Fashion | Retail
Nicolas Bijan: The Prince of Beverly Hills | Feature Interview
The Courier’s Lisa Bloch sat down with Nicolas Bijan, son of the legendary designer Bijan, to talk fatherhood, new business ventures, and what life is like as the sartorial heir apparent.
“You drive the best car! You live in the best house! You wear the nicest watch! Who are you to have these things?” asked Bijan Pakzad to his 19-year-old son Nicolas. “I had no choice. I came to this country, and I worked hard. Because I had to, to be successful. You, you live in Malibu; you drive a Porsche.”
“Thank you for all you do for me,” Nicolas replied.
“You wear the finest clothes,” Bijan shot back.
“I’m grateful,” responded Nicolas earnestly.
“What are you going to do when you are 30? Huh?” Bijan pressed.
Bewildered, Nicolas asked, “Dad, did I do something wrong?”
Bijan’s penetrating eyes meet his son’s.
“I’m sorry for whatever I did,” said Nicolas as he watched his father disappear through the office door.
Racking his brain, Nicolas struggled to understand his father’s anger. Thursdays were Nicolas’ day off from the boutique. But this day, his classes at Pepperdine University ended early. He decided to cruise on into Beverly Hills and surprise his father. As it turned out, his father surprised him.
Bijan returned holding a gorgeous jacket. Recognizing the garment, Nicolas sighed in relief. It’s the one they designed together in Italy six months earlier. Its price tag was half the cost of his Porsche.
Wrestling his generous nature, Bijan wanted to give his son the very best but feared the trappings of excessiveness would impede Nicolas’ desire for growth and accomplishment.
Bijan put the jacket on Nicolas, and they stood together, father and son, looking in the mirror, proud of their design. “It’s my gift to you,” Bijan said. They hugged. The moment was special, more than Nicolas could have imagined.
It would be the last moment Nicolas would ever share with his father.
Back home in Malibu, a few hours later, Nicolas received the call. His father had suffered a stroke and was being ambulanced to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Arriving at the hospital, Nicolas was greeted by his older sisters and other family members. Bijan was rushed into surgery, but the doctors explained there was little hope. The former Mayor of Beverly Hills, Jimmy Delshad, the highest ranking Iranian elected official in the United States at that time, hugged Nicolas and looked into his eyes. “You are Bijan now. You are a man. Make us proud.”
“It was the push I needed to give me strength,” said Nicolas. Over the next several days the Beverly Hills Police Chief, along with many other family friends, visited him and his family at his father’s house in Beverly Hills.
Bijan Pakzad never regained consciousness. The man who built the legendary House of Bijan, the most expensive boutique in the world and the one and only international sartorial design house born in Beverly Hills, passed away two days later on April 16, 2011.
Unlike his immigrant father from Tehran, Iran, Nicolas Bijan Pakzad was born at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the same hospital that tried to save his father, and the same medical center his beautiful daughter came into the world.
Bijou Bijan, named in honor of her grandfather, was born this year on 2-22-22. Her welcomed birth presented beyond reason, an eerily impactful connection to Bijan’s birth of April 4, 1944 (4-4-44). Was it coincidental or a sign of Bijan’s presence, a north star in his son’s life? Nicolas believes his father is watching over him both in his personal and his professional life.
For years, Nicolas has had a burning desire to spread his wings and fly.
“Like my dad felt at my age, I too felt a calling to achieve my own ambitions,” says Nicolas, now 30 years old. “I didn’t want to look back 25 to 35 years from now and know that I didn’t at least try, try to build my own legacy.”
What held him back?
“In starting my own brand, I wanted to make the right decision respecting my father’s legacy, a new creative endeavor, an extension of his legacy. It’s taking his traditions, his teachings, his generosity, his principles, his perfectionism, his authenticity, all the things that drove him, and giving it a new modern interpretation.”
NB44, a new luxury brand set to launch late this year, is Nicolas’ own line of bespoke menswear that’s less buttoned-up and formal. Aimed at a more youthful, modern clientele, “It’s a new service and experience that the world craves in today’s changing times,” explains Nicolas. And the name, NB44? It’s Nicolas’ initials coupled with the number that honors his father’s birth.
Nicolas is settling into his new role as father himself. He and his wife Roxy Sowlaty, who once starred on the E! Channel series the “Rich Kids of Beverly Hills,” are enjoying this exciting new chapter as parents.
Roxy and Nicolas were friends first. Born and raised in Beverly Hills, Roxy was introduced to Nicolas by her high school pal, Rob Kardashian, and she and Nicolas began to date a few years into the friendship. Turning towards design after graduating from USC and Parsons New School of Design with a master’s degree, Roxy, today, is a talented and successful interior designer with her own firm specializing in high-end residential projects.
In Paris, on the famous Pont des Arts bridge, she happily accepted Nicolas’ surprise proposal and planned a grand wedding in Italy.
COVID-19 derailed it to an intimate, beautifully glamorous garden wedding in their backyard seen by, according to Nicolas, millions of interested viewers on social media.
While showing me through their extraordinarily designed San Ysidro Ranch style traditional home in Beverly Hills, formerly Taylor Swift’s residence, Nicolas shares, “This is all Roxy. I take no credit.”
With a spring in his step, Nicolas leads me up the stairs to visit the nursery, a charmingly sunny, perfectly outfitted baby nest in Bijan yellow. I learn, “Yellow” was a possible name choice, but Nicolas would not hear of it. Bijou, meaning “gem” in French, is a tribute to Bijan, and the name Nicolas wanted for his daughter, though he and Roxy both affectionately call her “BB.” He leans over the crib railing and touches BB’s beautiful face. It’s clear he’s mesmerized by her cooing sounds, her delicate beauty and the miracle of her presence.
“I’ve never loved Roxy more than I do now. And the whole process of the pregnancy and giving birth, a whole new chamber of my heart has opened up. I want 20 more kids, but I am sure Roxy would object.”
Returning back down the stairs, Nicolas acknowledges the importance of the Beverly Hills community to him just as it was to his late father. A few weeks earlier, Dean Viana, a former Captain of the Beverly Hills Fire Department, had come by to meet Bijou and to give Roxy and Nicolas CPR training now that they’re parents. Having stayed in touch over the years, he was one of the heroes who had tried to save his father the night Bijan was rushed to the hospital 11 years earlier.
“There is no doubt of the contributions my father has made for Beverly Hills and, likewise, the contributions Beverly Hills has made for my father’s international success. It was a great partnership.” Nicolas cites the example of the Bijan designed cars. For years the Bijan one-of-a-kind yellow Bugatti and Rolls Royce cars were, and still are, parked in front of the store on Rodeo Drive. Not only did the city allow Bijan to do this, the City Council voted unanimously to award the House of Bijan its own yellow parking meter to match its car, a spectacle that hundreds of thousands of visitors to Beverly Hills enjoy every year.
But the parking meter and cars are just small pieces of the Bijan legacy Nicolas inherited. As a young boy, the late Bijan Pakzad admired his father, an industrialist, especially how he dressed for work. His parents sent young Bijan, one of five children, three brothers and one sister, to be educated at the exclusive Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland and in Italy. His focus was design despite his parents’ desire for him to study engineering. He opened his first boutique called the Pink Panther in the heart of a thriving Tehran. By the age of 30, Bijan knew he would never reach his goals in clothing design unless he went to America.
“He wanted to go to Beverly Hills. There he believed he could build and achieve the American dream,” shares Nicolas.
Bijan emigrated to the United States in 1973 and, along with his 50% partner Mr. Daryoush Mahboubi-Fardi, bought a parking lot on Rodeo Drive, the site for his future store. Three years later, in 1976, they opened the newly constructed “House of Bijan” on the east side of the 400 block of what has become one of the most famous streets in the world. For almost 50 years now, the House of Bijan reigns as a premiere shopping destination of the world’s elite.
Sitting down with Mr. Mahboubi in the Bijan offices, he provides this heartfelt description of his past business partner and best friend.
“The first impression when you met Bijan was that he was very personable. He treated everyone with respect and in return everybody treated him with respect,” Mr. Mahboubi says. “He was very passionate about everything he did in life. He had passion for family, for business, for design, for food. Everything he did, he did it with an extraordinary amount of passion. There was no filter blocking it out, or dimming the strength of his passion. And the third thing you felt about Bijan was that he was truly talented. Personality, passion combined with talent made for a very special recipe for success in this business.”
Soon the House of Bijan was touted the most expensive store in the world. The claim went uncontested as Bijan, cloaked in courage and fortitude, obtained and sustained his vision: The finest, exclusive sartorial house of quality and design, coupled with unmatched personal service. The result was a financial windfall.
“The proof is in his success and in the relationships he built,” says Nicolas.
At a time when boutique owners aggressively encouraged customers to enter their stores, enticing them with marketing devices such as sales and discounts, Bijan locked his front door and said he would see customers “by appointment only.”
His reasoning was misunderstood, Mr. Mahboubi explains.
“The first day we wanted to open the boutique, Bijan said, ‘Dar, I have an idea. I want to make it by appointment only.’ The only business of its kind in the world that was paying huge amounts of rent on the most famous street, Rodeo Drive, was saying, my doors are locked. As though you have to qualify to be able to enter. But that message was actually 180 degrees different from what Bijan meant. What he meant to say was, ‘I respect my customers so much that when they come into my boutique, they should not be waiting or wasting their time.’ So, for example, if we have 22 staff members in the boutique when a customer walks in, all 22 members attend to one customer. No other retail operation has that kind of setup. And that is true respect for the customer and his time. And almost all of our customers are extremely important. Their time is extremely valuable.”
The average client’s attention to shop and buy is surprisingly short.
“We only get 20 to 30 minutes from the customer,” says Mr. Mahboubi. “In those 20 minutes, we can either sell them $20,000 or $2 million and we choose to sell them $2 million (when) they’re capable of buying $2 million. We’re capable of showing them, to their satisfaction, $2 million worth of merchandise, in their exact fit, their exact taste, their exact color palette, and their exact fabrics that they love. We specialize in this. We kept the business very small, but we kept adding to the value of each customer.”
Mr. Mahboubi claims that many designers have tried to copy what they do.
“Nobody has ever succeeded in copying what our formula is or what our recipe is. It’s very unique. For example, everybody makes a suit and everybody pays from $1,000 to $3,000 for hand stitching, cutting and sewing. But nobody pays $2,000 per yard for the fabric. So, a sports jacket that takes 3 1/2 yards to pay $6,000 to $8,000 just for the fabric is unheard of. But because we know nobody else would actually dare to do that, we do it. And we do it with very special colors.”
By 1985, from his second boutique located in Manhattan, the New York Times reported that Bijan had amassed 15,000 customers including kings, U.S. presidents, prime ministers, iconic movie stars, superstar entertainers and influential religious leaders. “Simplicity and honesty” best describe his clothing line, Bijan said in the article. In 2002 the New York boutique closed leaving Beverly Hills its original and only flagship boutique, allowing Bijan to remain solely in his favorite City of Beverly Hills and close to his young family.
Adding fragrances to his empire, Bijan began designing and manufacturing perfume for men and women in 1988, which earned him three prestigious Fragrance Foundation Awards, including one launched in partnership with Michael Jordan in 1997. In an article in the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bijan Perfume and his fashion business had $3.2 billion in sales. Bijan’s designed perfume bottle is featured in the permanent exhibit of the Smithsonian Institution.
As the only son, youngest child, and heir apparent to the House of Bijan brand, the weight on Nicolas’ shoulders was incomprehensible when his father died. Just 19 years old, a sophomore in college, a part-time employee of the business, Nicolas struggled to find his footing. Days later, when he turned on his computer, he found almost 5,000 emails, condolences from people Bijan had touched.
One such letter came from an Iranian writer, Shirin Sadeghi, assigned to write Bijan’s obituary for the Huffington Post. In it she wrote, “He dressed President Obama, the Queen of England, Ronald Reagan, the Sultan of Brunei, Prince Charles, Bill Gates and any number of others of the powerful and wealthy of this world. But more than anything he dressed the soul of so many of us young Iranians in America who felt unwelcome and unsure of where we fit in within this massive country that had so much to do with what happened and was happening in our homeland. ‘The reason for my success is because I’m Iranian,’ Bijan said once. We never doubted it, or forgot his words.”
Bijan was revolutionary, not only as a clothing designer but also as an immigrant. Instead of being ashamed of his roots, he not only was proud of it; he used it as a part of his unique style. His authenticity began with his unwillingness to conform or completely assimilate.
The House of Bijan’s website quoted Bijan, “The world said to conform, the world said to settle for less. The world said to compromise and no one would know. So I made my own world.”
He didn’t change his Iranian name, his accent, or his ideals of dressing when he came to Los Angeles. He didn’t focus on his disadvantages or the people who resented him because of his former nationality.
While he communicated through the vernacular of “broken English,” the powerful meaning behind his words was always understood. Nicolas considers that his father used his broken English to give himself more latitude with making his points and to “award himself permission to speak words that might ordinarily be considered inappropriate, but with an amusing charm and naivete.”
“Not willing to conform took serious courage,” says Nicolas, the kind of courage that became Nicolas’ guiding light. He had to accept the reality of his father’s sudden death, and push forward. “It is what it is and there’s nothing I could do about it. You sink or swim,” he says. And the affirmations of his father’s legacy, through the stories in the emails, truly helped.
Nicolas remembers his father’s words, “You must be kind to everyone you encounter. Treat everyone with respect. Be polite, gracious, with everyone you meet. Because you never know who they are, or how they may come back in your life.”
Nicolas’ parents had first met professionally when Bijan had hired Nicolas’ mother, Tracy Hayakawa, a model, for his fragrance lines. She, along with their children, would later be featured in countless ads, billboards, commercials and magazines in tribute. Half Japanese and half Irish, the exotic beauty was “the love of his life,” Nicolas shares, even though they were divorced by the time Nicolas was a year old. “My dad was in love with my mom until the day he passed away,” a gift Nicolas is grateful for as a child of divorced parents. Their relationship remained extremely amicable throughout Nicolas’ life.
A product of many cultures, Iranian, Japanese, and Irish, Nicolas is proud to be an Iranian American as well as a Japanese American. But growing up, he was challenged by his inability to fully communicate through language with many of his family members, especially his Iranian grandfather. Bijan brought his entire family from Iran to Newport Beach, California. Nicolas’ grandmother, who is still alive today, is full Japanese.
When Nicolas was a toddler, his mother began a relationship with the American billionaire businessman and philanthropist, David H. Murdock. Among many positions, Murdock was the Chairman of Dole Food Company, owner of the Hawaiian island of Lanai, and later would develop the luxury Sherwood Estates and Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks. His mother married Murdock a few years later, and young Nicolas was raised on the Murdock farm in Thousand Oaks. Shuffling between his weekdays on the sprawling farm and weekends in Beverly Hills with his father, Nicolas had a privileged life. Whether he was meeting royals or rulers of countries with his father, or running on pineapple plantations and christening cargo ships in Germany with his mother, there is no doubt Nicolas was exposed to the finest things life offered.
For father-son one on one time, Bijan would take Nicolas on long day trips in the car. Cars were a passion they both shared. Bijan had amassed a pristine car collection including designing multimillion-dollar cars in partnerships with Rolls-Royce and Bugatti and enjoyed sharing his love of automobiles with his impressionable young son. Often surrounded by people, this was Bijan’s way of bonding with Nicolas away from his staff. Cruising to the beach, on Sunset Boulevard, or up and down the coast, “that was our thing on Sundays,” Nicolas recalls fondly.
“I remember the first conversation I had with my father about my future. We were driving on the 405 Freeway, about to get onto the 101 Freeway. Just me and him. I remember this; it’s engraved in my mind. He said, ‘I started my career with relatively little. Look where you’re starting. What you’re starting with. You could be as big as Ralph Lauren. You could be as big as Giorgio Armani.’ And by the way, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani, they looked up to him. But the point is he was trying to instill in me that I cannot take for granted what he had created for me.”
This conversation did not intimidate Nicolas. Instead, it helped to mold him and make him feel confident. It also prepared him for what was to come all too soon.
“These profound discussions came from a point of this amazing love, from him to me. Losing your dad at 19, a complete shock in my life, a lot of people would ask themselves, ‘Oh my God was my dad proud of me? Did I make him proud?’”
Nicolas has no doubts.
“Every day he was telling me how proud he was. It gave me a sense of ‘surety.’ I was very disciplined by him. He would be tough and hard on me, but he would always show so much love. And even after he would yell at me as parents yell at their children when they deserve it, because God knows I deserved it, he would embrace me after. I knew I just had to sit there and let him discipline me. And then after, he would make an appearance in my bedroom or wherever I was and try to spend quality time with me.”
Growing up with his mom and stepdad during the week and his father on the weekend gave Nicolas, he believes, the right balance. He just had to make sure to call his father every single day.
“That was the rule, no matter what. You have to imagine, me being away from my father during the week was tough for him. I’m sure he felt like he was losing me. If I broke that rule and didn’t call him one day, I was scared to call him the next day. When I finally did, he’d ask why I didn’t call. Then he’d hang up on me. And I’d call him back or I’d be in more trouble. I know now, it was a lesson. I had to be present in my father’s life.”
While walking through Nicolas’ beautiful home during our interview, he points to a photo in his home office of his mother holding him as a baby and offers proudly, “Bijou is identical to her.”
Nicolas has always been close with his mother. He describes her as a “very strong, powerful woman. She had to be to have been married to such incredible and powerful figures with her children. She’s my biggest supporter, my bodyguard, my protector.”
Behind his desk, he leads me to personal letters, many from dignitaries including U.S. Presidents Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama, and Trump and says, “I’m hoping for President Biden, too.” All contain the recurring theme of gratitude to Nicolas for helping them look good. There are also several signed photos of Muhammad Ali with whom Nicolas was very close to as well as a red glove signed by the two biggest boxers in the world, Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alverez. He explains, “They’re rivals as big as Ali and Frazer. They fight each other but they came together to sign this glove for me.”
On his desk sits a little leather sign, “It can be done.” It was his stepfather’s, and he shares, “I believe Mayor Lili Bosse has one on her desk, too.” He smiles, “I’m in good company.”
Recently Nicolas celebrated his stepfather’s 99th birthday. Even after Nicolas’ mother and Murdock divorced when Nicolas was a teenager, Nicolas still credits him for instilling life’s values and teaching foundational lessons.
“Mr. Murdock really did guide me from a boy to a man. And even after my father passed away, he was still guiding me from a boy to a man,” Nicolas says with reverence.
Nicolas’ mother shares, “David gifted little Nicolas his first car at 10 years old, a small two-seater truck to drive around the farm, a stick shift no less. I would often come home to find little Nicolas not studying with his tutor, but out driving the tutor around the ranch giving guided tours. It was something else to drive with him. He always enjoyed the company of adults and could relate with them as no kid could. Adults also always gravitated to young Nicolas; I believe they could see the ‘uniqueness’ and enjoyed his company.”
She goes on to explain how close Nicolas and his father were at the end of his life and how Bijan groomed him to take the reins. But, she adds, “At 19 Nicolas needed more time with him. The irony is that had Bijan not passed, Nicolas would not have had the opportunity and obligation to step into those very large shoes which he has done with such grace, dedication and love. He had to grow up very fast suddenly and navigate some very complicated matters and relationships; it was heartbreaking. But as Nicolas does, he won over hearts and proved himself and has grown into an extraordinary businessman in his own right. It is uncanny sometimes when Nicolas will do or say something exactly the way his father would have said or done or even ‘reacted’ to as a man now. Something Nicolas could not have learned from Bijan. It is almost as if Bijan himself is inside of Nicolas… Forget that Nicolas is the spitting image of his father down to his toes quite literally,” she laughs.
As a child, Nicolas loved hanging out on the farm with the horses, chickens and the cows, riding dirt bikes, driving his truck and going to school in Calabasas. He wanted nothing to do with clothing design or fashion.
“To be honest, if I was my father, I would have been a bit panicked,” Nicolas chuckles.
But when girls came into the picture, the landscape changed.
Nicolas remembers realizing, “this sartorial, handmade, beautiful clothing made in Italy, business, fancy cars, and all of these celebrities like Michael Jordan and the Presidents… I don’t care if the other option in my life was becoming the president of the World Bank, I’d say no.” Laughing assuredly, “I’m good with fashion.”
At 13 Nicolas knew he was “taking over the business.” He told his father, “I’m going to tell you how to do it!” But it wasn’t until Bijan was gone that Nicolas realized what a creative and authentic visionary his father was.
“My father questioned conventional wisdom with respect to retail. He rejected or disrupted the status quo. He built the most expensive, most exclusive, highest quality men’s brand in the world and then told people they couldn’t have it. It was genius.”
At the House of Bijan, exclusivity is critical. Most items are labeled and numbered like fine art. Usually only one or two pieces are made of the same design. Bijan would explain that his discernable client is intelligent and wants to feel as if he is wearing something unique and made just for him. Bijan firmly believed the cost of each garment had to reflect its production.
He also mastered the art of understanding and servicing the customer.
“When somebody walked in to meet my father for the first time, he would say, ‘Who is this person that is in front of me?’” recalls Nicolas. “‘Is he conservative? Is he confident? Does he want to be perceived a certain way? But in reality, he’s not that way?’ Clothes speak very loudly or the presentation of somebody speaks very loudly. And even if they say, ‘I don’t care about clothes.’ That also says something. When you dress somebody, you have to understand who they are. You have to be able to understand what they want, even if they can’t tell you. My father did this so well.”
Nicolas learned the art of customer service from his father. He shares that when he was 27, he met the “biggest retailer in the world, who also happened to be the richest man in the world.” He complimented Nicolas saying, “Customers rule, and you live it.” This is a motto for Nicolas’ new business.
Customers did rule for Bijan, but he didn’t shy away from challenging societal conventions. As a disruptor, controversy surrounded some of his ad campaigns. Nicolas calls it his “provocative positive” style. The promotions had purpose. “They were not reckless, like some of the campaigns today,” he says. An example was Bijan’s ads in 2000 that featured a nude rotund model named Bella. Bijan defended the ads saying they paid homage to painters, Peter Paul Rubens, Henri Matisse and Fernando Botero, some of whom are in his own collection. “I embrace the beauty of all women,” Bijan said. The backlash turned to acceptance when Tina Brown’s Talk included the ads. It became the “talk” of the town. Bijan, once again, questioned conventional wisdom and won.
Principled, creative, and passionate, Bijan’s temper sometimes flared, as did his need to control every aspect of the brand. He was genuinely generous and kind and truly cared about his customers, his employees, his craftsmen, and everyone he came into contact with. Many of the employees have been with the House of Bijan for over 40 years.
Nicolas lights up remembering a story, a surprise visit from President George W. Bush.
“Imagine looking out on the street (Rodeo Drive) and wondering why it is so empty,” he recalls. “And then suddenly seeing five Suburbans and then President Bush’s face in the window. The cars pull over. The secret service come in and close the door. While this is happening, my father tells his secretary to get the Mayor at the time, Jimmy Delshad, on the phone. When she gets him, she doesn’t tell the Mayor what’s going on. Instead, she connects the call to the front where President Bush has entered the boutique. He picks up the phone and says, ‘Mr. Mayor, this is George Bush.’ And the Mayor goes, ‘hello?!’ (Nicolas is laughing) He’s in complete shock! Then the former President asks, ‘How long have you been the Mayor?’ Mayor Delshad says, ‘I’ve been the Mayor for three weeks, Mr. President.’ My dad was thrilled with this sort of practical yet very real joke. President Bush says, ‘Congratulations. You know, civic service is the honor of a lifetime.’ And they start talking about the importance of one’s civic duty. My dad wanted to surprise him. He was very proud of fellow Iranian immigrant Mayor Jimmy Delshad. That was my father. He wanted to give his friend that moment with the President.”
Bijan’s perfectionist style was surprisingly never critical of his son’s designs, but he did make his opinions clear. Nicolas shares a story about his favorite jacket and his father’s reaction.
“This is not a nice jacket, but if you’re going to make it, those colors, allow me to tell you, may I suggest, you make it blue with gray.” Nicolas chuckles, “Even today it’s my favorite jacket 12 years later. When I wear it and it’s photographed on Instagram, I receive calls requesting the jacket. He was ahead of his time.”
To honor his father, Nicolas legally changed his surname, a plan he and his father had discussed and hoped to do someday. Bijan’s sudden passing felt like the right time to make the change. Nicolas dropped the family surname, Pakzad, and became Nicolas Bijan.
“I honestly believe I am continuing his legacy and honoring my father, my late father, because I am keeping his name prevalent in future generations.”
Soon, it was evident that the baton had been passed to Nicolas when his visage began replacing his father’s on billboards and ad campaigns. They infused the brand’s classic superior savoir-faire style with the new sartorial prince of Beverly Hills, the new Bijan. But at first, it wasn’t easy for Nicolas.
He was attending school at night, working in the boutique during the day, and often sent jet-setting to various parts of the world on behalf of his father’s business. It was something his father, Mr. Mahboubi, and Ms. Manijeh Messa, the store’s General Manager and Chief Design Editor, enlisted him to do at a young age.
“The fact that Manijeh, Dar and the team at Bijan trusted me to do this as such a young man, I salute them for that,” says Nicolas. “But early on, when I would go see an important client in his home country, the truth is that I had more anxiety and felt more uncomfortable on those trips than when I went skydiving. Going to important clients’ homes in their resident country may sound glamorous, but it is very intimidating. As a young man, it was those uncomfortable, outside the comfort zone, moments that I believe played a role in making me who I am today.”
Success took ingenuity and a little luck.
“Fortunately for me, it was a perfect storm. Many of our clients culturally are open to a son succeeding a father. In America, you don’t see it as much, but in the Middle East, in Asia, in some parts of Europe and Africa, there are no questions asked. The son follows the father. I had an advantage when I may not have been qualified to be doing what I was doing at 19 years old. On one of my first trips, I went to visit a royal family member of a country. I believe he wanted me to succeed because he was familiar with all of these factors, and he thought ‘The kid’s not a bad kid. I want to support him. And hey it’s only a couple of million bucks.’” Nicolas laughs, embarrassed by the significant amount of money.
To keep him centered, Nicolas keeps the “Pink Panther” theme song as his cell phone ring tone, a grounding reminder of his father’s first boutique in Tehran and the legacy lessons his father taught him about not believing in one’s own “hoopla.”
Nicolas’ approach has been to learn from people he most admired as he had entered into an extraordinary world of successful people. “Every single person—whoever it might be, I’d ask myself, what can I learn from this person, what do I admire about this person? And how do I implement that in my own future? And that’s what I did for the last 10 years of my life.”
Mr. Mahboubi claims that the House of Bijan has quadrupled its revenues since Bijan’s passing, under the combined leadership of Nicolas, Mr. Mahboubi and Ms. Manijeh.
When asked about his mentor, besides his father, Nicolas mentions Ms. Manijeh. It was her guidance, her belief in him, and her encouragement that helped him get through the difficult time.
“She was the one who pushed me and at times protected me…she taught me so much,” he says. “Like the bumper on the bowling lane, without a doubt, she’s the one who kept me from becoming something that my father would not have wanted me to become.”
In 2017, the company added a boutique at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills. And then Nicolas received a call from Steve Wynn who insisted Nicolas get on the next plane to hear his pitch for a House of Bijan in his Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. In 2018, a new beautiful Bijan boutique opened in the Wynn Las Vegas, outfitting travelers from around the globe.
When asked about his favorite three men in the world that he’d like to dress, Nicolas candidly admits he “loves” this fun question.
“James Bond, the character. He’s a style icon,” he says. “It’s not about my favorite Bond actor, it’s which Bond was the best dressed to me.”
Elon Musk is the second. “To me he’s the coolest, a disruptor of the status quo. He rejects or questions conventional wisdom. And you know who else did that? My dad. The fact that he [Elon Musk] has just changed the world, at least three times in my lifetime, is inspiring, and he’s just getting started.”
And the third? Tom Brady. “He’s tall, he’s in good shape. He’s handsome. You put any piece of my clothing on him and he is going to make my job really easy.”
Besides the new boutiques in the Waldorf Astoria and in Las Vegas, the House of Bijan continues to expand, most notably with its foray into e-commerce, which became a necessary part of the business during COVID-19 lockdowns. The decision to sell products on the website was a concept foreign to the House of Bijan but spurred on by the pandemic.
When the essential element in the buying experience is predicated upon seeing the colors and workmanship in person, while touching and experiencing the fabrics and natural skins, how does the House of Bijan convince buyers to trust the merchandise over the internet?
Mr. Mahboubi explains, “We have 3000 ties, that are all unique, every season. So, we send photographs and ship the merchandise of 10 or 12 or 20 ties to them. And they end up keeping eight or 10 and returning eight or 10… We are getting customers now from countries that we rarely had any business (from) for the first 44 years. Through the web, our boutique managed to give them a little taste of Bijan and in the end, they’re wanting more and more.”
About this time, even before, brands on social media were gaining momentum. Nicolas did not waste any time; he jumped in, head first.
“Authenticity is one of the most powerful tools,” Nicolas believes. “By showing one’s humanity and personal journeys through a transparent lens, social media can be extraordinarily useful.” He posted the real moments, his thoughts and his nervous actions leading up to his proposal to Roxy and the actual surprise in Paris when he got down on his knee. According to Nicolas, millions of viewers witnessed the authentic proposal on social media.
“Social media gives you a power that my father didn’t have. He would’ve had to pay millions of advertising dollars [for the same message]. I can talk to 150,000 people that have an interest in Bijan or an interest in luxury men’s wear…. It’s the world today.”
As for the House of Bijan, Nicolas credits his father for all of the success.
“He built a legacy that continues to live on beyond his life. The House of Bijan family led by Dar, Manijeh and myself, have been steering the ship that was already going there. We made sure we didn’t hit the rocks and sink, but my father built something that was bigger than him. And if I take credit for any of that, I’m doing a disservice to what he built, because he really built the business.”
In Ms. Manijeh’s private office, adorned with a 10-foot-high mesmerizing Fernando Botero oil painting, she shares, “Nicolas has a heart like gold. He’s so kind, so generous. He’s very charming like his father. He has so much respect for the people that are older than him. He also wanted to try a lot of things outside of his fathers business… He needs to fly. He needs to live and continue to build his own name.” Her eyes fill with tears, “It’s heartbreaking for me. But he has made the right decision. For sure he’s going to be very successful.”
Mr. Mahboubi adds, “He wants to make his own footprint. Everybody that knows Nicolas, knows that Nicolas is going to be very successful in whatever he touches. I realized it was a big loss for the company [when Nicolas stepped down from Bijan operations], but he remains a major shareholder along with his sisters. This is his legacy. Some things cannot be separated from his father’s legacy.”
Headquartered in Beverly Hills, just down the street from the House of Bijan, Nicolas has been working for over a year on NB44, his new brand, a contemporary iteration of the lessons he learned from his father.
Thinking it through, “I even went to my father’s resting place and spoke to him.”
What would he say to you, if he were sitting here with us?
“To be cautious. My father would want me to be very conservative in a way of planning for the future.”
Bijou’s birth further ignited Nicolas’ enthusiasm.
“I’m at this point right now as a new father where I’m having fulfillment from my beautiful daughter, my role as a husband and now my role as an entrepreneur. It’s really exciting.”
What is unique about NB44?
Nicolas is very tight-lipped on specifics, but he describes an unassuming yet extremely sophisticated rooftop penthouse with a private members club vibe and a meeting place for a contemporary crowd where they can create bespoke looks—designed in Beverly Hills and made in Italy. One thing Nicolas was clear on, NB44 will have a strong digital foundation with an extremely high level of service and quality.
“Products at NB44 will be sold digitally. The idea is to bridge the gap that exists in the e-commerce market today, an industry that I believe is ripe for disruption. NB44 plans to disrupt it by allowing a human touch or relationship, the kind of trust that you would have in a brick-and-mortar business, but we will provide through a digital experience.”
How are you going to do that?
“You’ll see.” He chuckles, confidently. “I can’t wait to show you.”