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All the retail predictions about 2017 have proven to be true; almost every day, we get word that yet another mall brand is struggling, crippling, or even dunzo. This time, the story is about BCBG, the mid-priced fashion label from Tunisian designer Max Azria that has 570 stores around the world, 175 of which are in the US. Yesterday, Bloomberg reported it will be closing stores.
“Like so many other great brands, BCBG has been negatively impacted by the growth in online sales and shifts in customer shopping patterns and, as a result, has too large a physical retail footprint,” spokesperson Seth Lubove tells Racked over email. “In order to remain viable, the company — like so many others in its industry — must re-align its business to effectively compete in today’s shopping environment. This realignment will include a reduced focus on free-standing brick-and-mortar stores, concentrating more on in-store boutiques and, increasing our online presence as well as licensing.”
While there’s certainly a segment of the population who will read this news about countless BCBG stores shuttering and think “eh,” others will identify strongly with the brand and its designs. The acronym, after all, stands for "bon chic, bon genre," which is an elaborate French way of saying chic. BCBG was certainly a red carpet brand at one time, worn by celebs like Tyra Banks, Miley Cyrus, Leighton Meester, and Jessica Simpson, but shoppers like myself will note that it was reliable for on-trend, stylish clothing. It was a staple in department stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s, and arguably the best part about it was that it actually landed on the more affordable end of high-priced labels (sitting near Reiss and Club Monaco, the clothing is typically between $200 and $300). I vividly recall beelining straight to the rack of BCBG at Nordstrom in high school for classy, fashionable dresses for Jewish holidays and weddings, and for synagogue.
The problem, here of course, is that although I have heavy nostalgia for BCBG, I literally can’t remember the last time it came to mind; it’s a brand that simply lives in my past, like Delia’s, Wet Seal, and the rest of the mall brands keeling over. My first purchase from BCBG in many years was two summers ago — a light pink, lace cocktail dress that comes near my elbows and knees and is great for Jewish weddings — and I only came upon it after seeing it on Instagram. (Confession: It was worn by Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies, a Mormon fashion blogger by whom I am fascinated.) I found the dress at the BCBG store on Fifth Avenue and 40th Street, and I remember thinking that it was strange that I hadn’t even known there was a BCBG store there, since I popped into the Zara, H&M, and COS stores across the street pretty often.
All this to say that, like many classic mall brands, BCBG has simply fallen through the cracks. People will often talk about these former mall staples and say, “Oh, where have they been?” The answer, of course, is that they’ve been there all along. It’s usually you, shopper, that’s gone somewhere else, and in BCBG’s business struggles, this is certainly the case.
Personally, I still rely on classic brands like Anthropologie and J.Crew for synagogue outfits these days, but I lean on Zara or H&M for more seasonal, trendy dresses, or to designers like DVF, Rachel Comey, or Alice + Olivia for investment pieces. I’m also prone to browsing e-commerce sites like Need Supply or Net-a-Porter, or going straight to the pages of brands themselves. Sure, BCBG has a webpage, but it’s definitely not where I’m going if I need a cocktail dress.
The rest of team Racked agrees: Everyone associates BCBG as the brand that made their prom, homecoming, winter ball, and sister’s bat Mitzvah dresses. As in, a brand they associate with high school, a brand that was in vogue some ten years ago.
There were certainly red flags that signaled BCBG’s troubles before this. Azria, who founded the brand in 1989, left BCBG this past July after running the company for 30 years; the Wall Street Journal confirmed that he was on paid leave and would likely not be returning to the company. A few months later, Joyce Azria, Max’s daughter who had been running the diffusion line BCBGeneration that launched in 2008, left as well. While WWD reported that Joyce was leaving to start a new brand, the fact that the Azria family was being pushed out of the very brand they started is telling. Couple that with debt and layoffs, and the future for BCBG frankly wasn’t looking too bright.
Bloomberg reports there’s no current attempt to sell or get rid of BCBG — not yet, anyways. The brand might be blaming mall traffic and e-commerce for its struggles, but fast fashion is also a major culprit, and so if BCBG can adapt some of that sector’s strategy by pivoting its price point and delivering trendy styles, there can certainly be a way forward. It might not have visionary Azria at its helm anymore, but the brand still has enough name recognition, and so we’re still hoping for its comeback.
Say what you will about the underwhelming merch of companies like The Limited or Aéropostale, but BCBG can still occupy our hearts, even if it means waiting for ruffles and ruched dresses to come back in style.
Correction: January 19th, 2017
This story previously noted that BCBG was closing all its stores. It has been updated with comment from a BCBG representative that stresses a “reduced focus” on stores without detailing exact numbers.
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