“We want to make clothes that are beautiful and make women feel empowered and confident,” says Bernd Kroeber, EVP of design at BCBGMAXAZRIA. Over the past year, Kroeber has been charged with the hefty task of balancing BCBG’s signature brand aesthetic with new management, while staying consistent with the interests of the loyal BCBG consumer. Just a year ago, BCBGMAXAZRIA and BCBGeneration were acquired by Marquee Brands following a rough couple of months defined by bankruptcy, store closings, and layoffs.
Founded in 1989 by Max Azria, the popular slow fashion brand had always been well-loved by women of all generations for its accessible price points and high quality, trendy items. Until recently, BCBG was a family affair—Azria’s wife, Lubov Azria was Chief Creative Officer, and daughter Joyce Azria helmed the diffusion line, BCBGeneration. However, with all of the upheaval the brand faced, the Azrias were ousted.
In most cases, when a brand goes through a significant change in leadership, it weighs hard on the consumer. Loyal clientele who follow a brand for its consistency in style, price point, and quality often find that their favorite aspects of a brand no longer exist. Think about when a TV show writes off your favorite character—you can still watch the show, but it’s not the same. We all watched One Tree Hill after Lucas and Peyton left in season six, but did anyone really still enjoy the show?
But for BCBGMAXAZRIA, losing its brand DNA was not an option. Throughout the company’s rough patch last year, consumers hadn’t lost interest in the brand. When the brand had to close stores, shoppers were disappointed, to say the least. “Why does everything we love leave us?” one Facebook commenter stated dramatically. Another wrote, “What has become of this world?”
BCBG’s fall to bankruptcy had nothing to do with lack of interest from the consumer. Rather, its accessible price point in the $100-$400 range left the slow fashion brand in competition with fast fashion retailers, who could constantly and continuously offer consumers new products every few weeks.
“When I took over creative direction, I was thrilled to see that the brand had such a loyal fan-base.” Kroeber notes. “We have seen a positive reaction from consumers with sales steadily inclining across e-commerce, our free-standing stores and brand partners. BCBG brands are continuing to expand, with many new categories launching this fall, and we are excited to share that with our consumers.”
It’s true—amidst all of the upheaval BCBG went through in the last 12 months, from an outside perspective, everything seems virtually the same. Though Spring 2018 was the first season under Kroeber’s creative direction, the designer had already been at BCBG for nine years, working directly under the Azrias. His work for the last two seasons have proven that he can push the BCBG style forward into the brand’s future. “While driving the brand forward in design, I still want to stay true to the brand DNA and create garments that are recognizable to our BCBGMAXAZRIA woman,” Kroeber says. He explains that the key elements he prioritizes are blending modern styles with romantic silhouettes.
Kroeber’s instincts to stay true to the BCBG style ethos could not be more astute. The brand has experienced growth, in spite of everything. WWD reported in March that BCBG had 40 brick-and-mortar stores and 275 partner shop-in-shops at the time of the Marquee Brands acquisition last year, but those numbers have grown to 42 and 310 respectively. Of course this growth is in part to the brand’s new management, who told WWD that they have added category partners and new product offerings. Still, this growth couldn’t have come so seamlessly without holding on to that loyal BCBG shopper.
“Many women have a special feeling for the brand because they have worn it for memorable moments in their lives,” Kroeber says. For his latest collection, Kroeber elected to explore contrasts, blending masculine and feminine elements in order to fuse the brand’s most core stylistic roots: modern and romantic. “[We] embraced the femininity of lace and ruffles but mixed those details with sharp tailoring and elevated sportswear,” he explains.
BCBGMAXAZRIA partnered with five artists, all women, in creating this collection. The artists, illustrator Langley Fox, painter Katie Rodger, fashion illustrator Blair Breitenstein, photographer Adrienne Raquel and photographer Sinziana Velicescu each contributed artwork to play off the collection’s presentation. “It was important for me to align with women who truly embodied the BCBGMAXAZRIA woman,” Kroeber explains. “While the brand is evolving, we will always stay true to who we are at the core.”