The Azrias: LA’s First Family of Fashion
by emili vesilind
Lubov and Max Azria on the patio of their Holmby Hills estate.
BCBGMaxAzria, one of fashion’s most enduring contemporary clothing collections, started in 1989 with a simple dress: a baby-doll frock that perfectly encapsulated fashion’s burgeoning shift from ’80s va-va-voom to ’90s artsy. Twenty-three years later, BCBGMaxAzria Group—the Southern California apparel company that produces fashion-forward collections including the sexy Hervé Léger by Max Azria—has made staying on top of the Zeitgeist a cornerstone of its family-run empire.
The company’s brands range in tone from sweet to smoldering, but share a playful verve that echoes the energy of their founder, designer, chairman, and CEO, Max Azria, and chief creative officer, Lubov Azria—who together comprise Los Angeles’s most famous (and philanthropic) fashion couple.
On a recent cloudless LA afternoon, Max and Lubov Azria stood stock still, suppressing laughter, as they posed for photos for this story in and around their sprawling Holmby Hills manse. The statuesque Lubov joked easily with the crew and members of her staff, while Max had everyone in stitches by mimicking high-fashion model poses, arched back and all. “Yes, he’s always like this,” said one fresh-faced assistant, giggling.
The couple ranks fun and frivolity among life’s most important elements. But though Max calls himself “the clown” of the company, both he and Lubov are intensely serious about their work. “Passion” is the word Lubov invokes when asked what drives her out of bed and into BCBGMaxAzria’s Spartan-feeling Vernon, California, headquarters at the crack of dawn every day. (“I don’t even know how to vacation,” she says with a wry laugh.)
Hervé Léger and BCBGMaxAzria Runway, the most luxurious brands in the Azria empire, are staples on Hollywood red carpets and in paparazzi photos in the tabloids—and the duo frequently creates special pieces for fashion-forward starlets.
The Azrias were behind the showstopping white pantsuit Rihanna wore to the 2011 Billboard Music Awards, as well as the chartreuse-colored highwaisted gown a very pregnant Bryce Dallas Howard wore to an event last year. Florence Welch recently donned an Azria-made crimson chiffon gown featuring an exaggerated bow at the neck to one of her concerts, and Viola Davis and Lily Collins were clad in BCBGMaxAzria (Davis in a color-blocked dress, Collins in a periwinkle fit-and-flare lace frock) at The Hollywood Reporter’s 2011 Women In Entertainment Power 100 Breakfast in December. The Azrias outfitted Fergie in a butter-yellow column dress for last year’s FiFi Awards, and last summer Pippa Middleton was snapped on the streets of London in a kicky navy blue and gray BCBGMaxAzria creation.
Hervé Léger by Max Azria’s curve-hugging bandage dresses are also favorites among fashion-savvy celebs including Kate Bosworth and Victoria Beckham, while stars such as Sophia Bush, Joy Bryant, and Emmanuelle Chriqui are die-hard BCBGMaxAzria fans. “Celebrities are very important to our business because they represent the dream,” says Max. “For me, it’s exciting to work with celebrities,” adds Lubov. “I admire women who have confidence—women for whom it’s not about the clothes but how they wear them. And I love women who know what they want.”
|Link earrings, BCBGMaxAzria ($58). Fashion Island, Newport Beach, 949-644-4798.|
Celebrity stylist Tara Swennen says she frequently looks to the Azrias when dressing her clients, who include Kristen Stewart and Kate Beckinsale. “Max Azria designs for all women,” she says. “He understands his clients, who range from artists to [business] women. I’ve been a fan for years.”
Tribal accents and a muted metallic palette defined Hervé Léger’s Spring 2012 collection, which put a warrior-princess spin on the maison’s iconic bandage dress (think braided harnesses, strategic cutouts, and gladiator boots). Meanwhile, BCBGMaxAzria Runway went floaty and sheer for the season, offering up a collection of sumptuous chiffon color-blocked dresses that boast a relaxed fit, but reveal lots of leg.
“BCBGMaxAzria is definitely one of my go-to labels when it comes to red-carpet dressing,” says celebrity stylist Basia Richard, who works with Selena Gomez, among others. “Its [pieces offer] the perfect combination of great design and wearability.”
Hervé Léger—the Parisian brand built on form-fitting frocks—is decidedly less easy to wear, but since Max acquired the label in 1998, it’s become one of the great revival stories in American fashion’s recent history. Max was attracted to the brand because “it shows the body of the woman,” but it took around six years for the design team to perfect its own techniques for creating the mummy-style frocks. Since the brand’s first collection debuted in the fall of 2008, Lubov’s innovative explorations on the body-conscious look have garnered abundant acclaim in the fashion press. “The DNA of Hervé Léger is the bandage dress; we’re just evolving it,” she says. “We’re not moving away from its spirit.”
The Ukraine-born Lubov first met the macro-minded Max when she interviewed for a design position at the company. “He asked me, ‘Are you global-oriented or detail-oriented?’ I said, ‘I’m detail-oriented.’ And he said, ‘Good, because I’m global!’”
Max claims he was powerless against his wife’s considerable charms, adding in his distinctive French accent, “Lubov is fashion; she’s beautiful, she’s nice. What can I do?” The busy couple is also very active in their community, raising money for health-focused nonprofits including the American Cancer Society (which last year awarded BCBGMaxAzria Group a Corporate Impact Award for its philanthropic efforts) and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, among many others. In addition, Lubov is an avid art collector, and along with being patrons of NYC’s Whitney Museum, the pair has supported the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) in various ways over the years, including hosting dinners with museum director and friend Jeffrey Deitch—both at Deitch’s now-closed gallery in New York and at their home in Los Angeles. “Max, Lubov, and I worked together to host one of the most outrageous and fun events held in American art history,” says Deitch. “We held a 250-person dinner in New York at my gallery. The extraordinary Viennese artist collective Gelitin built a complex series of bridges above the diners, culminating in an indescribable performance-art piece. It was legendary. I appreciate Lubov’s adventurous spirit and openness to new directions in art.”
The 60-room estate the couple calls home echoes their dynamic design aesthetic. Steeped in off-whites and other neutrals, the décor is enlivened by bold splashes of color throughout. The living room—which was codesigned by Lubov—features a lifesize orange-lacquer horse (Max’s favorite color) with a vintage Hermès saddle standing in one corner, as well as orange-lacquered chairs with limegreen seat cushions. In the home’s ballroom, a chrome garland of 400 lasercut flowers covers the entire ceiling, and armchairs covered with Pucci fabric face a grand fireplace. Though the rooms are large and expansive, they’re also warm and welcoming, thanks in no small measure to the approachable personalities of its residents. A sense of fun pervades the home, as though you might—if you look hard enough—chance upon a rabbit hole, à la Alice in Wonderland. Outside, the chic pool house features a traditional Moroccan-tiled hammam, and three peaceful gardens—English, French, and Japanese—line the property. In addition, the Azria’s maintain their own organic vegetable garden.
Max, who is of Tunisian descent, was educated in southeastern France. He moved to Paris in 1963, where he eventually launched a line of women’s wear before relocating to Los Angeles in 1981 and debuting a chain of fashion boutiques called Jess. In 1989, he launched BCBGMaxAzria, naming it after the slangy Parisian phrase “bon chic, bon genre,” meaning “good style, good attitude.” The brand offered chic fashion at low prices a decade before fast-fashion juggernauts like H&M and Forever 21 appeared on the retail scene.
BCBGMaxAzria, the company’s core brand, still specializes in the stylish contemporary clothing that made it a household name in the ’90s—but the label has increasingly focused on a more sophisticated customer. “I think we’ve grown with our consumer,” says Lubov. “And [she’s] been very loyal to us for 23 years. We launched when she was 20, and now she’s 43.”
The duo founded the BCBGeneration label—a trendy, item-driven collection—in 2008 to fill the void in the young contemporary market left by the more grown-up BCBG. Lubov is the chief creative officer for Hervé Léger, BCBG MaxAzria, and BCBGMaxAzria Runway, but Max appointed his oldest daughter, Joyce, 30, as creative director of BCBGeneration, ushering in the next generation of Azrias to the company. And Max’s second eldest daughter, Marine, 28, is the official muse and stylist of BCBGeneration, charged with bringing in fresh ideas. “We are like a basketball team—we’re the Lakers of fashion,” deadpans Max, who says, more seriously, that seeing his kids enter the business is “a dream for a father.” He hopes at least a few of his other children (Joyce, Marine, and Michael, 32, are from a previous marriage; Chloe, 18, Anaïs, 16, and Agnes, 14, are his children with Lubov) will eventually step into roles at the company.
Joyce, who had struck out on her own as a designer before agreeing to inhabit the role of creative director for BCBGeneration, says, “It’s a business I grew up with, so it feels like coming back home.” She works with her father daily and teams up with her stepmother on special projects—or to ask for advice. “My dad is so involved in the products,” says Joyce. “He’s a tremendous merchant and a tremendous designer. He’s also a good human being. He always puts people first.”
portrait and home photography by Ulrica wihlborg
LAC celebrates the women of its May/June 2013 issue at Palihouse in West Hollywood.