Fashion retail braces for American invasion

If you’re an apparel brand, how do you hope to succeed in a market where every shopper’s silent wish is for someone to bring in H&M?

The argument may seem incongruous, given that Herve Leger by Max Azria and BCBG by Max Azria are of entirely different price points as the popular Swedish chain, the one remaining hold-off in the Philippine fast-fashion shopping list that already has Zara, Uniqlo, Forever 21, Topshop, Mango, Miss Selfridge.

And it doesn’t seem to matter, as businessman Raffy Florencio looks bent on duplicating his success with the Swiss watch brand Technomarine in the Philippines, as he brings in the two American apparel labels.

BCBG by Max Azria will open its doors in the country in mid-December at Bonifacio High Street Central. The brand will open a second, bigger boutique early next year at Shangri-La Plaza Mall, side by side with the first store of Herve Leger in the country, according to Sophie Rietdyk, president for international and licensing of the BCBG Max Azria Group.

Rietdyk and Shannon Duerst, BCBG director for international, were in town briefly to survey the stores’ locations. They even attended the Tatler Ball to assess their market.

“Our customers come for the quality, the fit, the detailing,” Rietdyk pointed out. “The fast-fashion brands may match our dresses, but the quality is what you pay for. It’s a different customer. She’s not investing in a piece of fashion; she just wants to have the latest in fashion. You wear two to three times and it’s okay. We separate ourselves. We are a lifestyle brand.”

Price is only one of the key points that sets BCBG and Herve Leger’s profiles apart from the brands currently available here, designer and high-street included. The core of the business for both brands is apparel, with accessories only a secondary portion of the assortment. Most of the brands close to the two labels’ price points sell mostly accessories here, with a few token apparel pieces, if at all.

Seeing this, and across the rest of the two brands’ markets in Asia, Rietdyk said her company is encouraged to further develop its accessories segment.

“Asia is a very good market for accessories. A lot of the brands have extensive offering,” she said. “In BCBG we have a very good assortment… but it hasn’t been a big portion of the business. But visiting the markets, we see a big opportunity. Our prices are aspirational. We have been successful in the United States in those categories, and we intend to push it.” For now, it’s all about the clothes.

In the US, BCBG apparel are priced from $128 for a top and up to $400 for dresses; Herve Leger from $600 for a skirt, to an average of $1,500 for the dresses.

Its Hollywood customers include Selena Gomez and Eva Longoria, but the typical BCBG customers in Asia are around 30-40 years old, “independent, want to be noticed, confident, fashion-oriented, not interested in basics, but more into classy brands,” Rietdyk said. Dresses are a big portion of the BCBG business in Asia, though the brand also offers sportswear.

Herve Leger, of course, is famous for its bandage, body-con dresses. “It’s a very confident woman,” said Rietdyk of the label’s customer. “She’s confident of her body, she’s sexy, and not afraid to show it. In the US, they don’t even have to be skinny-skinny. It’s okay. Herve gives you a beautiful body.”

The curve-hugging dresses of the label have draped the famous bodies of Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Tyra Banks and Miranda Kerr.

BCBG was founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1989 by Max Azria, a Frenchman of Tunisian descent, with his wife Lubov, the chief creative officer. There are several brands under the company, including Herve Leger, which Azria acquired in 1998, BCBG Runway, and BCBGeneration, a younger, secondary line, whose footwear are sold in Rustan’s and Vince Camuto, the licensee of the BCBGeneration brand.

“Max is an amazing merchant, a great retailer,” said Rietdyk of her boss. “His wife Lubov is a great creative person. She’s the designer while Max has now focused on the retail and merchandising. It’s really a good partnership. She’s into the sexy dresses, but he’ll make the power skirt.” She was referring to the popular BCBG bandage skirt inspired by the Herve Leger dresses. “She’ll make the beautiful runway dresses and he’ll make something [that will sell] for the store.”

Herve Leger has so far been only in select markets in Asia, while BCBG has a presence in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. BCBG has about 700 points of sale globally, with the US still its biggest market.

“It’s very important to establish ourselves as a lifestyle concept first,” Rietdyk said when asked if they had plans to open shop-in-shops. The few dresses sold at Rustan’s are being phased out as the BCBG store opens in Manila. “Then if there’s an opportunity to do business with Rustan’s, I’m sure Raffy will work it out. Those who don’t know our brand from other countries, they will be very surprised with the [product] assortment of the brand.”

Rietdyk is teeming with optimism about expanding in the region. “We had no reservations coming here,” she said. “We’ve been doing really well in Asia. What we saw on our travels was an eye opener. Between Bangkok and Manila, we were very surprised with the stage of development in retail in general. I think we’ll do fine in this country.”