BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. (AP) - Giorgio Armani. Chanel. Hermes. Dior. Gucci. Prada. Cartier.
Today these luxury boutiques stand side by side on Rodeo Drive, where camera-toting fans come to gawk at the glamour as the world’s best-heeled shoppers indulge in pricey fashions and priceless visibility.
But back in 1964, when Fred Hayman started building his Giorgio Beverly Hills shop, Rodeo Drive was just a regular city street, with a grocer, a gas station and a hardware store.
Hayman became its ambassador. He envisioned the street as an elegant home to the finest designers and boutiques, a magnet for starlets and socialites, like an American Champs-Elysees, a sexy, fun, camera-ready intersection of Hollywood and fashion.
It’s for his vision _ which became reality _ that the 86-year-old entrepreneur became the latest inductee to the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style, an award and concept that Hayman helped create to honor designers and retailers for their contributions to fashion and entertainment, and to promote the street and city he loves.
“I can still remember a time when the numbers 90210 were nothing more than just numbers,” veteran Oscar producer Gil Cates said as he presented Hayman with the honor Tuesday. “And as we can see around us today, Fred’s dream of turning Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills into a world-class _ actually the greatest _ shopping district in the world, has come true.”
Hayman came to retail by way of the hotel business. After honing his hospitality skills as hotelier at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, he turned west to the then-new Beverly Hilton. He instilled the swing of swanky hotels and that sense of luxury service from those places into his boutique, then to the rest of the neighborhood.
Giorgio Beverly Hills, located at 273 Rodeo Drive, boasted its own oak bar and pool table, where gentlemen could pass the time as the ladies shopped. Hayman welcomed browsers with a glass of Champagne. He personally invited celebrity contacts he met at the Hilton to experience his latest business venture, creating an air of sophistication among the clientele.
He carried brands and styles that couldn’t be found elsewhere. The shop’s signature yellow-and-white striped awnings represented more than fashion, they represented the Beverly Hills lifestyle: sunny, glamorous and beautiful.
By the mid-‘70s, Rodeo Drive’s mystique drew other luxury labels. Gucci and Tiffany & Co. moved in. Hayman formed a committee of shopkeepers, who chipped in to provide benches, trees and a cleaning crew for the bourgeoning district. He expanded Giorgio and threw lavish parties to welcome new designers. Newspapers and fashion magazines started writing about this stylish street. Merv Griffin did a TV special on the place. Things were coming together.
“Once Armani started, it was a given,” Hayman recalled. “Then Hermes, and I knew it was going to be THE street.”
In 1981, Hayman launched a new global calling card: the Giorgio perfume. Before every Kim Kardashian in town had their own fragrance, perfumes were the purview of fine designers and French fragrance houses.
It was a bold move for Giorgio to attempt its own proprietary scent. Hayman’s then-wife and business partner Gale insisted, and the pair struck gold. They were among the first to advertise a perfume with newly developed scent-strips in national magazines, and they exported the smell of Beverly Hills across the country through mail and telephone orders.
Giorgio perfume generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales as women everywhere brought the little bottles of West Coast luxury into their lives.
Hayman didn’t cease his love of the city when he became a millionaire in a late `80s deal with Avon that gave the cosmetics company rights to the perfume _ or even when he and Gale divorced. He renamed his shop as Fred Hayman and continued to discover designers, serve shoppers, host parties and boost Beverly Hills.
Mayor Barry Brucker said Tuesday that Hayman is a longtime supporter of the city’s police and fire departments, the Beverly Hills High School band, the chamber of commerce, community theater and other local programs.
“You are truly Mr. Rodeo Drive,” he said.
Hayman came up with the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style idea in 2003 to further promote the shopping street, which now features more than 100 high-end stores. Hayman is the 15th recipient of the recognition, joining past honorees such as Tom Ford, Manolo Blahnik, and Gianni and Donatella Versace. But Hayman is the only one of those with a Beverly Hills street named after him: Fred Hayman Place is a tiny via near the Giorgio store’s old spot.
Meanwhile, the 273 address of Hayman’s fabled shop has been permanently retired, according to the photo-filled, encyclopedia-sized book about him released this month, “Fred Hayman: The Extraordinary Difference: The Story of Rodeo Drive, Hollywood Glamour and the Showman Who Sold It All,” by Rose Apodaca.
Giorgio’s old address was respectfully absorbed by one-time Hayman tenant Louis Vuitton.
Though Hayman downplayed his contributions to Rodeo Drive, saying he was just doing good business, he beamed as he looked out at the famous thoroughfare.
“I’m thrilled that they’re successful,” he said, wearing his trademark bright yellow tie. “It’s one of the most beautiful streets in the world. It can compete with Paris, as a matter of fact. “
Sandy Cohen can be reached at http://twitter.com/APSandy
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