in a 20-page advertising section in Marie Claire’s May issue.