Miley Cyrus, Max Azria team up for Wal-Mart recession chic

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On Wednesday, Wal-Mart (WMT) paired a trendy singer with a trendy couture designer as it announced the introduction of Miley Cyrus/Max Azria. Arriving in August, the line will include pants, tops, graphic Ts, shoes, and accessories. All items will be priced under $20.

Cyrus, known for her squeaky-clean Disney image, seems to be pushing to mature her brand. For example, her notorious Vanity Fair photo session with Annie Leibovitz, which provoked outrage last year, could be seen as the first step in her push for a more adult audience. In this context, the Miley Cyrus/Max Azria line aims for a comfortable middle ground: she's a top-selling recording artist at Wal-Mart, where much of her core audience already shops, so it seems a logical retailer for the clothing line.
Yet by pairing with Max Azria, Cyrus is making a bid for respectability and a more sophisticated image. While most of her audience won't recognize the designer's name, aspirational shoppers might want to fill their carts with his wares.

Designers Go Exclusive

    If you're looking to buy Tommy Hilfiger clothes, you better find out where the closest Macy's is, because starting in mid-September the designer's collection will only be available at Macy's.

    Mark Lennihan, AP

    The deal is part of a growing trend by department and discount stores, in particular, to sign exclusive deals with celebrities and designers for product lines. Macy's also has a deal with Martha Stewart.

    Al Behrman, AP

    Target has many such deals, including one with designer Isaac Mizrahi. In an effort to emphasize its devotion to fashion, the retailer will open four "bullseye bodegas" in New York during Fashion Week. The shops will feature lines from designers like Jonathan Saunders, Anya Hindmarch and Sigerson Morrison.

    Jemal Countess, WireImage

    Kohl's also has exclusive lines from famed designers. Vera Wang's Simply Vera line offers clothes and household items like bedding. The retailer will also become the exclusive purveyor of the Dana Buchman collection from Liz Claiborne.

    WWD / Condé Nast / Corbis

    JC Penney is the sole home of the American Living brand from Ralph Lauren. The store also features lines from Nicole Miller and Chris Madden.

    JC Penney / AP



The pairing also makes sense for Wal-Mart, positioned as a chain for consumers living paycheck-to-paycheck. In light of the financial meltdown, its core audience has likely exploded. The $20 price point is high for the store, but quite low for many new (and once-affluent) Wal-Mart customers. Even if they don't bite, Miley Cyrus is a sure bet.

The third link in the chain is Max Azria. A move that's logical for Cyrus is a big leap for a designer best known for the stylish BCBGMAXAZRIA line, whose mission is "innovative, high-quality clothing at realistic price points." Azria's definition of "realistic" is flexible: his T-shirts start at a relatively inexpensive $38, but most BCBG tops are in the $100 to $200 range.

Still, pairing with Wal-Mart isn't a strategy from out of the blue. While Azria's last retail partner, Nordstrom, has a far more affluent clientele than Wal-Mart, co-branding is clearly becoming an important way to widen his reach. But Wal-Mart is new territory for Azria, a bulwark against further slowing of sales among his more affluent clientele. Given the economic outlook -- and his core audience's likely economizing -- it's a wise move.

If their marriage succeeds, then three highly disparate brands will benefit mightily from this strange synergy. But even if it fails, this unique cross-pollination promises to be fabulous.

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