Max Azria, one of the most powerful apparel titans to emerge from the L.A. fashion scene in the last three decades, died at a Houston hospital on Monday, WWD has confirmed. The cause of death was lung cancer.
Born in Tunisia, Azria moved with his family to France when he was a teenager. He got his start selling jeans imported from America, then managed his parents’ apparel manufacturing business. He moved to Los Angeles in 1983 and opened a chain of multibrand retail stores called Jess, before creating BCBG, which stands for “bon chic, bon genre,” meaning “good style, good attitude,” in 1989.
His wife Lubov, a Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising graduate, joined BCBG in 1991. At the height of their popularity, the Azrias managed an international empire that consisted of brands BCBG Max Azria, BCBGeneration, Max Azria Atelier and Hervé Léger by Max Azria, with more than 595 stores in 47 countries and $2 billion in retail sales.
Azria helped create the contemporary category, democratizing fashion long before “fast fashion” was a phenomenon, and in 1996 when he took his BCBG Max Azria collection to New York Fashion Week, he helped democratize the runways, too.
“When Max started BCBG in 1989 and I joined him in 1992, there was no contemporary market; he basically invented it based on the price point and type of clothes,” Lubov told WWD recently.
Over the years, Azria dressed Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Drew Barrymore, Viola Davis and more, and his collections were sold at department stores and boutiques around the world. He worked with Miley Cyrus on a collection for Walmart Inc., and produced a short-lived musical in L.A. called “The Ten Commandments” starring a then-unknown Adam Lambert. He wasn’t always successful, but he never stopped having ideas. In recent months, he was readying a new venture: container unit housing for the L.A. homeless, according to his wife Lubov, who has a new apparel concept called La Boheme.
“Max Azria was a very forward-thinker when it came to brand development and the creation of an ‘image,’ not just a name,” said California Fashion Association president Ilse Metchek. “He was fearless when it came to retail development; I doubt if there was an ‘A’ or ‘B’ mall in the United States that didn’t have at least one of his brands as a tenant.” Metchek added that Azria was adamant about off-shoring. “He looked forward to the time when all U.S. employees would be highly educated, using their creativity and their brains, and ‘leave the manual labor to the countries that need it to bring themselves up economically.’ Yes, he was a radical in many ways, and he was never boring.”
In early 2017, BCBG Max Azria Group filed for bankruptcy protection, and three months later it was sold to Marquee Brands for $165 million. Azria moved on to become chief executive officer of ZappLight and its parent company, Clean Concept. He is survived by his wife Lubov Azria and six children: Michael, Chloe, Marine, Agnes, Anais and Joyce; and his brother, Serge Azria, who is also in the L.A. apparel industry.
“Marquee Brands and BCBG Group are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Max Azria. Max was a true visionary, who defined the Contemporary Fashion category. BCBG stands for Bon Chic, Bon Genre or ‘good style, good attitude,’ which reflects the legacy of the man himself, one we are committed to preserve in his honor. Our deepest condolences to the Azria family,” Marquee Brands said in a written statement.