Lubov Azria: On Creative Freedom and Fun!

She showed up with an elegant smile on her face; a statuesque tall and slender figure wearing an incredibly chic dress, quietly welcoming her guests from the Press, Sunday morning on the fourth day of NYFW SS16. Lubov Azria, who studied ballet at an early age and later got a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, is the art-loving, multi-tasking Chief Creative Officer of BCBG Max Azria and Hervé Léger, the main brands of a group founded by her husband. Together, they raised six children and turned their company into a global obsession. At their elegant, minimalist headquarters, Lubov dedicated a whole hour guiding us through the seasonal vision.  

On the creative process:

“Over 9 months in advance we start coming up with ideas and putting together the inspiration board – which is usually anything that me and my team like – and the board stays up for 3 months meanwhile adding ideas, swatches and all sorts of things. Then, we sit down to think more on what are we going to do.”

lubov_azria_new1On BCBG’s inspiration for SS16:

“We usually travel to different places. This time, with rising immigration to California, – I don’t know why, probably New York had such cold winters – we stayed in L.A. which is such an inspiration to so many writers, photographers, and fashion people. But L.A. sounds as if it’s all about cut-out jeans and tie-dye T-shirts! So we started doing research on the surf and skate culture as well as looking into music and art. That’s how the collection came about! I run in Malibu, so I get to see a lot of surfers, skaters, and it’s very real to me. I wanted to do it for our girl who obviously doesn’t skate or surf, but loves art and music. And we focused on that with a twist. If you actually take some of these looks apart, you have pieces that can be styled in so many different ways. It’s so versatile and cool; the perfect pieces for any time!”

On her favorite BCBG SS16 piece:

“There is not one favorite, because if they weren’t all favorites, they wouldn’t be here. But I really love the finale dresses. When the fabric arrived we were wowed and knew exactly what to do with it!”

On brand identity and originality:  

“We always have a formula in the fashion industry, doing similar things. To stay different from everybody else, you really have to stick to the DNA of your brand. Even if you feel that you want to do fluffy dresses and lots of weird stuff, you have to stay true to your vision. It’s very easy for a designer to do another designer. He might be able to sketch what others could do, but he is not able to design his own. So, it’s very important for a company to establish the DNA of the brand. Our DNA is very strong; we know who this woman is. She is always in the forefront of fashion and she doesn’t really have a job. That’s why we don’t make suiting and we don’t have anything like standard corporate in the collection. She either dines or dances. That’s what the clothes are made for, for her to have a good time. It’s been the same concept for BCBG over the last 25 years, being part of our success. We just evolve and turn it around, working with an incredible team and coming up with so many ideas! For this particular show, we could have done three shows. We had two more racks of amazing stuff to put together, but we had to stay focused, making clothes for a specific girl and season, otherwise it will be confusing. We used to do something like 50 looks for a show, and on the 30th people were almost falling asleep!”

On personal style:

“Take for example the new BCBG knit pants that can be combined with anything. Versatility in clothes is so important and every piece can be worn in different ways. I don’t want to dictate style – I think that style should be innate – but I want to give every woman the tools to look her best. Women should be dressed based on their body shape, not based on trends. Personally, I wouldn’t wear something very extreme because people will see the clothes first, and I want to see you first, and then the clothes!”

lubov_azria_new6On making board shorts a fashion statement:

“We mostly do dresses. But for the runway, this time, we gave the collection a twist. People were asking me what is the most important piece for this spring, and I do think it’s the pants. At any statement look, it’s the bottom that makes the difference. Board shorts are funny. We actually went through archives and found men’s stuff. I’ve been such a tomboy too! We tried them on, lengthened and finally cropped them. We always say that if we can’t wear it, we are not going to make it. But those were so cute!”

On new proportions:

“Think of shoe trends. It’s not any more these high-high heels, rather 3-inch and lower heels. Women are tired of being tired, and making their feet tired! So once you put on clothes with a flat shoe, the whole proportion changes. And we kept that in mind, to discover what kind of clothes would actually work with such shoes. That’s why the shapes are kind of bigger. With heels, some of those would look so wrong!”

To my question on layering items from this collection:  

“Sure! We keep our focus on dresses, yet layering them, we did a different update. Everything starts with a dress. The kimono top in our collection was originally a dress. If you actually dissect the line, you will mostly see dresses! Regarding the Californian twist, it’s the way you put it together. Wherever you go you need to layer something. Nobody wears just one layer anymore because you never know if it’s going to rain or snow! In L.A. it gets so cold after 6pm, so you really want to bring layers with you. Young people layer things unconventionally and practically. I’ve got five daughters and I’ve seen it in my youngest one. Take for example leg warmers from the 80’s. They are just discovering them and they don’t even know how to wear them. They put on dresses with sweaters underneath. Why not? That’s great, they are breaking the rules!”

lubov_azria_new7On what’s new and hip:

“We took our core T-shirts and printed them to create very slimming, great quality tie-dye tops. They are like second skin and very essential to this collection. Without tie-dye, it wouldn’t be about California! Board shorts could be Australian, it doesn’t matter. But tie-dye came from the hippies in L.A. back in the 60s, so we were trying to identify their cult. Then you have these wonderful quilts, which I’m obsessed with. I’ve done quilt inspiration for years. We did it for Hervé Léger too. Quilts are mostly done by females who put their life story into them. And there are many more little details. The difference between the collections we used to do and the collections we are doing now – latest fall and spring – is that we use much more knitwear. We’ve never sent that many sweaters down the runway before. We really want to bring the whole sweater-dressing back.”

To my question on playfulness and fun:

“We can’t take fashion too seriously. That’s why we have all these ruffles. It’s just being that little girl! When the girls are standing backstage in a row, all dressed up, I feel like we are having a tea party. They were so cute with their little bucket hats on! I keep on saying that there is a whole change in fashion happening right now. I remember when Marc Jacobs did for two consecutive seasons totally different collections. When we first showed a collection in 1996, people didn’t know what to do with us, because we didn’t follow any rules. We were contemporary but we also did runway shows. So, they didn’t review us! But we kept on doing what we felt was right and we had fun with! I’ll stop doing it once I stop having fun. I surround myself with incredible people who are having just as much fun as I do. Nobody needs more clothes. What we need to do is change how we feel. We need to feel great and beautiful from inside out, but also on the outside, putting on an amazing dress that changes our mood!”

On creative freedom and the right attitude:

“BCBG is about freedom, art, and music. I tend to really like the music industry, especially indie rock. One of the things we are trying to do is to invite as many cool, young artists to the shows as possible, to associate our brand with them, especially females. I’m also obsessed with bloggers. It’s about women doing what they love and are good at; having their voice. I think that’s amazing. Why not support them? I repeat a saying from Madeleine Albright: ‘There is a special place in hell for women who doesn’t help other women.’ More women will be successful if we all support each other! I think that the whole fashion industry is very cut-throat and I don’t understand why! I think that there are a bit better relationships within the movie industry because I see many stars saying hello to each other, and hanging out. Versus, do you see that many designers hanging out together? It’s interesting! So, let’s all do what we love, celebrate, and be friends; it’s great. There are enough customers for everybody!”

lubov_azria_new8On femininity and empowerment:

“You need to understand your purpose in life. You need to know what you want. My purpose is to make women feel beautiful. I can’t save lives, I’m not a doctor; I wish I could. But if I can make one woman feel happy and beautiful, my god, my life is worth living! I have a different perspective in my mind. Happiness is doing what you love. That happiness will nurture whatever you do. And make sure you work out too!!! Those endorphins don’t kick in unless you do something very active! I tell that to my daughters all the time: You can tell if people don’t like what they do, because they are not good at it. It’s as if asking a fish to climb a tree; it feels stupid. It’s supposed to be in the water!”

On career and success:

“When some young people, who recently graduated, asked me how they could get a job, I told them: Write down 10 companies that you want to work for, and send them an email or letter, explaining why you want to work there; just your ambition. What’s the worst that can happen? Nothing! The people that I hire in the company are the ones who really go out of their way to get something. You can see their passion and drive, when you give them that opportunity to do something that they love! And you know that they will succeed; they fought so hard! I’ve been at BCBG for 25 years, so I’ve seen so many people come and go, and I know that the ones that become successful are the ones who really love it and stick around with no doubts.”

On designing two extremely different collections at the same time:

“It makes it more fun! I have a very different team for Hervé Léger and they can only do Hervé Léger! If you ask them to do BCBG, it will be a total disaster. You need to find the right people who really understand the brand. We work very closely and they are focused. I come in there and they already have ideas. We take bandages and knitdowns which either get embroidered or painted over. They are not something you can find in archives. It’s a knit. So initially we work with factories in Italy to knit them for us. We go through many books of different stitches and we pull out a few each time. It’s a completely different process; like designing shoes and handbags! Regarding BCBG and Hervé Léger, I’m more of a tastemaker for both. I used to design both lines. I don’t physically design anymore because, then, I cannot do anything else. We go through ideas together, and once the line is done, I’m actually the one to fix it! Unlike any other designer, I personally fit every single piece. I see the same piece that went down the runway seven times before it goes to the customer, making all necessary adjustments on a fit model. Designers are done at this stage because not all designers are that technical; they are better at the creative process. That’s why for every piece in our stores, I can tell you how exactly it is made; where the lining and the tag is! I’m obsessive about that! And I know the woman, because I’m her as well. I’m both Hervé Léger and BCBG. Especially this season, I want to wear Hervé Léger because I love those pants!”

To my question on fashion-related anxieties and the unpretentious spirit of BCBG:

“The whole fashion industry is moving towards more freedom. How we put clothes together, gets very individual. With everybody photographed on the streets, nothing makes sense. But I love that! It’s so exciting. It’s like art. You don’t have to know who the artist is; you either like it or you don’t. There is so much beauty about that. Many successful people are bored; they have done everything and are not excited about anything. So you need to have fun with fashion and keep that excitement.”

lubov_azria_new4On Hervé Léger SS16 inspiration:

“We kept on thinking on how we move the collection forward after eight years of doing it. We’ve done everything with the bandage. So this particular collection is the first that we actually did not use any bandage technique on the dresses. It was really fun! We decided that we are just going to do jacquards, and try different shapes. Again we are working with knit, it’s not woven. It doesn’t mold like a cotton solid fabric, so we’ve never done pants on the runway and this was the first season we actually did it and I think they are pretty cool. We will continue. The jumpsuit was amazing; we were really playing with proportion. What I do love about HL is the way people look at me when I wear it. I love the attention I get. It’s addictive. Besides the intricate embroidery, beading and other techniques on an HL dress, we are also thinking of how to style it each season. The silhouette has to evolve and we need to try harder. For this collection we tried on some of the looks 50 times. Just to make sure that it’s the right proportion.”

On Hervé Léger’s 30th Anniversary show:

“The white dresses, at the finale of the show, are our history. The first white dress on the runway was from 2009, and we presented the rest historically. We wanted to show the past and where are we going. We initially thought to do an exhibit but then we decided that we’ll just send them down the runway. That’s why we had 30 girls. Backstage, it was so emotional. We remembered each dress from each season. Some of the girls were the ones that started the show back then.”

On the success of the Hervé Léger brand:

“We are staying true to what that woman wants and needs. I’ve met most of my regular Hervé Léger customers, because it’s a very focused group. You can spot them. These women are religious about the Hervé Léger dress. They wear it to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are a very particular type of woman, usually gifted with great proportion. And they get so much attention that they don’t know how to get attention without it. Now, in terms of making it more fashion, we more or less end up with the same silhouette. Our woman loves the curvy silhouette. Once they put that dress on, nothing else makes them feel that good. It’s just comfortable and slimming. We have a trick that we do with the actual knitting process; there is a tension that we do in the finishing of the bands which has been the biggest success. The dress just molds to your body. The rayon heats up with your body temperature and then there is nothing like it!”

lubov_azria_new3To my comment on the endless twists on the brand’s core silhouette:   

“Thank you! We are having so much fun with the collection. We all kind of trying it on and we all have opinions about what it should be, and what we should be wearing. And there is more to that! Hervé Léger too, this season, had two extra racks of cloths. They kept on coming in on Thursday and the show was on Saturday, and there are some dresses in there that are beyond! For each look we might have four variations that are even better that those on the runway. Because, once we saw the original dress we thought of other possible twists, then sketched and sent them out, but they came back too late! Once you put something on you can play with it and produce many more ideas!”

On both brands’ future:

“I see them becoming lifestyle brands! I want to do accessories for Hervé Léger. We are working very hard and trying to do amazing shoes and handbags. I was recently in different places around Rome, Florence, and Venice to look for manufacturers. It’s hard because some are already busy with other brands. But that’s the cost of becoming a lifestyle brand! I would also love to create a home collection for Hervé Léger since my other passion is furniture design!”

As a conclusion:

I couldn’t have been more impressed by the positivity and vibrancy of her charismatic personality! And I feel that both collections this season are so relevant and appealing to such a great number of women!

So, thanks so much Lubov, and start making your wishlist my dear fashionistas!   

Elena Sendona

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