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Sunday, January 16, 2011


IN MEMORIUM: BIJAN PAKZAD DIED ON APRIL 16, 2011. THIS WOULD BE ONE OF THE LAST INTERVIEWS HE DID (click here for the Los Angeles Times obituary).
Bijan Pakzad's sophisticated, bold, brash style made him a star in the world's richest retail district and allows him to (sometimes) reveal his often hidden softer side, of course, “by appointment only.”
The glistening two-level $12 million men's shop on Beverly Hills's Rodeo Drive, is the picture of opulence: Napoleonic swords resting on Italian antiques; a French armoire fronting the dressing room; mahogany staircases; closets with huge Bijan perfume bottles for doorknobs, each holding $7,000 worth of the good smelling stuff; a $2-million original Fernando Botero painting called "The Rich;" Persian rugs; living trees rooted in the foundation of the floor and dozens of silver-framed pictures of well-known clients, all under a Baccarat crystal chandelier adorned with 2,150 amber-colored bottles of his best-selling signature perfume.
Too bad I was on the outside looking in on an unseasonably hot spring day. It was getting warmer as I waited for the door to open. Although a smartly dressed assistant greeted me as he unlocked the glass door, he wasn't about to let me into the shop. Not with a Swiss customer inside anxious to see what Bijan had up his sleeve for his winter line. Not with a $500,000 order in the store. Not with a private plane awaiting the customer's return to the Santa Monica airport to whisk him back to his native Switzerland. By appointment only has its advantages, and one of them is complete, undivided attention.

So, outside I remained with only Bijan's custom-colored, $400,000 yellow Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe parked in front to keep me company (along with the frequent tourists who snapped pictures beside the jaw-dropper). If the outside could create a stir, I wondered what life was like inside the exclusive boutique.

I would soon find out.

My new appointment time arrives and I am in! With the exception of client design notes being given to an assistant by “Mr.    Bijan” (as his team affectionately and respectfully calls him), the showroom is quiet. Beverly Hills's charismatic, high-flying fashionisto appears in grand form, almost regal in his Bijan navy blazer, tie, shirt and shoes co-mingled with a pair of jeans. Everything has a signature style here. Even his showroom tours have alluring style, each piece and fashion vignette more upscale than the rest.           

“Have you ever seen ties like these?” he asks. The first silk tie was unveiled and untied from a matching silk box. Black with green polka dots, it only proved that truth is stranger than fiction with its $750 price tag and matching pocket square.

“Quite frankly, no,” was my reply, as he brought out 30 or so more from his inventory of 2,000 plus different boxed sets.

He bills himself as the Beverly Hills King of Fashion and says it's the art of clothing that pushes him to show new styles, changing his inventory every 10 days with new fashions for his discerning clients. His bold television advertising and billboards on L.A.'s busy Westside and along the crowded 405 freeway, and his policy against sales and price reductions have served only to intrigue the public and grow his reputation. His reputation enables him now to charge $9,000 for a brown crocodile-like leather coat, thousands for shirts and hats, $30,000 for a lion-skin jacket and $100,000 for a chinchilla fur bed spread. 

Presidents, kings, princes and stars all love him. George H.W. Bush admired Bijan's “great suit,” and the late Saudi Prince Ahmad bin Salman bin Abdelaziz said he was “an artist whose designs touch the soul and please the eye,” while Arnold Schwarzenegger considers his work “genius.”
“I introduce the moments of luxury that people dream of,” he explains when asked what his secret is. “This is why the most powerful men in the world would come here and why they keep coming back.”

Determination was his best friend growing up in his native Iran, constantly and continually looking to create and inspire. “I settled in on clothing. I always sketched out ideas and my designs. There was always a common thread: quality, a classic look and exclusivity.”

He took his passion for fashion to Europe, where he went to study, and then back to the capital of his native Iran, where he opened shop. Soon his innovation gained support, and it spun upward; he was a hit, designing for top businesspeople and royalty there. Alas, it wasn't enough. Being big was not big enough. He brought his business to New York and eventually to Beverly Hills in 1976. “You don't know how difficult it was telling men in Beverly Hills that visits were by appointment only,” he says. “Only a miracle combination of intelligence, savvy and expertise allowed me to make it real and everlasting.”

Upstairs in the consultation area, the closets underline his bold styles. Each has fresh flowers in vases inside and price tags that could drive many third world countries into bankruptcy. Each holds a clothing color scheme of its own: blues, oranges and browns to the right and to the left, greens, reds and yellows.

This is my chance to find out what's “in” this season. He rattles off a quick list: “Simplicity is in. Tight is in. Colorful fabrics are in. Personally, I like white, dark blue and yellow!”

Later, while still upstairs in the loft overlooking the main floor, we sit. It's a nice respite from the heat outside, and this is where Bijan typically finds his center amidst his perfectly aligned potted plants. “I'm crazy about color and flowers,” he says. “They breathe life into the air and into me.”

Then came the kicker question from me: “Don't you ever get intimidated by some of the world leaders that are your clients?”

“Intimidated?” he replied, while becoming a tad animated. “Intimidated? Why would I? I am the doctor. I am the teacher. This is why the Sultan of Brunei came to me and I dressed him in $4 million worth of clothes. Or why Queen Noor came to me when she wanted silk pajamas for King Hussein. Or why King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud orders top coats from me made with vicuna from the mountains of Peru that costs 4,000 euros per yard. They come to me because I am able to find solutions to use the best fabrics in the world. You can't ship vicuna into the U.S. When I see the right fit with vicuna fabric for a foreign client, I ship it to my factory in Italy and then deliver the finished goods from there.

“Once, Prince Al Waleed bin Talal Al-Saud (ranked number 19 on the Forbes 2010 richest billionaires list) kept asking for things outside of his order and consultation. I grew tired of the demands. So in the middle of a $1 million order, I had to call his business manager at 2 a.m. in London and tell him to 'take your money and put it in your mouth.' My clients are billionaires, with a B, CEOs, world leaders and presidents of nearly 40 countries. This is what I think of intimidation.

“With respect to all of the other designers here in Beverly Hills, I design for the designer. Armani, de la Renta and the lot, I design what they wear. They come to me for a different look because I offer uniqueness. I'm not like Cartier that makes thousands of the same watches or Calvin Klein who makes the same pair of jeans over and over. This is why you had to wait over an hour for us to meet today. The client who was here likes his privacy and loves what we can give him. He comes here, half way around the world, to buy my taste and ideas the same as influential customers all over the world.”

So with a flair for the dramatic-both in style, promotion and persona, Bijan is decidedly quiet about his softer side, his closeness to his adult son and daughter and how he gives back to the community. Those who surround him at the showroom are lavish in praise of his caring spirit and how he would just as soon spend time with those in need in lieu of a client visit. He regularly invites patients of nearby hospitals for friendship, dispensing advice on possessing a strong spirit to survive as if he were a pharmacist of some sort. He is heavily involved with the Persian American Cancer Institute (PACI) for cancer research and support and wants to continue to support patients both emotionally and financially. Through his work here, he is also able to help the unfortunate and sick children in the Middle East.

Bijan brought to Beverly Hills several personal traits that would serve him well: an adoration of the great American dream and outrageous advertising that routinely features himself and his family and has also included Bo Derek flashing his (at the time) young son. And there was also his highly controversial Bella campaign featuring nude Rubenesque models. These traits resonated deeply among the people who craved—and could pay for—something different. And that's in addition to an easy, soothing intimacy with clients and a love for his homeland.            

“I love Iran,” says Bijan. “It is the best. The art, culture and history. All of it. Who cares about how chic Napoleon's bedroom is, because when you sleep in your own bed, it is the best. I mean that you can appreciate other things, but mine is always the best.”

His eccentric personality, with its entrepreneurial spirit, has impressed even the most judgmental of Los Angeles and New York's upper crust. “My advertising is something that elevated my persona and gained recognition in the right places,” he says. “However, my reputation only spread at the high rate it did because of the way I am able to sum up the man and his fashion needs. I study the man, understand his profession. I combine his age, the shape of his body, his budget and, above all else, know his lifestyle. Most don't have this 'it' ability to formulize a fusion of style and energy for the client, and it isn't something you can put on paper like a math formula.

“I am blessed. I don't have do-overs. See it, do it, no regrets. From age 15, I was always going forward and fortunately, always it all worked out.”

“By appointment only” is something you could really get used to—along with your Bugatti and private jet.

The Michael Jordan by Bijan fragrance has sold millions of bottles since its introduction.