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FASHION

Over-the-top isn't high enough for Bijan, whose boutique embraces excess.

January 05, 2003|Mimi Avins | Times Staff Writer

The global economy is down and the stock markets have cratered, but step for a moment into a parallel universe where the very wealthy continue to cavort as if the bubble hadn't burst. This is where Bijan lives. For nearly 30 years, Bijan Pakzad, better known by his first name, or, as he prefers to be called, Mr. Bijan, has sold what he proudly describes as "the most expensive menswear in the world" from his lavish Beverly Hills shop.

His face is familiar from billboards advertising his fragrances. His hair is now gray and he has aged a bit, but Bijan is a topsy-turvy Dorian Gray. Almost everything in his closet, and in his world, has stayed gloriously stuck in the '80s, or the '90s, or whenever it was when over the top wasn't quite high enough. And his business model is inside-out and upside-down too. Most fashion advertising is aimed at an aspirational dreamer eager to own a branded status symbol like a Fendi handbag or an Hermes belt. Except with his fragrances, Bijan has never courted that consumer. He gets no thrill selling a pricey tie to a guy in an off-the-rack Calvin Klein suit. He'd rather romance the pampered frequent spender who forgets which of his homes he left his $19,000 Bijan-designed ostrich vest in.

At a cocktail party in Bel-Air, a woman swathed in several thousand dollars of St. Laurent black velvet is asked, Do you know anyone who shops at Bijan? "I don't know anyone who wears his clothes," she says, in the snotty tone of a high school prom queen who's chummy with everyone who matters. "Is he still in business? Who are his customers, anyway?"

It is unlikely she would know about Bijan's mega-bucks fragrance deal with the sultan of Brunei, but obviously, she hasn't been paying attention. Bijan is so in business that sales of his clothes and custom jewelry total more than $20 million a year, according to Dar Mahboubi, who manages the finances of the privately held company they jointly founded, and Bijan's four fragrance lines bring in another $50 million annually. He's only a small player in the $2-billion a year perfume industry, and isn't in the same league with a fashion powerhouse like Gucci, which has stores all over the world and sales of $2.26 billion. But with several partners he also owns tasty chunks of prime Beverly Hills commercial real estate. He has a villa outside Florence, an apartment in New York and last year he settled into a princely estate hard by Holmby Hills. When he leaves it, he can ride in one of his six cars, including three Bentleys, or, for longer trips, fuel up his Gulfstream IV.

Curiosity about his customers can be satisfied at 420 N. Rodeo Drive, where columns of clients' names are stenciled along the bottom of the shop's windows. The eclectic and very international list includes HRH Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, Michael Eisner, His Majesty King Juan Carlos, Julio Iglesias, Robert Halmi, Kirk Kerkorian, Prince Rainier, Steve Wynn, Gianni Agnelli, Aaron Spelling, Won Suk Choi, Ronald O. Perelman, Richard Branson, Ahmet Ertegun, Massimo Ferragamo. The names change occasionally, but the qualifications of the men Bijan designs for don't. "I don't mean to sound snobby, but today my clients have to have a minimum of $1 million in earnings, after taxes, a month. I have a client who is $1 billion in trouble," says Bijan, chuckling at the new millennium's definition of deep pockets.

This is one of those stories people will write letters about. Antipathy to elitism is as American as the Dixie Chicks, so the usual complaint is: Why glorify spoiled rich people? Well, even though the atmosphere lately has been thick with a hate-the-fat-cats smog, the privileged class hasn't disappeared. Besides, every subject is bound to offend someone. Puritans need read no further.

By appointment only

Bijan is a handsome man in his late 50s, with a small nose, a smooth, lightly tanned complexion, a generous smile and courtly manners. He seems to give as much thought to delivering gentle flattery as he does to styling an elegant still life for a window display. No one would ever call Bijan careless. He was born in Iran, and although he has been in this country since 1971, his accent is pronounced. Perhaps because he knows he can be difficult to understand, he speaks slowly. When he is excited, and he is often excited, the words come more quickly.

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