"It doesn't matter!" says Cheban. "I'll give it to somebody else who wants to eat it."
Like Star magazine. The latest issue, the one published last week, ran an In & Out column that announced that fried foods are officially out, and -- you got it -- Lean Cuisine is officially in. Us Weekly, meanwhile, worked a Lean Cuisine reference into its "Best Bashes at Sundance" page, leaking the news that "clean-living stars can nosh on Lean Cuisine's new Spa Cuisine line" at the Shutterfly Lounge.
Jonathan Cheban, in his SoHo office, works both sides of the velvet rope -- bringing together celebrity clients and product-placement clients to create a publicity windfall.
(Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
The 'In' Man
It's a recent Wednesday night and Grubman and a couple of friends are packed into Grubman's Denali, which is being driven by a well-dressed chauffeur with a cell-phone earpiece. He pulls up to the sidewalk by a restaurant and club called Cipriani, in SoHo. When Grubman opens the door, it smacks into a parked Mercedes. She leaps back in the SUV and closes the door immediately.
"I'm getting out on the other side," she gasps. "I'm serious!"
The group is led past another bouncer in a stairwell that leads up two flights to what Cheban describes as the hottest nightspot in New York right now. Inside, there is a hearth with a roaring fire, a DJ and an assortment of models, all dancing and smiling. It looks like a Michelob commercial brought to life. Cheban plops on a plush sofa, sits back and wiggles in his seat to the music. People wave and he waves back, but he doesn't work the room.
"I'm not a schmoozer," he says.
He has a point. A lot of people can schmooze. Cheban is a networking dynamo, one who's leveraged personal connections into a very profitable business, taking our national obsession with celebrities to its absurd nth degree. The source of his wealth is ultimately our fear that better-looking people, famous people, are having more fun with cooler stuff somewhere that we're not. We want to know where those people are, what they're doing, what they're wearing, what they're drinking -- and Cheban has answers. Some of those answers are made up, but who cares? He speaks the language of fabulous, and the market for fabulous is very, very good.
"Last night, this model named Victoria Silvstedt was here," he shouts over the music. "Oh my God, is she beautiful. Like 6 foot 1. Gorgeous. Want to see?"
Suddenly, he's surfing the Internet on a gadget called a Sidekick. When he finds a fan page for Silvstedt, you realize where you've seen her name before: on the "out" half of an in/out list in a magazine that helped fabulize Evian last year. Which means that the lovely Victoria Silvstedt is many things -- Maxim favorite, Playboy Playmate, Miss Sweden runner-up -- but she is not a client of Jonathan Cheban's.