Bijan Pakzad, designer whose men’s shop catered to rich and powerful, dies at 71

Bijan Pakzad, an extravagant fashion designer and boutique owner who happily and unabashedly made wealthy men look rich, feel rich and smell rich, died April 16 at a hospital in Los Angeles after a stroke. He was 71.

From the moment in 1976 when Mr. Pakzad first opened Bijan, his Rodeo Drive emporium, three words bedecked the entrance: “By appointment only.”

The locked-door policy made clear that Mr. Pakzad exclusively catered to men who had money, power or fame — and usually all three. His clients included President Obama, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Stevie Wonder, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Jordan.

In other words, Mr. Pakzad explained, customers who “normally aren’t concerned about inflation.”

His slogan — “the costliest men’s wear in the world” — helped his opulent clothing store become known as the West Coast’s one-stop Savile Row.

While drinking champagne presented by white-gloved butlers, customers could shop for $2,500 silk pajamas, $1,500 cologne, a $24,000 mink-lined topcoat, a $19,000 ostrich vest, $55,000 crocodile luggage or even a $120,000 Mongolian chinchilla bedspread lined with silk.

He also sold suits with bullet-proof lining and a 24-karat gold-plated revolver that retailed for $10,000.

From 1983 to 2000 Mr. Pakzad had a second location, along New York’s Fifth Avenue. Inside both of his shops, he emphasized his personal style with the decor.

The Iranian-born proprietor dictated that every accent must be “byooteefool,” from the ceiling beams he had imported from Switzerland to the fresh flowers flown in from Hawaii. He had a wooden door from what he claimed was a private chapel of Louis XVIII of France and an 18th-century French tapestry worth $500,000.

Columnist George F. Will wrote, in 1979, that compared with Mr. Pakzad’s store, its Rodeo Drive neighbor Gucci “is just a kind of K-Mart and Hermes is, at best, a Woolworth’s.”

The Bijan difference, Mr. Pakzad said, was service.

“I’m like a doctor to them,” Mr. Pakzad told The Washington Post in 1984. “I know how old my customer is, what he is worth, how much weight he lost, his wife, his girlfriends, what he likes and what he doesn’t like.”

When clients could not come to his store, Mr. Pakzad and several tailors would travel to meet them. Mr. Pakzad’s dedication paid off handsomely in customer loyalty.

On one trip to Europe, a businessman spent $500,000 in an hour and a half. Clients at his stores spent anywhere from $700 to $800,000 per visit. His total sales some years reportedly exceeded $70 million.

“When I am appreciated that feeds my ego,” Mr. Pakzad told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “It’s magnificent to get a phone call from someone who says, ‘The king of Morocco needs some of those cashmere jogging suits you designed. Can you send 15 of them, in colors that you like?’ ”

Bijan Pakzad was born April 4, 1940, in Tehran. His father was an industrialist in the steel business.

A fastidiously dressed child, he attended school in Switzerland and later moved to Florence, where he made men’s clothes for seven years.

With $1 million from his father, Mr. Pakzad opened a women’s clothing store in Tehran called the Pink Panther.

He said he became inspired to open a menswear store after seeing pictures of high-profile men “dressed in the most ridiculous clothes.”

To promote his wares Mr. Pakzad came up with a number of outlandish advertisements.

He had dancing rabbis and nuns appear in a campaign for his cologne to market its “heavenly” scent. He and Jordan teamed up for a line of fragrances and appeared side-by-side in advertisements — with Mr. Pakzad balancing on a basketball.

Another promotion featured five monks in a row, with one of them whispering: “Pssst . . . Brother, is that Bijan you are wearing?”

He sold 212 pairs of his $3,200 lizard leather boots after one of his advertisements showed a gorgeous blonde kissing the toe of a man’s boot.

Mr. Pakzad’s marriages to Sigi Pakzad and Tracy Hayakawa ended in divorce. Survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Daniela Pakzad, and two children from his second marriage, Alexandra Pakzad and Nicolas Pakzad, all of Los Angeles; three brothers; a sister; and a grandson.

In a 2003 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Pakzad offered his advice on how to look rich.

Among his suggestions were “drink very good wine at dinner” and “fly to your Manhattan office from Connecticut in your helicopter.”

Ever the sentimentalist, Mr. Pakzad said that to appear truly wealthy, “first you have to be in love.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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