Sunday, April 17, 2011

Goodbye Bijan Pakzad

Bijan Pakzad opened on Rodeo Drive in 1976 with a simple mission to become the world's most expensive store for presidents, royalty and rock stars. By appointment and with a receptionist at a discreet desk instead of the traditional cashier, his own perfume (and billboards), periodically guards protecting his storefront. Beverly Hills was a sleepy rich people's town, neighborhood shops and plenty of white t's and tennis rackets, drinks at the Polo Lounge and dinner at The Bistro, expensive houses and an alert police department stopping people and cars that didn't look like white enough from entering Beverly Hills. Stopped while black was as true as the black waitresses at Hamburger Hamlet on Beverly Drive back Then.

 A confluence of political circumstances, a deposed and very ill Shaw, had sent very cultured, very educated and very wealthy Persians fleeing to a similar climate of sunshine and money: Beverly Hills in the '70's. Gucci had stopped closing for lunch, Fred Heyman's butler greeted every woman with a "you're the most beautiful woman in the world" and Herb Fink of Theodore's sold the skinny T's and jeans of the South of France while offering to sell his store for a white Corniche. Jurgensen's was the pink grocery store on Beverly Drive, next to a hardware store, that delivered to the service entrance of the gate hillside homes. Maids in uniforms also purchased on Beverly Drive at a fairly large shop next to Beverly Stationers and Phil's Poultry, signed as they shopped for the houses without the required service entrance.

Bijan's aspirational dreams swept into Beverly Hills bringing a wave of rich Texan blond wives opening shops for designers based on sketchy interpretations of Judith Krantz's Scruples, a story of fashion and sex in of Beverly Hills loosely based on Charles Gallay and Giorgio's (both totally believed the book was just about them: it was). Judith Krantz did purchase her book tour wardrobe at Charles Gallay, by the way.

Jerry Magnin's former wife Erin opened a YSL Boutique on Camden Drive; it failed. Marilyn Lewis,  who owned the Hamburger Hamlet chain, took that for her Cardinali Boutique; a brief stay.  Jerry Magnin's men shop on Rodeo Drive carried Ralph Lauren's Polo ties, the beginning of Jerry's transition to the Ralph Lauren boutique he owned. Donald Pliner owned Right Bank on Camden (his wife Lois left him to marry Jerry) with Maud Frizon, Basile suite that Diana Ross and Carly Simon bought by the pound. 

Ruby Bretzfield, a buyer at I. Magnin's, lost her husband Sam to Nancy Jean, an ice skater. Sam backed Donald Pliner's RBCC shops while banned from designer fashion shows in Europe. International Set, Sam's company, made fast copies of designer clothes. He offered thousands for fashion show tickets to try to slip in unrecognized. Somehow Sam was appointed Representative to The People of Bangladesh, a post Nancy stepped into after Sam's death. 

Camden Drive with Mr. Chow's Restaurant and Charles Gallay (ahem). Betty Dorso and her husband Dick, a former talent agent, had opened a small boutique selling eccentricities and monogrammed velvet slippers after being a Diane Arbus model near Alan Austen. Norma Kamali took that space before her divorce and move to New York to open OMO (on my own). Roots took it next while doing the mens shoes in American Gigolo in which Richard Gere did the first full frontal nudity scene. 

Indie shops were shoved out in the gentrification and globalization and there are few who dream of opening the world's most expensive store. Just another street of designer boutiques similar to any other city's tourist and designer shop district. Business, just business.

Bijan's yellow Rolls screamed money and dreams. He died Thursday night at Cedars Sinai. He did dress the presidents, royals and rockers he'd wanted to. Champagne dreams and a yellow Rolls on a small street in Beverly Hills.


  1. Another amazing tale and rememberence! You paint a vivid picture through your words!

  2. i can remember the first time i had brunch in beverly hills (at the polo lounge); i was just a scrub in jr. high, sitting with my mom, who would later say hi to joanna carson (dining with hubby johnny) as they knew each other from a group they both volunteered at (a cancer foundation). i didn't like my meal (mom encouraged me to try the eggs benedict), but the place felt otherworldly as we certainly didn't have the coin that most patrons there did.

    which brings me to your bijan piece. that is a style a bit too much for my taste (i'm more off the rack). however, as an individualist, i so appreciate his spirit and his business acumen, and i always found his eponymous billboards in century city exactly ends of the spectrum.

    thank you for your amazing post. i always appreciate an excellent first-person narrative!


  3. I remember those days well .. Johnny Carson and his Joannas.

    My life was on Camden Drive in those days, a vintage '64 banana yellow (did everyone like yellow then? yellow was the black then?) Porsche. The Beverly Hills Hotel .. I always wanted the little man carrying the phone through the Polo Lounge to call my name!! But no, it was always Mr. Sinatra, telephone please!!!


  4. I absolutely loved and adored the Eggs Benedict at the Polo Lounge! With extra Hollandise! We lived in Coldwater Canyon, and it was a Sunday ritual to drive down, sip champagne cocktails, those eggs, of course, with French Fries, and return home to fall into naps! The little man carrying the phone never called our names, but we were so happy on the champagne we would not have wanted to be disturbed!

  5. Wow. I hadn't heard he died last week, and you provide such a vivid look at the man and his work. Thanks for this.

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