Bijan Pakzad, Designer and Billboard King, Remembered
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
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
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
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
"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.
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