INTERVIEW WITH NICOLAS BIJAN PAKZAD
It has been nearly four years now since the fashion world lost world renowned designer and tastemaker Bijan Pakzad. However, the tradition of bespoke men’s wear and the quintessential spirit of international luxury and good taste that he established continues not only through the efforts of his loyal staff but more importantly by the brand’s newest ambassador, his son Nicolas Bijan Pakzad. It is a difficult task to walk in the footsteps of a legend and inherently even more arduous when that legend is your father, but Mr. Nicolas is proving that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree as he readies himself to take the reigns of the 39-year-old fashion house. Like his father, he is incredibly charming, with a smile and a sense of humour that could warm even the hardest of hearts. He has inherited his father’s flair for dressing not only the brand’s international black book of clients but personally as well. Impeccably dressed, whether in a duck egg blue linen suit accented by a perfectly knotted silk tie, or in a sportier incarnation of jeans and a butter soft leather jacket, Mr. Nicolas always seems appropriate, always perfectly turned out. He certainly also has the same passion for the family business, having had a childhood completely immersed in the colourful, whimsical, yet ultra-sophisticated and ultra-privileged world that Bijan Pakzad created. However, Nicolas Bijan injects a new vibe to the brand, one which is bursting with youth, modernity, and a delicate personal style which subtly brings every stitch, buckle, zip, and seam of its craftsmanship and artistry to life.
Being a dyed in the wool Bijan fan since the age of 13, it was a thrill to be invited by Mr. Nicolas to not only peek inside the glamorous and well-appointed world of their Rodeo Drive boutique but also to gain insight to the recently graduated prodigy himself. Walking in and being bathed in the luscious colours and textures of its Mediterranean villa decor and of the exquisitely showcased jackets, shirts, ties, and accessories reminded me of my first visit to Bijan in New York all the way back in 1985. Though the scents and sights have remained faithful to Bijan’s vision, with bold and sunny Bijan yellow still the brand’s signature and the iconic Bijan fragrance lightly perfuming the decadently appointed space, there is definitely something new and fresh about the experience. Though touted as the most expensive store in the world and working on private appointment, Mr. Nicolas has a unique way of constructing the client experience, making everything, regardless of its price seem accessible. This is the hallmark of modern luxury retailing, and Mr. Nicolas has, in his way, lifted the Bijan experience to a new level.
As we tour the boutique, both pride and joy fill the young entrepreneur’s eyes as he gracefully opens each of the closed wardrobe doors that, when opened, reveal the most spectacular merchandising known to luxury retail. Each cabinet thematically revolves around a particular colour, with clothing, accessories, and objects d’art skilfully arranged like sartorial still-lives, each telling its unique story. Scattered amongst these vignettes and his father’s unique collection of Botero paintings, are beautifully framed photographs of former ad campaigns and the pantheon of the house’s high profile clientèle. It is a veritable Who’s Who from the worlds of entertainment, diplomacy, and politics that has included the likes of former President George H. W. Bush, Sr. and President George Bush, Jr., Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and numerous Royal Families from all over the world.
However, there is another thing that you can see in the eyes of Nicolas- a faint glimmer of bittersweet sadness. Having recently lost my mother, it is very familiar to me. Being the son of a strong and powerful figure, who becomes not only a parental figure but also a mentor and a best friend carries a significant burden when the torch of their inspiration is then passed from parent to child. It was this respect and reverence for the task before him that struck me the most in meeting Nicolas Bijan and it is my pleasure to share with you the moment that we spent together in his family’s emporium of style.
NICOLAS BIJAN PAKZAD: THE INTERVIEWBHR: Nicolas, you have amazing parents. Your father left you and your family this incredible legacy, and your mother who is now a very accomplished interior designer is a former Bijan model. It must have been fascinating growing up in that kind of environment. What were some of the things from your childhood that you remember? NP: That is very kind of you. Yes, that is how my parents met. My father, he was a very special person and a very special father. You can imagine being in a surrounding like this at a very young age and the people I met, it is almost like second nature to me. So I think as I got older I began to appreciate what he was doing and see how hard he was working. Eventually, when we started working together it really clicked. It was a real bonding experience…father and son. When I was in high school I started working with him and through college. BHR: So it was not only the creative aspect but also his work ethic? NBP: Yes, he was hugely inspirational. There was never a time period that I didn’t want work. You know my father didn’t need to work seven days a week, but he did. It was because he loved what he did and I am very lucky and fortunate that I also love what he did. BHR: You don’t feel like you’re obliged to follow in his footsteps? NBP: It was never an obligation, I always had a choice, and I think that it kind of made me want to do it even more- that I wasn’t forced and that I actually did enjoy it. And growing up in the store, you see here on this wall, you see these tick marks next to the mirror? Those are my height from when I was growing up. So if you look closely, it says 2003 -2004- 2005 and all the way up to 2009! BHR: So, you grew up mostly in Los Angeles? NBP: Yes. My father chose to close the New York Boutique in favor of spending quality time at his home in Beverly Hills. BHR: Did you attend a private school? NBP: I went to Viewpoint… A very small private school in Calabasas. Then I ended up going to Pepperdine in Malibu, which is where I am still doing my MBA. BHR: Ok fantastic. What a great view Pepperdine has. NBP: When I was applying to colleges when I was 18, I applied to USC, LMU, all the schools nearby and Pepperdine was the one [my father] wanted me to go to. He didn’t give me a choice in that. Education always came first, and I could always decide what I wanted to do with my life, but school wasn’t my decision. I am continuing my MBA because I promised him that I would. BHR: Education…It’s very important. NBP: Sure and it’s very tough too. School is not hard, it’s never been hard for me…or my sister for that matter, but it’s just difficult at night. I go once a week. I am here very day from 9 to 6 and then one night a week I will go to Pepperdine from 6-11pm. BHR: So is that the moment you can throw on the jeans and the t-shirt? NBP: I can tell you I don’t even have time, I get to class in a suit. But it’s a good programme, it’s a master’s programme, so a lot of people are in suits. Maybe not Bijan suits, but they are pretty well dressed for college students. BHR: What does Nicolas downtime look like then? NBP: I love to travel. Every year I visit our factories in Italy, and I take two weeks off after. Some of the best memories I have of my father were traveling. We used to go to Africa, and those are some amazing memories. You get so much inspiration from seeing other cultures and different places that you are not used to seeing. I read tremendously. Lately, I have been reading a lot of Napoleon Hill. My downtime isn’t typical of most 23-year-olds. My father and I both shared a love for cars. So we spent a lot of time driving together. On Sundays when the boutique would be closed, we’d go for drives to Malibu, and that’s where I spent a lot of time one on one with him. This later became very relevant when we did the collaboration with Bugatti and with Rolls Royce. Because this is something, we had a lot of fun working on together. Isn’t every 18-year old’s dream to design a Rolls-Royce… BHR: So you were able to collaborate on the project? NBP: Not so much me collaborating, but more watching. I got to watch him do both those projects and give my input. We had a lot of fun… BHR: How fantastic that you got an opportunity to participate in such a creative endeavour. NBP: It was really incredible and seeing the cars from conception to delivery to the client is really special. Because you made them. You see the renderings and then you see the final project. It’s the same experience you see with a jacket or a tie, but with something like a car it’s so huge. BHR: I am sure there are a lot of technical challenges? NBP: The challenges that go on with that project are endless but worth it. It’s not a very profitable project, to be honest, but just to design for Rolls-Royce was very special to my father due to the fact that he drove Rolls-Royces for 40 years. BHR: Now is that a limited edition that clients can order? NBP: We have 30 limited edition Rolls Royce Phantoms…the convertible, the coupe, and the four-door sedan. Each one is unique. They have a beautiful paisley hood and crocodile trimming. It was completely designed by my father. They are really beautiful pieces and selling very well. There is a black one, a white one. Each one is completely different. Rolls Royce, who is 100 years old, has never collaborated with any other company from a design standpoint. And they came to us. And same thing with Bugatti is from an engineering standpoint the most impressive company in the world. If you can make a car go 300 miles an hour, it’s unbelievable. And they came to us to make it one step higher which is really something incredible. To see the project to the end and to see the finished pieces now is really kind of an emotional thing. I’ll get emails from friends of mine or people that I know in different areas with pictures of the cars. For example, I got an email last month of one of our customers who bought a yellow one, a yellow Bijan Rolls Royce parked in front of the Dubai Shopping Mall. You know it’s the best part because they are enjoying it and they are driving it. It is a piece of art and so unique that you would think would be in a garage forever, but this gentleman is driving it and enjoying it which my father would have really liked. BHR: So in terms of the clothing collection, who actually designs the collection now? NBP: We have a group. The same group that worked with my father for the last 38 years and I think I am the youngest member. Everyone has been here quite a long time. We have the team in Italy where our factories are. It’s not a seasonal collection because our customers are from all over the world. It’s not about quantity but only about quality. BHR: Most of your pieces are bespoke, but do you ever get any special requests from clients like pyjamas? NBP: We’ve made basically everything, but we stick to what we are good at which is what you see. But we have done really crazy pieces in the past for some of our customers from furniture to the interior design of a client’s private Gulfstream jet. Like a customer from Texas, for example, who wanted a Bijan chair for their living room. And so we made a beautiful yellow lounge chair for her. BHR: Where do you see Bijan as a brand in the future? NBP: I think the philosophy of the company now is we don’t like to mess with something that is already successful. The cut of our suit isn’t any slimmer or younger, it’s still very classic and elegant, and it will always stay that way. And, of course, for a customer that wants something else we can make that for them whether it be a cut of a suit or a piece of furniture. Not many 20-30-year-olds can afford a $200k jacket or a $12k suit, but I will tell you in the last two years we have seen a large increase in a younger client base which means they have gone from 50 years old to 35.
BHR: London has always had a great tradition of tailoring with houses like Anderson and Sheppard where Prince Charles has his suits tailored, and there is a rich sartorial tradition of bespoke suits where one’s tailor is actually handed down to the next generation. Very much like at Bijan…NBP: Plus our clothing is so well made, I would say 30% of the suits in my closet were actually my father’s. You would think that from a business point of view that wouldn’t be good to have a suit last 30 years. but our customers don’t think that way. They are some of the smartest men in the world, and they really appreciate the quality, craftsmanship, and the detail that we put into our pieces. It’s very nice to see 30-year old’s shopping here as well as all our clients that have been shopping here the past 30 years. BHR: I remember back in 1983-1985 I was so influenced by the Bijan advertising and the brand. For me it wasn’t just clothing, it was the lifestyle that you were inspired to follow. And I think it had to do with your Father’s smile! He always conveyed a sense of joie de vivre, embracing life, beauty, and culture. NBP: He was very passionate. Growing up, subconsciously, it pushed me and got me passionate. BHR: Would you say that you have similar tastes to those of your father? NBP: It depends on certain things. It’s funny that you say that because actually when I was growing up, I was working with him and learning so many things. I wasn’t completely clear on why he would do certain things, but now in retrospect, it’s very clear…and I love it. Tastes evolve and change, but the main point is that I learned from him, and now more than ever our tastes are identical. What I took from him and how he dressed, which colours he would wear and what colours he wouldn’t wear with what is what stuck with me. BHR: Well you are very lucky to have such a beautiful legacy… NBP: I completely agree, and he left something very beautiful behind and all of us here have a very simple job which is to keep it as beautiful and to continue to improve and evolve. We are all very excited for the future and last year was an amazing year for our business. You feel him here with us. And he taught us all and we keep his idea and philosophy alive. It is an experience to come here and it is expensive, but as my father always used to say if you can afford it, it’s not.
Many thanks to Nicolas Bijan Pakzad and to the staff of the Bijan Boutique for welcoming us and assisting with this interview.
INTERVIEW BY : DAVID DE LA MARCA
BIJAN 420 North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills 90210 T: +1 310-273-6544