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BEVERLY HILLS — At the height of Giorgio Beverly Hills, in 1981, when the Rodeo Drive store rang up $6 million in sales a year, Fred and Gale Hayman spent six months and $260,000 to turn a parking lot into an unparalleled party hosted by Merv Griffin under a big top flown in from Oregon that had nearly everything, including catering from five premier Los Angeles restaurants, cheerleaders and a marching band, for the launch of the store’s signature scent — which would soon go on to hit $100 million in sales.
The scent was heady and so was Rodeo Drive in those days, driven onto the world’s stage by Hayman’s marketing wizardry, as is documented in Rose Apodaca’s book, “Fred Hayman — The Extraordinary Difference: The Story of Rodeo Drive, Hollywood Glamour and the Showman Who Sold It All,” which begins by recounting the famous fragrance fete. Coupled with being honored with the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style award last May, which he helped to create, Hayman has received much appreciation this year, sometimes uncomfortably for the man referred to as the Godfather of Rodeo Drive, or Mr. Rodeo Drive.
“That’s bulls--t,” Hayman, 86, says of the titles, sitting in his office on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, which pays tribute to Giorgio Beverly Hills with a replica of the storefront on the exterior of its ground floor. “If it wasn’t done by me, it would have been done by I don’t know who. It’s not what I would ever say.” With a large dose of tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, he adds, “It is certainly lovely to be so old and successful.”
Certainly, Hayman wasn’t entirely alone in shaping Rodeo Drive’s rise. He had contemporaries with Rodeo Drive stores who played roles, notably Herb Fink of Theodore; Jerry Magnin, the department store progeny responsible for Ralph Lauren and a namesake store on the street; the late Richard Carroll of Carroll & Co.; David Orgell of the eponymous jewelry and gifts store bought by the Soltani family in 1989 after Orgell’s death in 1987 and moved around two years ago to the Two Rodeo complex, and two who passed away earlier this year: Guy Greengard of Mr. Guy and Bijan Pakzad of Bijan, the sole vestige of independent ownership from Rodeo Drive’s formative years still at its original address.
“Those were the main thoroughbreds that drove Rodeo Drive to new heights, which then other designers followed — Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Cartier,” says Daryoush “Dar” Mahboubi, Pakzad’s partner and a Rodeo Drive developer. “Rodeo Drive wasn’t what it is now, but truly the credit of starting the Rodeo Drive movement should go to the original designers and merchants.”
Hospitality, not retail, was Hayman’s early calling. Building his hospitality résumé, Hayman came to California in 1954 to erect the banquet and catering operations at the Beverly Hilton upon transferring from a prime post at the Waldorf-Astoria. His first impression of Beverly Hills was not flattering. “It was really a hokey city when I arrived here. I can’t put it any differently,” he says. “I’d come from the Waldorf. I’d come from New York.”
But Hayman relished the opportunity to develop the Beverly Hilton’s banquet and catering department, which under his watch became the second largest in the Hilton chain following the Waldorf. Apodaca’s book details that, flush with cash from the department’s growth, Hayman gave friends Barbara and Richard Grant $12,000 to keep their apparel store afloat. He received a 30 percent stake in return. Later, he poured another $12,000 into the Grants’ store, which would become Giorgio Beverly Hills, before assuming sole ownership for an additional $6,500.
In 1967, Hayman was gone from the Beverly Hilton and had ended an unceremonious run as a restaurateur. He turned his attentions to repairing Giorgio, although he thought it would be a short-lived occupation. “It was not good. It was just like any other store. They had mostly sweaters and things like that. They were not buyers in any sense whatsoever,” says Hayman of the Grants.
Hayman and his wife at the time, Gale, would ultimately throw themselves into transforming Giorgio. “Gale was a very good buyer, so I felt there was a great future in it,” he recalls. “Then we started buying the little stores that were on Rodeo Drive, maybe five of them, and we became a business in a true sense. I will say for Gale that she was a great teacher, because I’m a hotel man and a beverage man, and I started appreciating what she did, and I saw a big future.”
Giorgio would nurture designers such as Zandra Rhodes, Halston, Thea Porter, Kenneth Jay Lane and Judith Leiber. And it would do so with the showmanship Hayman had cultivated from his hospitality career, transporting customers in a Rolls-Royce and serving them cocktails and cappuccinos. A pool table and fireplace added to the clubby ambience. Celebrities came for the merchandise and to play pool or grab a drink, which undoubtedly encouraged spending.
“Natalie Wood was a very big customer and a lovely woman,” says Hayman, whose celebrity client list at Giorgio also boasted Barbra Streisand, Ali MacGraw, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Diana Ross and Lucille Ball. “Sinatra was there a lot because we had a big bar, eventually with two bartenders. Sinatra liked the environment, and he liked to play pool, and he liked the women as well.”
The celebrities didn’t cloud Hayman’s vision for Rodeo Drive beyond Giorgio. He saw it as one of the great retail thoroughfares — and he wanted his fellow merchants to join him in beautifying and promoting it. “I don’t think anyone realized what we had here — except Fred,” Magnin is quoted as saying in Apodaca’s book. To bring Magnin and others on board with his vision, Hayman conjured up the Rodeo Drive Committee, which brought the independent owners of Rodeo Drive stores together.
“The great thing about the Rodeo Drive Committee in those days is that you had owners of businesses, so they could make decisions in a room and not have to go back to the corporations,” says John Carroll, who took over Carroll & Co., which has relocated from Rodeo Drive to North Canon Drive, from his father, Richard. “Rodeo Drive was their own flagship” — and they knew what was going on in their stores and on the street. Hayman, for instance, was at Giorgio, “from early morning, before the store opened, until closing. I closed up every day,” he says.
“They are all very enterprising entrepreneurs on Rodeo, but I think Fred stands apart in his leadership and his charm in getting people to do what is really great for the big picture,” says Apodaca. “Over the years, Fred encountered this in the Seventies and Eighties, people maybe thought, ‘What is in it for Fred?’ Really, what he tried to convey to all of them was, ‘What’s in it for me is in it for all of you.’ ”
Giorgio’s most visible achievement outside of the store walls was its perfume. Selected by Gale, the strong scent, evocative of the early Eighties and marketed with the pioneering concept of scent strips, would enter department stores in 1982 and cause a sensation, climbing from $5 million in first-year sales to $20 million the next year and $100 million the year after. “It’s certainly not my thing, fragrances,” says Hayman. “I left it all to Gale, who was really very great developing the fragrance. I was better at packaging the fragrance and probably better in marketing it, but it was her fragrance.”
The Haymans joined forces publicly at the party for their breakthrough fragrance, but the couple were headed their separate ways. Under strain from his divorce, Hayman sold Giorgio Inc. to Avon Products Inc. for $165 million in 1987. Proctor & Gamble acquired it from Avon in 1994. Giorgio Beverly Hills would continue to operate on Rodeo Drive under Hayman’s control. It was later rebranded Fred Hayman Beverly Hills and traded its characteristic yellow-and-white-striped shopping bags for solid yellow ones, until Hayman leased out the space to Louis Vuitton in 1998.
Today, Hayman remains saddened by the disappearance of Giorgio Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive. “There’s a great deal of emotion, absolutely there is. You put your heart and soul into it. It becomes more important than anything you do, really,” he says, adding, “It was an all-time great store.”