If Los Angeles were a Christmas tree, then Beverly Hills would be the star at the top. Year after year, the City has pulled out all the stops for the holiday season. Palm trees and lamp poles are festooned with lights; artworks spring to life and crowds jostle to enjoy Instagram-worthy holiday festivities.
If this were a normal year, we would all expect the same.
“We would be having installations and dancers and performers and Santa coming down with the reindeer,” Kathy Gohari, Vice Chair of the Rodeo Drive Committee, told the Courier. “And we would have fireworks, we would have a huge stage where everybody would be invited to come and join us and dance the night away. None of that is happening.”
As with every routine, tradition, and expectation, the pandemic has upended the holidays in Beverly Hills. With a one-two punch of economic restrictions and shrunken tax revenue, the City has had to scale back its ambitions for holiday decorations. But with a greater need than ever for the economic boost of the season, the Rodeo Drive-Special Events-Holiday Program Committee has sent the Beverly Hills City Council a proposal that Gohari said does not skimp on glamour. The City Council will vote on the plans at its Oct. 13 Regular Meeting.
“Rodeo Drive is all about glamour and fashion and happiness,” said Gohari, who also works as the Director of Client Engagement for Valentino. “As someone who has worked in fashion my entire life, over three decades, I’ve had the pleasure of attending many, many fashion shows in Europe. And this year we’re all grounded. No one gets to go anywhere. So, we brought the fashion show to Rodeo Drive.”
The proposed decorations will transform the median of Rodeo Drive into a catwalk, with nine mannequins modeling gowns “of jeweled toned faux florals, faux winter foliage and reflective embellished accents of metallic holiday ornaments,” according to a presentation by J. Ben Bourgeois, Inc., the event production company contracted by the City.
“Hopefully, if we do this installation right, you can stand on the sidewalk of Rodeo Drive and feel like you’ve actually gone to Paris, Milan, New York, and you’re sitting in a show,” Gohari said, describing the experience as a form of “therapy.”
“If you are a fan of fashion and appreciate glamour, this allows you to dream and be anywhere you want to be,” she said.
The proposal found general approval at the Sept. 29 Liaison Meeting, although questions were raised about the gender of the mannequins, which are all women.
“Is there any reason there wasn’t a male mannequin or two that was put in?” Mayor Lester Friedman asked the Committee.
“Because a tuxedo is not going to be very glamorous, nor will it look pretty with dark flowers,” Gohari explained at the meeting. “So, sir, unless you’re looking for a red or a green tuxedo, I think we were kind of out of luck with that option.”
And as Gohari later told the Courier, “There’s no way I’m going to put a green or a red tuxedo on a man.”
The price tag for the holiday proposal comes out to $352,702, a far cry from the $1.3 million the Committee requested in 2019. Last year, as a part of Beverly Hills Open Later Days (BOLD) program, the City put on 12 nights of programming, including live performances, a fireworks display, and an appearance by Santa. As COVID-19 shut down sectors of the economy, it also hit Beverly Hills’ tax base–a factor that went into this year’s process.
“We were very conscious about what we were doing and how we were doing it,” Gohari said. “We cut down on a lot of unnecessary production costs and we improvised and worked closely with the City to try to maximize all of the existing resources so that we would not be spending any unnecessary funds.”
Julie Wagner, CEO of the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau, told the Courier that the economic impact of COVID-19 has only two other equivalents in recent memory: the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 2008 Great Recession.
“I think that this has, by far, outweighed either of those events,” she said.
The holiday season represents a crucial lifeline for struggling businesses. The decorations, beyond offering a visual pick-me-up, encourage residents and visitors to shop and inject sorely needed funds into the local economy and the City’s coffers.
“This is one of the most important seasons to our retailers in the entire year, if not the most important,” she told the Courier. “It’s really critical for our city to continue to maintain a warm and welcoming and safe environment so that people will come out to do their holiday shopping.”
Gohari, who has spent three decades on Rodeo Drive, hopes the decorations give the community something else it has lacked since March. “This will be, hopefully, our first opportunity in the past six, seven, eight months to just have a happy moment, just something that is aesthetically beautiful,” she said. “I hope that it brings some joy to this city, to the visitors, to the residents.”