Friday 17 August 2012
Last Update 17 August 2012 1:34 pm
WHEN a friend of mine called me to say that Bijan was available in town I said so what there are many different perfumes around, and I wasn’t particularly keen on collecting them anyway. He said he did not mean perfumes although he was aware of their popularity but the man himself who created them. He was visiting Jeddah and my friend thought it was a good idea to meet him.
I realized then that he meant the famous Bijan Pakzad. Bijan Pakzad, generally known simply as Bijan, was a designer of menswear and fragrances. He was renowned for making men’s suits by order for those who could afford their prices. I had never met him in person. I requested my friend for his number and called him at the then Hyatt Regency hotel on Madinah Road in Jeddah.
Within two hours we met at his suite. He was a handsome man and of course well dressed given his reputation. We had an interesting conversation about his profession and about the men whom he dressed up at the prices he demanded. The price was no problem as some of them were heads of state while others were extremely wealthy people. Some would send him their private planes plus hospitality reserved for top guests.
It was a pleasure to meet and talk to him and given his reputation and his fondness for suits as well as the names of his customers and the prices he demanded and received, the interview went very well indeed. I told him early that I was not a potential customer as I could not afford his prices which went up to several thousand dollars per order. Add the prices for shoes and neckties, and of course matching shirts and the bill would soar to 30 or 40 thousand dollars at 1989 prices. I knew at least some names. He smiled and hoped that someday I would be one of his customers.
Bijan was born in Iran in 1940 and migrated to the US in 1973 then opened his first boutique in 1976 described as the most expensive store in the world. As he grew rich he owned residences in California, New York, Malibu, Milan and Florence.
Of course one could walk into one of his shops and buy a suit, shirt and tie for a few thousand dollars but he made his fortune from dressing up customers who ordered in bulk, bagfuls that would last them one, two or three years.
They include Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Vladimir Putin, the richest man in the world Carlos Slim Helu who is of Lebanese origin, now Mexican, designers Oscar Dela Renta and Giorgio Armani, footballer Saba Shakeri, President Reagan and others who were keen to look good and had the money to foot the bill. His perfumes were equally distinctive in shape and scent. Indeed one of them is exhibited in the American Smithsonian Institution.
In the late l980s, Bijan, according to his bio-data designed a golden colt revolver. The gun had a leather handgrip fashioned for a .38-cal revolver. Inlaid in the cylinder was 56 grams of gold. The gun was placed in a mink pouch in a baccarat crystal case, embossed with the customer’s name. Bijan’s own signature is engraved in gold in the barrel on the gun. Only 200 such guns were made. In 2005, one of the guns sold to Jacob Nahamia at Christie’s auction house for over $ 50,000.
He was full of zest when we met and he had every reason to hope for a long life God willing but, sadly, in 2011 he suffered a stroke. He had brain surgery the same day but never recovered. He died two days later at 71 years of age.
Bijan had his own public relations machine as he loved to boast of the prices and his customers who at one time included nearly 35 heads of state. According to his bio-data his Beverly Hills store bearing his name carried such luxuries as a $ 15,000 vicuna coat, a $ 1,20,000 chinchilla bedspread and $ 65,000 crocodile trimmed luggage set. He had $ 5,00,000 carpets as part of the décor and $ 75,000 chandeliers. When he opened a second store in Fifth Avenue in New York in 1984 he said he had spent $ 10 million on its design. His fragrances would start at 1,500 dollars a piece, like his aftershave lotions.
He told me that a few of his customers would call him and invite him over to order many items at once — suits, shoes, ornaments and other accessories which would amount to over two hundred thousand dollars. They would repeat the order a couple of years later to coincide with their new business or second marriage.