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Bijan Pakzad, Designer and Billboard King, Remembered

Bijan Pakzad

Juan Soliz/NewscomBijan Pakzad

Iranian fashion and fragrance designer Bijan Pakzad -- who died April

16 of a stroke in Beverly Hills -- was, we are told, "the most expensive

menswear designer in the world." Those who packed Royce Hall at UCLA to

memorialize him in the warmth of springtime were reminded by the screens

onstage that his was "a life well lived ... by a man well loved."

Bijan's life was, at its well-loved essence, that of someone on the

outside looking in: first as part of the Iranian diaspora, when he came

to L.A. in 1973, then for years as a struggling designer. As he

cultivated a mononymous public image, like Pelé or Prince, his signature

was endlessly repeated with its well-hung letter "J" drawn in

determined, assertive strokes.

His billboards, dotting the Westside for decades, have trumpeted

Bijan's creative endeavors and his by-appointment-only Rodeo Drive

boutique. Like his contemporaries Angelyne and Darrell Winfield (the

Marlboro Man), Bijan's was a personality that, through those same

billboards, could be distilled into one seminal, easy-to-grasp concept.

Angelyne's pink. Winfield's cigarette. Bijan's smile.

The smile also elevated Bijan's sales pitch: Where Angelyne was

forbidding and Winfield was foreboding, Bijan merely smiled.

Occasionally it's unclear what, if anything, he was actually selling. It

is, however, a simple human gesture offering a brief psychic respite

from the American Lung Association's Smoking-Related Deaths to Date tote

board on Santa Monica Boulevard and the looming traffic snarl of the

405 Freeway beyond it.

At the memorial service, white flowers and candles covered the stage

beneath two massive projected images of Bijan. For such an intensely

colorful designer, trafficking as he did in stark yellows, luminescent

reds and deep greens, Royce Hall was bathed in grim black suits. Pianist

Maryam Mehran sallied forth with the third movement of Chopin's Piano

Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, more popularly -- popularly! --

known as the decidedly grave "Funeral March," a song that is to

memorials what ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" is to trailers for films in which

ELO's music is not featured.

Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo eulogized Bijan while

listing his accomplishments for Rolls-Royce and Oxford University and

his victories at the advertising industry's Clio Awards.

"What made Bijan so unique?" she asked. "Bijan's mind was an untiring

creative force." Practically every internationally known Persian singer

except Googoosh appeared to pay respects, choosing music squarely at

odds with massive, smiling images of a happy Bijan. There's Kamyar's

version of Lionel Richie's "Hello," the lyrics of which are better

suited for a missing-pet sign than a memorial service; Sattar's Farsi

sadness song; and Martik's soulful rendition of "My Way," Bijan's

favorite song. Martik's well-intentioned tribute gradually became

half-narrative and half-confession, mixing up personal pronouns in a way

that's somehow only slightly less awkward than when they get screwed up

during sex.

Other luminaries appeared via video: H.I.M. Empress Farah Pahlavi

holding forth about proud Iranian Bijan and his love for her late

husband, the Shah; George H.W. Bush congratulating Bijan and wishing him

"continued success" before Bijan's son, Nicolas, helpfully read off

Bush's more recent letter of condolence, sentiments echoed in a letter

received that morning from George W. Bush.

"You know what a pleasure it is to walk into a place and have someone

have a worse accent than I have?" Arnold Schwarzenegger asked, after

taking the dais to extol Bijan's moneymaking prowess, showmanship and

signature yellow Rolls-Royce parked in front of the Rodeo boutique.

Schwarzenegger revealed little about Bijan beyond their friendship

and Bijan's proud parenthood (the word proud was used often). He showed

off his Bijan-designed sports coat. An American flag is emblazoned on

the right side of the jacket's inner lining, a California flag on the

left side.

Charismatic televangelist Benny Hinn then took the stage. "We often

talked about heaven and spiritual things," Hinn recalled in his gentle

Israel-by-way-of-Florida twang. "... I have shared my heart with him

often."

Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti's director of design, divulged Bijan's final

design: a Bugatti with a stunning yellow stripe straight down its

center, with Bijan's name on the bottom of a spoiler that pops up when

braking.

"God is a designer," self-avowed egotist Bijan declared in one of his

TV ad campaigns, and the slide show that followed -- much like the

entire Bijan aesthetic -- was an endless tattoo of luxury, wealth and

exclusivity, a fog through which only rarely were there hazy

illuminations of the man as a parent, which was as far as the inquiry

went at the memorial.

The memorial ended with solemn words by Bijan's children, and the mourning multitudes gradually departed.

Wealth and exclusivity mean that fewer people -- on the outside

looking in -- are able to get close enough to see if someone's true

nature is ever unveiled. Then again, maybe there's really nothing at all

to unveil. Perhaps that's by design.