One summer when he was 16 years old, Nicolas Bijan Pakzad was working alongside his father at his luxury men’s boutique on Rodeo Drive. The store, known simply as Bijan—and often referred to as the most expensive shop in the world—was slow that particular afternoon. Nicolas recalls, however, that in a sudden flurry, five Suburbans pulled up, Secret Service agents descended and President George Bush Sr. materialized. Despite the distinguished guest, he remembers that his father was bereft: He hadn’t worn a tie that day.
“My father said, ‘He came to visit me—a designer! He’s dressed so nicely, and I’m wearing a leather jacket!’”
And that’s how Nicolas learned to always wear a tie.
It’s a warm day in late June and the streets are still sleepy—Southern California is inching into reopening after the novel coronavirus put an end to almost all activities this spring. Nicolas greets me at the shop, wearing a salmon pink jacket and black trousers, his hair shellacked into a dark coif. Underneath his Bijan-branded face mask, he has a youthful face and a warm, slightly impish, grin.
His father Bijan Pakzad (who, like Cher or Prince, is known almost exclusively by his first name) was a visionary of luxury menswear. He set out to make clothes that were unlike anything else on the market, create a shopping experience that was exclusive but not snobby, and do it all with a reverence for luxury but also a sense of humor. The brand’s signature color is shocking yellow and it’s known for carrying designs that are so sumptuous they border on illegal (think crocodile jackets that will easily set you back five figures). Outside the store is a yellow parking meter and a rotating roster of marquee yellow vehicles—a Buggati Veyron, a Rolls Royce Phantom, an Aston Martin Superleggera—displayed in a Bijan-designated parking space. (Angelenos will know just how opulent a reserved spot in Beverly Hills is, let alone one on the city’s toniest retail block).
Bijan has dressed presidents, heads of state, celebrities, tech billionaires and everyone in between—including, in a recent bout of infamy, Paul Manafort. When visiting dad’s office involves suiting up Tom Cruise or Michael Jordan, it’s easy to see why Nicolas wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Accounting, this family business is not. But he wound up taking over sooner than he could have foreseen when his father passed away in 2011.
In the years since, Nicolas has made his presence known, but with a light touch. He’s made updates, introducing slimmer tailoring for men and accessories and apparel for women. When we meet, he takes me on a tour of the new, expanded boutique across from the original location on Rodeo Drive (which broke records for its price-per-square-foot when LVMH bought it for $122 million in 2015).
The new boutique’s decor is stunning, from the opulent chandelier that greets you (comprised of around 1,000 bottles of Bijan’s signature perfume—the tire-shaped flacon is so iconic, it’s part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection) to the tables overflowing with framed photographs of famous clients (Hi, Jeff Bezos!) to the immense Botero painting (titled—what else?—The Rich) hanging in the corner. Everywhere you turn, there’s a little vignette festooned with alligator portfolios, suede slippers and flowers to match (the arrangements change daily). Upstairs, there’s a row of double-doors, the knobs of which are made from more cologne bottles, natch, and behind each one is a color-coordinated wardrobe of men’s apparel and furnishings with, again, complimentary floral arrangements.
Despite recent sociopolitical dramas, Bijan is in many ways crisis- and recession-proof—it appeals to the 1 percent of the 1 percent, who are shielded from the whims of the stock market and the pandemic’s most debilitating effects. And anyway, the appointment-only flagship practically invented socially distanced shopping decades ago. Yet, for all its clubby exclusivity, Bijan is growing relatively democratic: Nicolas has introduced stores at the Beverly Hills Waldorf Astoria and Wynn Las Vegas where walk-ins are welcomed.
We sat down with Nicolas to discuss the business as it stands now, especially in light of recent cultural developments.
Do you remember first understanding what your father did and what the family business was?
Of course. I mean, I was very lucky because this was never pushed on me. But I was very interested from a very young age. When I was working here as a 16-year-old—my summer job—it was captivating. I was working part-time when my father passed away and we all came together—the whole company—to continue his legacy. We’re the oldest business on Rodeo Drive, we’re a family-run business. When my father opened the boutique in 1976, none of these stores you see were on Rodeo Drive. There were a few, like Giorgio or David Orgell, but they’ve all closed. My father and a few others were the first ones to push these international brands to come here.
People can’t come in without an appointment. Which, by the way, is antithetical to most retail advice—you want to make it easy for shoppers to spend their money.
Well, it’s the age-old story: make things more exclusive and people will want it more. When my father opened the store [with the appointment policy], everyone said he’d be closed in six months. But here we are, 44 years later because of that policy. We don’t do it to be snobby, like other brands might. When a client is shopping with us, they should receive a certain level of customer service. An experience. Nobody, even if they aren’t a customer, should walk out the doors feeling unhappy, or judged. We have a receptionist walk them in and someone will show the customer what we’re all about.
It’s an intimidating process, to open that door—even if [you] have billions of dollars. Opening the boutiques at the Waldorf and the Wynn…people who may have been intimidated to walk through our [Rodeo Drive location’s] 17-foot mahogany door, they’re now entering the store, learning about the brand and falling in love. Last year, the top three or four clients by sales were new clients we made in Las Vegas, people newly introduced to the brand.
You don’t just sell navy, gray and black suits. You have a really colorful, eccentric mix.
We’re famous for color, and not just yellow. You know that charcoal gray cashmere waterproof topcoat we looked at upstairs? It’s pretty conservative. But inside it’s purple. That’s important and unique to our brand. Look, a lot of menswear brands are known for charcoal gray, brown, navy blue, black—those colors hide imperfections. If you’re making it in a factory or on a machine, or even by hand, you’d have to have a trained eye to notice it’s not a good quality jacket. But red and yellow? Pink? No way. You’ll see that right away—the fabric, the stitching.
When a gentleman like, say, Jeff Bezos, is wearing a yellow jacket from Bijan, one hundred times he’s going to get a compliment. When I’m around our clients, people are always complimenting them because of who they are. And then they’re wearing a beautiful cashmere and silk yellow jacket? And it looks nice? Of course, they’re going to get a compliment. Then they’ll feel good, and next time he’ll buy red or green. Most of our clients start with navy blue and slowly they wear more color. After a few visits, they’re only wearing color. And at our price point…think of how many navy blue suits these men have. They want something different, something special—something Bijan. Imagine someone wears your clothing and feels younger, looks slimmer, gets more compliments? That’s the one thing these men can’t buy.
Because of the nature of your business—custom garments, made by hand for the extremely wealthy—do you think you’ve been better equipped to handle the coronavirus than other brands?
It’s tough to say. The entire world is feeling the effects. We have to be aware of that, sensitive to it. We’ve introduced masks and we’re lucky enough to have been able to donate 20,000 pieces of protective gear to first responders. We made facial shields and we put them in a beautiful box and sent them to every client around the world as a gift.
And then look at what’s going on around the United States, in our communities. We were planning to re-open June 1, but the weekend before there were severe protests on Rodeo Drive. That was difficult for us, but we understood it. I won’t say we support the rioting and damaging of property, but we support the ideas behind the movement. We have to do our part to help fix those inequalities in our company, our community and our country.
We’ve tried to maneuver and improve. Last night, we got a call from a client who told us he’d lost a lot of weight over the last four months, so his clothes don’t fit him. He said, “I feel good and I want to look good and I want to wear Bijan.” So now we’re arranging for myself and a tailor to fly to him with our collection.
What have you learned since you’ve taken over? Is there anything you never understood when your dad was alive, but now makes sense?
Oh yeah. That decision-making process that he had, it’s so clear to me now. The most important thing that he instilled was quality over quantity. He always said, “We’re not a rich enough brand to make things cheap.” Some of these huge conglomerates have enough money to make things in a low-quality way, but we have the most brilliant, respected customers in the world. They’re smart enough to know that if it’s a $12,000 jacket, it’s because we use the best materials and the best craftspeople. That’s one thing I’ve come to understand more than anything: quality, quality, quality. Our prices are very high but, if you can afford it, we’re not expensive.
With the quarantine and the opening of a new store happening at the same time, I’m sure you’ve had time to think. What do you see for the future of Bijan?
Regarding the new boutique, we’re trying to keep our clients happy and nostalgic. They really do have a connection to the brand so changing it dramatically would have been the wrong move. But our clientele has become younger. You think of millennials not caring about quality or only wearing sneakers, but we have clients as young as 19 who want to wear Bijan. And not just the casual stuff, a lot of them are wearing suits and ties. That says something. If you’re a young man and you’re able to afford it— let’s say you inherited some money or you sold your start-up—and you want to wear a tie, you want to wear a unique one, a special one.
Do you do things like sweats?
We do a lot of jogging suits, cashmere sweaters, T-shirts, baseball caps. We sold so many of these baseball caps, it’s one of the hottest items we’ve ever made. The core business is still leather jackets, suits, sports jackets, ties. But we’ve seen a huge increase in these casual things, which are still very high quality. The T-shirts, some are cotton, some are a silk-and-cotton mix. The jogging suits are pure cotton or cashmere and silk. The T-shirts range from $480 to $1,350. The Crest Hat is $580. The jogging suits go from $2,350 to $7,500. They’re all priced for this business.
There will always be customers who are interested in learning more, looking better, feeling good, respecting quality and craftsmanship and history. I think that this 1 percent of the world wants high-quality, beautiful pieces and they won’t mind paying a premium for them.