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STREET LEVEL

Where stars collide

Will success (and paparazzi) spoil Robertson Boulevard?

October 08, 2005|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

FOR Hollywood's young, rich and visible, and those who keep tabs on them, the two-block stretch of Robertson Boulevard between 3rd and Beverly is both famous and infamous.

Trendy boutiques and pricey restaurants cater to the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears -- the kind of young women who think little of spending $155 on a pink baseball cap embroidered with the image of a cigar-smoking skunk or $495 for a bejeweled hairbrush.

The paparazzi photograph their every move, and tourists flock to bask in the reflected bling.

But all's not right within this delicate ecosystem of fame, commerce and $195 mink cellphone cases.

On Tuesday, just yards from the Ivy restaurant, Lohan crashed her convertible Mercedes-Benz roadster into a van driven by Raymundo Ortega, a worker from the nearby Newsroom Cafe. Fallout from that incident -- whose blame is still the matter of some dispute -- has some questioning how much longer things can go on this way on this leafy corridor straddling the cities of West Hollywood and Los Angeles.

"There's a wake-up call here," said Fraser Ross, the owner of Kitson, a boutique dubbed "L.A.'s hippest hot spot" by Us Weekly magazine. "It's not good for my store; it's not good for business on the street. You've got celebrity car crashes, Gray Line tour buses going by. It's getting overwhelming."

He fears the intense media glare will drive away the celebrities these businesses count on. "If you're a star, there are a lot of other places in L.A. where you can shop if you don't want to come here."

The Lisa Kline boutique has already gone to unusual lengths to prevent photographers from ruining celebrity shopping excursions, installing an electronic "paparazzi curtain."

"When things get a little out of control, when the flashbulbs are getting a little out of hand, we flip a switch," said Amy Gobin, Lisa Kline's media relations director. "It's kept the store calmer and allowed the celebrities a chance to slip out the back -- although sometimes [the photographers] are there too."

The curtain was put in after one particularly frightening standoff involving Jennifer Aniston and a pack of celebrity photographers.

"It got to the point where she couldn't leave through the front door," Gobin said. "She was concerned about her safety, and it was scary! It's hurtful for business. Not just for our celebrity clients but for our other clients too. People don't want to shop in a situation like that."

Upscale and compact, Robertson is neither as touristy as Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive nor as funkily dishabille as Melrose Avenue. The strip's hipster cred made it a natural backdrop for a recent shot on the HBO series "Entourage." Stores such as Maxfield Bleu, Agnes B and Curve are uniformly hip and high-end, attracting a clientele with accordingly deep pockets and esoteric ideas about fashion. (There's enough foot traffic to support both a Starbucks and a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at the northern end of the strip.)

Mark Lisanti, who writes the entertainment industry's must-read blog, defamer.com, offered his snarky take on the "Only in L.A." street: "There're probably not a lot of places on Earth where it's such a fashion victim parade in the middle of the day."

For their part, the paparazzi feel they are unfairly vilified. In a town where image is everything, the Ivy -- a patio power-dining spot where Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paris Hilton have all been photographed -- offers an irresistible deal.

"For the price of a $28 hamburger, they know they'll be recognized, fawned over, have their pictures taken and put in magazines around the world," said paparazzo E.L. Woody, who has been photographing celebrities on Robertson since the mid-1980s. "The street has become a studio for publicity where stars can come for a photo op."

Kitson's Ross agrees that the street functions as a kind of fashion runway for the latest in star style.

"If you're coming to Robertson, you have makeup on," he said. "You're not going to look like you just rolled out of bed."

Added Woody: The stars "always have smiles on their faces, they never cover up for the camera, they're dressed to the nines."

Despite some business owners' concerns, West Hollywood City Council member Jeffrey Prang said run-ins between stars and photographers had not reached a level of civic concern.

"In recent years, the number of incidents of overly aggressive behavior [by paparazzi] has increased," said Prang, in whose jurisdiction Lohan's accident occurred. Lohan had been followed by paparazzi while shopping that day, but police have said an illegal turn by the van caused the accident. "But there are no plans to impose regulations against the photographers who stake out Robertson so long as they are not causing a disturbance. If I found out there were scores of paparazzi causing traffic or pedestrian problems, I would do something about it."

In the meantime, young, visible Hollywood remains good for business.

On Wednesday, a crowd of onlookers stood in front of the Newsroom Cafe, watching a biplane skywrite the word "respect" in the evening sky.

Across the street, Sally Henschl, a tourist from Portland, Ore., snapped a photograph of her sister, Maggie, in front of the Ivy.

"We came here because our guidebook said the stars come here," Henschl said. "We haven't seen any yet, but it's just a matter of time."

One in an occasional series.

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