Four years ago, Joyce Azria might have insisted that she wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of her father, L.A. fashion mogul Max Azria.

But that was before he tricked her into taking on a leadership role with BCBG Generation, one of more than 20 brands in his portfolio at BCBG Max Azria Group Inc.

Now, she’s gaining her footing in the L.A. fashion industry working as creative director for a second BCBG brand, the French-bred Manoukian.

BCBG launched the European brand in the United States earlier this month in 22 Lord & Taylor department stores, after having moved the brand’s creative direction and design departments to Los Angeles from France last year.

As creative director for the brand, the 31-year-old Azria said she oversees clothing design, ad campaigns and visual merchandising, among other duties.

“I look at everything down to the color of a trim; I take care of photo shoots and marketing and licensing,” she said. “I don’t know what I don’t do.”

BCBG, which 63-year-old Max Azria founded in 1989, wasn’t always a family affair. In fact, his brother Serge Azria also works in the L.A. fashion industry but separately, owning women’s fashion brands Joie, Equipment and Current/Elliot.

But that go-it-alone approach changed when Max Azria married a design associate at BCBG in 1992. Now his wife, Lubov Azria, is chief creative officer for the company.

Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association in downtown Los Angeles, said that although many fashion companies don’t involve family members, those that do tend to do well.

“It’s not a business where succession is the norm; for the most part people in the business want their kids to be doctors or lawyers or whatever else,” she said. “But those that do (keep it in the family) are very successful. There’s an institutional knowledge about how the business works that seems to make for success. It kind of gets in their blood.”

Fashion history

From an outsider’s perspective, it might seem obvious why Joyce Azria is working in fashion: she was born into it. But it hasn’t always been at the top of her to-do list.

When she graduated high school, she considered going to USC to get a degree in business. But her father intervened. He told her that she shouldn’t waste her time in school when she could learn all about business working for him.

“My first year was a rounding of every aspect of the business, an understanding of the minutia of the business,” she said.

After a few years jumping between departments in the company, she took on a role as director of swimwear for BCBG. Soon after, she started her own fashion brand, high-end contemporary line JoyAnn. But at 24, she had her first child, a son, and she said the demands of running her own fashion brand became too much to handle.

“It was maybe too much for me as a mother, so I closed my company after three and a half years,” she said.

Azria took a break from fashion to focus on motherhood, dabbling a bit in real estate. When she finally rejoined the family business in 2008, it wasn’t by choice.

“My dad called me four years ago to look at Generation. He wanted my thoughts on the brand, so I came in to look at it,” she said. That’s when he surprised her by giving her creative control of the new brand.

“He introduced me as the design director for the brand, and I was like, ‘What? No. I don’t want to go back into fashion.’ But he said, ‘Please, please, this is going to be great.’”

So she took the job and hasn’t looked back.

“It was a surprise, but my dad is consistently exciting and surprising,” she said. “He knew I was ready. He knew it’d be big shoes to fill, but definitely something I could do and that it’d be mutually beneficial. It was very flattering.”

Azria said she has since discovered that her background – having been born in Paris but raised in Los Angeles – gives her an advantage working for BCBG. “I understand the French sensibility and I had the time, so he said, ‘Why don’t you pick up Manoukian?’” she recalled.

‘Mouki woman’

Women’s fashion brand Manoukian was founded in 1972 by French fashion designer Alain Manoukian, who is best known for his knits. The younger Azria said the brand’s target market is young professional women.

“The product kind of flirts with the contemporary market, but really is what I call a modern Mouki woman,” she said. “Her body has changed a bit and she wants something a little different in terms of coverage and fit.”

BCBG acquired the brand in 2005 and repositioned it for a relaunch in 2007. But the brand has suffered in recent years under BCBG’s tenure and during the recession. In 2009, Manoukian was for sale in about 150 department and stand-alone stores in Europe. Today that number is closer to 85.

The younger Azria said that while other brands needed attention in recent years, the time has come to focus on Manoukian.

“BCBG International, BCBG Generation, those things are successful; they’re basically running on their own, so we’re looking at our other brands now,” she said. “Now we have the time and the manpower to really focus our energy on Manoukian.”

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