King of Luxury: By Appointment Only : Bijan

Everyone who’s anyone knows him. You have seen his huge billboards in Los Angeles. When you’re on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, you automatically notice the yellow Rolls-Royce Phantom parked in front one day, and his Buggati or yellow Ferrari the next. The showroom windows are changed monthly, along with the fresh flowers lining the façade of his store. While walking up to the door of the showroom, I noticed Bijan has all of his clients’ names respectfully displayed in clocks in the windows, each with their corresponding countries’ flag—a focal point that immediately catches your attention. And, each clock is set to the time of the country it represents. You have everyone from Steve Wynn, Carlos Slim, Vladmir Putin, and George Bush, just to name a few. Once you approach the door, you notice a sign that reads “By Appointment Only,” something that Bijan has had since he opened on Rodeo Drive in 1976. Some people think it might be a marketing ploy, but Bijan holds true, as he has a full staff of employees working every day, sometimes only seeing one or two clients per day. Those clients can spend upwards of $5 million in one sitting or fitting, which makes Bijan truly the “King of Luxury.”

I was fortunate enough to walk inside this 15,000-square-foot flagship store, notorious for being one of the most expensive stores in the world. I was first greeted by three beautiful women serving espresso, water, soda or even a flute of champagne. Looking around, I saw pictures of renowned world leaders and heads of state, from Presidents of the United States like Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, to Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. There were also shots of international celebrities and moguls like Jack Nicholson, German television host, Thomas Gottschalk, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Carlos Slim Helu, Al Pacino and Maestro Shahram Nazeri. They all are friends with Bijan and have personally been dressed by him. After passing by the photos of Bijan’s illustrious clientele, I noticed the arrangement of his showroom by style and color, that it is divided by suggested outfits expertly coordinated by him and his staff to best fit the styles of the season and an individual’s taste. There is also a giant painting of a couple by Columbian artist Fernando Botero, entitled “The Rich.” Apropo. A personal possession from the late Shah of Iran, a suit he wore in the late 1970’s, is showcased in the store, and is one of Bijan’s most prized possessions. There’s a special photograph with all of the Presidents, both past and present, including, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter. Every President is wearing a Bijan design (except Jimmy Carter). Bijan’s store is filled with marble floors, elegant woods, a sweeping staircase, sparkling crystal chandelier (comprised of over 1,100 of his signature perfume bottles filled with pure perfume), all bathed by sunlight that pours through the store’s enormous windows.

 Although Bijan is notorious for designing for heads of state and the wealthy elite, he is also just as known for his signature, eccentrically designed high-end cars.

To sit down with Bijan, you get to understand his passion, and his commitment to excellence in luxury. Since his start in the early 1970’s, he has always been dressing the most powerful people in the world. He was born and grew up in Iran, but studied fashion design and textiles in Switzerland and Italy in the 1960’s before heading back to his native country in the early 1970’s. There, he designed clothes for the royal family, including the Shah of Iran, the Prime Minister, and the jet-setters in the Middle East. At such a young age he had the opportunity to build his brand, but he realized it was not big enough for him to be a worldwide brand, so he made the executive decision to come to America, where he had the vision to open his first store on Rodeo Drive (the flagship store for over 35 years). Bijan comments that he was honored to become an American citizen. When he first opened his store on Rodeo Drive, the Montage Hotel, Harry Winston, Cartier, Tom Ford, and Yves St. Laurent did not yet exist on the road they would make famous. All that was there was a gas station and a couple of less distinguished clothing shops. Plus, for Bijan to open the store, and right out of the gate only cater to his clients by appointment only, is how Bijan has always run his business—different than everyone else. He comments how another top luxury store, Gucci, compared itself to Bijan, but he says, “No-No.” “At the end of the 70s, they had the first floor for everyone, and then an elevator would take VIP clients up to the mezzanine level,” he said, and continued, “I only catered to VIP clients with good taste since I first launched in America in 1976.” In 1983 Bijan expanded his growing empire by opening his next shop on New York’s Fifth Avenue. The Manhattan showroom was just as remarkable as its West Coast counterpart, and, without surprise, continued Bijan’s success. He catered to all the Wall Street players, along with world leaders visiting New York for business or convening at the United Nations. He did very well in New York, but when I asked him about not being in New York now, he said that his numbers grew the following years, and his top clients eagerly came to Beverly Hills just to shop with him. Bijan’s extreme loyalty among his clientele is what makes him such a special figure. His clothing is so rare and unique that people will specially fly in just to get what cannot be had anywhere else is the world. Unlike other fashion designs, Bijan creates each piece of clothing and accessory with an artisan’s care and skill. For example, he showed me how much detail he puts into each of his one-of-a-kind, limited edition ties. Beginning with his own personal designs, Bijan then carefully selects only the finest silks for their production—even the tie box is exquisitely designed to properly store and showcase the unique neckwear resting within. There is never one design that is the same as another. Attention to detail is very important to Bijan. Whether you purchase a tie, jacket, suit, shirt, or accessory, you are guaranteed to come away with a unique, specialty item made from only the finest materials available in the world. Perhaps that is why Bijan is able to charge $1,200 a tie set in a silk box, or up to $25,000 for a suit. When designing for the top 1% in the world, expense is not simply a matter of cost, but a statement of taste.

I asked him why he only considered “By Appointment Only,” even when he first opened, and whether or not he held it as a firm rule, breaking it for certain clients. He said “We do, but sometimes we can tell by the person if we should break the rule.” For instance, the day before I visited his boutique to speak with him, a young couple stopped by the store without an appointment, but Bijan’s intuition told him to allow them into his fashion lair. The couple remained in the store until 9:30 PM, and eventually spent over $600,000 on clothes and jewelry. As Bijan was telling me this, we are interrupted by his general manager, telling us the clients who were there yesterday have returned. “They want to buy more of your collection before they hop on the jet,” she said. Bijan politely stopped the interview, and asks if I wouldn’t mind coming back in an hour. I understandingly agreed, and, while walking out of the store, I see the young couple he had just been recounting to me, eagerly hoping to get a few more jackets to take with them back to Asia. When I returned about an hour later, Bijan pleasantly confided to me that they spent another $250,000. We all break our own rules every now and then!

It only seems natural that Bijan should prefer to cruise in  a Rolls-Royce, a company whose brand has been built around the same ideal of luxury in excess.

Although Bijan is notorious for designing for heads of state and the wealthy elite, he is also just as known for his signature, eccentrically designed high-end cars. Parked in front of his store, guests and passers-by can gawk at what Bijan has selected to drive that day, having to choose from his yellow Rolls-Royce or black Bentley Azure, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, Ferrari 430, or Bugatti, among others. But what you will most likely see parked in front of Bijan on Rodeo is his now infamous marigold-yellow Rolls-Royce Drophead Phantom that he customized in collaboration with the Goodwood, England-based luxury automaker. It only seems natural that Bijan, a man whose name is synonymous with treating the world’s elite to the finest clothes in life, should prefer to cruise in a Rolls-Royce, a company whose brand has been built around the same ideal of luxury in excess. Perhaps it was not a shock when last fall, as part of the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, Bijan announced from his store his official design partnership with Rolls-Royce to create 31 limited-edition models, each with an estimated price tag of $1.5 to $1.6 million. While meeting with him, he was able to speak freely about this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration, and even gave me a first-hand look at the cars. As you may have guessed, these ultra-rare rides are not going to be available to just anyone at your local dealer. Bijan himself plans to customize each model for their owners, working with them to create a design and style that best suits their personalities. Options will include custom colorizing and paint jobs, something Bijan is certainly not unfamiliar with in his own garage, as well as added amenities like a wine fridge in the trunk, a specially designed Lalique crystal ornaments perched like guardians at the end of each car’s bonnet, and a $125,000 diamond clock in the dashboard. Keeping in line with Bijan’s flair for the eccentric, the hood also flourishes with a paisley patterned inlay, giving the car a subdued refinement, while still boasting plenty of flash. “The base of my statement is fashion, and as a designer, I have embraced automobiles and fashion,” explains Bijan. “Another unique feature is using this paisley design. It is embroidered in tone-on-tone silk on alligator leather and presented in various elements of the interior.”

For the past 25 years, Bijan’s fragrance collection of ten different scents for men and ladies has sold in 66 countries all over the world, and still continues to be a success. This includes the award winning and immensely popular Michael Jordan Cologne. Bijan also has a limited edition jewelry collection, which recently celebrated the launch of its newest piece, a watch entitled “The Royal Way.” Certainly fitting for a man of Bijan’s reputation.

Bijan makes sure to give credit where credit is due. With everything he has achieved, and all of his continued success, he insists that it’s largely due to his partner and longtime friend of 40 years, Dar. Now that’s humility.