By  on April 19, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Bijan Pakzad, 71, an Iranian American who solidified Rodeo Drive’s reputation as a luxury shopping destination with his exclusive showroom and built a brand that spanned clothing, fragrances and jewelry, died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering a severe stroke.

A skilled marketer whose toothy smile was a signature in his namesake brand’s promotional imagery, Pakzad prided himself on serving rich people with the most impeccable tastes and dressed a long list of politicians, actors and businessmen, including Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Eisner, Steve Wynn and presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. He billed the House of Bijan location in Beverly Hills as “by appointment only,” and touted its high prices as a selling point with the slogan “the most expensive in the world.”

“I am not a mass designer,” Pakzad told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “What was important to me was not to have two million clients, like Versace, but to have 20,000 clients. They all have one thing in common. They appreciate quality, exclusivity and service. My clientele is very difficult and demanding. I work so hard, and so many hours.”

Pakzad proffered different stories about his past to bolster the mythology of his brand, but, by most accounts, he was born to a wealthy family in Tehran and his father was in the steel industry. He told People magazine in 1984 that he studied engineering, which he detested, and left the discipline to open a boutique in Tehran before emigrating to the U.S. in the early Seventies. He was twice divorced, and had his daughter Daniela with his first wife, Sigi, and his daughter and son Alexandra and Nicolas with his second wife, Tracy Hayakawa. “I love clothes, women and cars, in that order,” he said in People.

Pakzad partnered with real estate developer Dar Mahboubi to start Bijan in 1976 by converting a car park on Rodeo Drive into a lush theater for fashion filled with marble and crystal. By his own estimates — and he was known for hyperbole — the location was renovated in 2000 to the tune of $12 million and a branch on Fifth Avenue New York cost $8 million to complete in 1983 before it was shuttered around 1999. Pakzad became newspaper fodder as a result of an ad campaign featuring an overweight model. Also controversial was a billboard that was placed above his Fifth Avenue outpost.

Although he began in retail and men’s wear, Pakzad is probably most recognized for fragrance. In 1981, Bijan launched its first perfume for men in handcrafted, signed and numbered Baccarat crystal flacons and, roughly six years later, Bijan Fragrance for Men and Bijan Perfume for Women were introduced. The Bijan fragrance was distinct for its bottle with a hole in the middle, its price that rose to roughly $10,000 for a 32-oz. size, and its distribution model that initially relied on an exclusive arrangement with Saks Fifth Avenue, recalled Sondra Love, former vice president of marketing for Bijan Fragrances.

“Everything that had Bijan’s name on it — it didn’t matter if it was a piece of ribbon, a label, a color on a package — Bijan signed off on and was involved in everything,” she said. “He was meticulous about every detail, and there was zero tolerance for mistake making.”

Pakzad and Mahboubi pioneered the modern celebrity fragrance market by signing Michael Jordan to a licensing deal in 1995. The resulting Michael Jordan Cologne went on to be one of the most successful launches in the fragrance industry. Love explained that Bijan created a frenzy for the product by inking an exclusive retail deal for the launch with Foot Locker, where Jordan had a massive following for his branded shoes with Nike.

When the Jordan fragrance launched, WWD interviewed the basketball star and Bijan together as they needled one another.

“We’ve got [Bijan] backing us,” Jordan said. “I don’t have a problem with that. He’s my point guard.”

“I’ve played basketball with him,” Bijan chimed in.

“He’s learning,” Jordan said.

“I’m a very bad student,” Bijan admitted.

“He played in a tuxedo,” said Jordan with a wink. “I’m still trying to get him into shorts.”

“The demand was so great that the launch date was backed up one month from November to October and [there was] a limit of only 12 bottles per consumer. Many Asian customers wanted to purchase 100-plus bottles at a time. It was extraordinary,” remembered Brett Charles Neubig, owner of Neubig & Co. and former vice president of global marketing and corporate communications at Bijan.

Five Star Fragrance Co., a subsidiary of Perfumania Holdings Inc., acquired the rights to Bijan Fragrances’ trademarks in the early aughts, and the Bijan fragrance continues to be one of Perfumania’s best-selling products. Over the years, Bijan also expanded into skin care with the Face Saver Skin Care Line, light alcohol-free fragrances such as Bijan Light Eau de Toilette for Women and Men and extensions of the Jordan fragrance brand.

Pakzad’s long-time business partner and friend Mahboubi said, “Bijan was a mentor to many. He will always be remembered as one of a kind, but mostly, I knew Bijan as a man of tremendous integrity and respect for human dignity.”

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