LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fred Hayman, the dapper entrepreneur whose vision transformed a nondescript Southern California street into one of the world’s pre-eminent fashion districts, earning him the sobriquet “Godfather of Rodeo Drive,” has died at age 90.
Hayman died Thursday at his home in Malibu, longtime family friend Katy Sweet told The Associated Press.
He had been a successful Beverly Hills hotelier when he and partners opened the luxury clothing boutique Giorgio Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive in 1964. At the time, the street’s businesses included a gas station, hardware store and grocery store.
He quickly upped the neighborhood’s style and sophistication, employing a vintage Rolls-Royce to shuttle well-heeled customers to the boutique. Its clientele included movers and shakers from politics and entertainment whom he had met during his time running Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel and supervising banquet facilities at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
For men who hated being dragged along shopping by wives or girlfriends, Hayman put in a bar, espresso machine, pool table and pub.
For those who did come to shop, he introduced them to the latest couture by designers such as Halston, Diane Von Furstenberg, Thea Porter and others.
Word spread through the fashion industry about the place on Rodeo Drive with the distinctive white- and yellow-striped awnings. Soon, businesses such as Chanel, Hermes, Dior, Gucci, Prada and Cartier were moving to the street.
When Armani moved in, Hayman knew Rodeo was gaining a reputation.
“Then Hermes, and I knew it was going to be THE street,” he recalled in a 2011 interview with the AP.
He responded by forming a committee of shopkeepers who chipped in to provide benches, trees and a cleaning crew to spruce things up.
Meanwhile, he bought out his business partners and expanded Giorgio Beverly Hills, throwing lavish parties to welcome new designers. Newspapers and fashion magazines started writing about the high-fashion hub that was becoming a rival to Paris and New York, and Merv Griffin filmed a TV special.
Hayman also expanded into the fragrance industry, building a fashion and fragrance empire with his third wife, Gale Gardner. The couple introduced the fragrance Giorgio Beverly Hills in 1981.
One of the first perfumes to be advertised with newly developed scent-strips placed in national magazines, it exported the smell of Beverly Hills nationwide and became an immediate sensation. It remains a popular brand.
Hayman sold the Giorgio Beverly Hills fragrances and name to Avon for $165 million in 1987 but retained his signature store at 273 Rodeo Drive. He renamed it Fred Hayman Beverly Hills.
Beginning in 1989, he became fashion coordinator for 11 Academy Awards shows, which gave him a prominent role in dressing celebrities for their appearances.
A native of Switzerland, Hayman moved to New York at age 16. He was working at the fashionable Waldorf-Astoria Hotel when Conrad Hilton brought him to Beverly Hills to run his hotel’s banquet facilities.
In 2011, Hayman was honored with a star on the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style. A Beverly Hills street also was named Fred Hayman Place for him.
In an AP interview at the time, he downplayed his contributions, saying he was just doing good business. But he couldn’t help but beam with pride when he looked out at the street he had helped shape.
“It’s one of the most beautiful streets in the world,” he said. “It can compete with Paris as a matter of fact.”
Hayman is survived by his wife, Betty; sons Charles and Robert; daughter Nicole; and 10 grandchildren. Funeral services are pending.