Walking through the Golden Triangle of Beverly Hills on my way to cocktails at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire, I felt my blazer lose its button.
I was in the middle of one of the most couture-conscious, fashion retail areas in the world: a Rodeo Drive-anchored, snazzy canyon of Gucci, Prada, Versace, Canali, Burberry, Armani and House of Bijan, which has clothed U.S. Presidents, British Royals and billionaires.
This, to me, meant two things:
One: I could not hobnob among the glitterati with an unbuttoned blazer – especially one with a missing button.
Two: Surely, I could find someone with a needle and thread to reattach it.
I used Google Maps on my smartphone, which revealed a “tailor shop” 200 feet away on Brighton Way, the street on which I was walking.
“Perfetto,” I exclaimed.
But less than 10 seconds after walking into Gary Gagossian’s small shop, I realized I was committing a major faux pas. Any shop that uses the phase “bespoke” is more atelier than tailor. The few “off the rack” articles on display for sale were handcrafted and haute with luxurious linens and fabrics.
I was the only “customer” in the store and a man, who I presumed to be Mr. Gagossian, was behind the tiny counter in the sewing area customizing something exquisite for someone superior.
The only reason I was in there alone was because someone like Mr. Gagossian surely meets by appointment only. It was as if I walked in on Oscar de le Renta (who I actually once met at a party.)
I began to step softly, backward, attempting to retreat out of the silent shop without disturbing the master at work.
“How can I help you?” he asked, without looking up.
“Oh, sorry. I am in the wrong place,” I shrugged. “I am just looking for a place to get this button reattached.”
“Give it to me,” he said, reaching out his hand.
“No, really I couldn’t…”
“It is okay. Give it to me.”
Handing him the blazer, I prayed he would not look at the inferior, down-market label as he turned back to work with it. I likened this action to a world-class surgeon in his operating room reattaching the nose of a teddy bear. I was wracked with guilt for bothering him with such a thing.
The guilt was then followed by fear as I looked around.
“Holy Christ,” I thought, “I cannot imagine what this going to cost me?”
I then noticed the only framed photo on display in the shop. Walking closer, I could see it was a picture of Playboy Magazine mogul Hugh Hefner. He was standing, in a stylish, tailored suit, next to a wax figure of himself wearing Hef’s trademark burgundy robe.
Both images of Hefner were posed in the center(fold) of a bevy of bunny beauties, perhaps taken at his infamous Playboy Mansion a mile or so away in Holmby Hills. The photo was autographed, in gold pen, with the message:
“To Gary, Best Wishes, Hugh Hefner.”
Instantly I no longer regretted my awkward interruption of Gagossian, whatever the potential price:
“I can now say I have the same tailor as Hugh Hefner!” I thought to myself. The irony that Hef made his fortune based on the absence of clothing was not lost on me.
Gagossian emerged at the counter and handed me the blazer.
“Thank you – and sorry for such a silly job,” I said, though he seemed unbothered. I pulled out my billfold and asked Gagossain the fee.
“No, no. It is okay. No charge,” he said, in a dignified manner, without being a bit condescending or dismissive.
Having my moment with Hugh Hefner’s tailor would turn out to be only one of my brushes with Hugh Hefner and his Playboy legacy in the Beverly Hills area. Three of them, in fact, were at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge.
I shared the restaurant’s famed chocolate souffle there one evening with Elizabeth Meza, who spent part of her media career as a producer for the XM/Sirius Playboy Radio channel. She spoke of events she attended at the Playboy Mansion.
In particular, a festive Fourth of July picnic Hefner threw on the back lawn for family, friends and some staff including an elaborate fireworks display.
Viktoriia Lazuto is a Ukrainian immigrant who found her way to Hollywood when the war with Russia interrupted her successful business career in Kyiv.
Lazuto told me, when we met for espresso at the Hollywood golden age Polo Lounge, that she appeared in Playboy Magazine’s Ukrainian edition.
“I was in the November 2021 issue. It was my protest because I worked in the business community and I wanted to show people that I am a woman, first,” she explained. Then she said the photos were tasteful. “I love to work with photographers who make the pictures in a way that your imagination has to work.”
Lazuto proved it to me by showing me the magazine pages, which she had stored on her mobile phone.
I drove Lazuto over to the Westwood Village Memorial Park, a couple of miles up Wilshire Boulevard, to visit Hugh Hefner’s crypt, where his body has been entombed next to that of Marylin Monroe since he died in 2017.
“There’s your former boss,” I pointed out.
“And hers, too,” Lazuto pointed out, reminding me that Marylin Monroe, who died in 1962, was the cover girl and centerfold model for Hefner’s very first Playboy issue in 1953.
Another past Playboy bunny also once, very quickly after striking up a conversation, showed me Polaroid photos of her magazine modeling shoot off her phone. This, with her husband sitting right there next to us at the Polo Lounge’s tiny bar.
This time it was after dark and it can be presumed following the consumption of potions more potent than espresso. But only a little because she was drinking an Aperol Spritz, which is, by alcohol percentage, a tame concoction.
“These photos were taken when ‘these’ were real,” she revealed, gesturing toward her bosom under her fashionable winter white wool coat, which she then removed and tossed onto a chair next to the one at which her show-biz-handsome husband had taken a seat.
Titillating as the conversation was, I kept politely trying to bounce the banter with this extremely beautiful woman to her husband. But the former bunny playfully pivoted back to me.
“You give off a vibe. I can tell you are very sensual,” she said. “I was drawn to you as soon as you walked in.”
If only I could have seen my own face.
“Honey,” the woman told her husband, “I want to marry him.”
“I will be the priest,” he offered, non-plussed.
Then she smelled my Gucci scarf by deeply inhaling as she cuddled it against her cheek. “I want to take this with me,” she insisted, looking me in the eye and tickling my nose with the end of the scarf.
“Am I on Candid Camera? Or is it Punked?” I asked.
She stayed playful and told me she and her husband lived near the hotel and this was their first time out in the new year. She was sophisticated and elegantly dressed in haute couture from head to toe.
We then shared a very entertaining and wide-ranging conversation. I was all ears, and admittedly eyes, as the explained that part of her youth was spent outside of America and then getting roughed up in one of L.A.’s tougher neighborhoods.
Her pumpkin transformed into a coach when she became a successful model and enjoyed the life of being very popular in Hollywood’s celebrity social scene. I told her I had come from seeing Jay Leno perform his stand-up act at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, that night.
“I don’t really care for Jay Leno,” she said in a tone that implied she, at some stage, had met the late-night talk show host. As I heard more of her story, I learned why: she dated two of Hollywood’s most famous funnymen – very successful stars of both the big screen and television.
“He drove me around naked in his luxury sportscar,” she said of the more manic of the two courting comic actors. She admitted she left one of the suitors for the other. “He treated me so well. But I was conflicted.”
The woman conceded now, as a wife and mother, she was now concerned about society’s cultural decline.
“I want to move to Hawaii,” she said.
We exchanged information and took a photo together. As a model, of course, she checked the photo on my phone and wanted to re-pose for “take two,” one which better flattered her fabulous figure.
I did not mind one bit.
The next time I posed for a photo with a model it was a step beyond Playboy and into the adult entertainment world, the stars of which I learned are now also social media influencers.
I stood with a tall, friendly, dirty blonde with her hair in a ponytail whose widely-seen body was squeezed into a t-shirt and shorts. She was 44-year-old Cherie DeVille, who has starred in thousands of, shall we say, short films. I met her while working as a background actor on the set of a PG-rated TV comedy series being shot in Van Nuys.
“Well,” I told her as we posed for a photo between takes, “I can honestly say I never thought I would be on set in a scene with Cherie DeVille!”
DeVille understood my joke, laughed, and hugged me.
Still waiting for the next scene, she told me a story of how she and an actor were about to shoot an “action scene” after the script called for her to throw a drink in the actor’s face.
“I accidentally threw it in my face and then we had to stop for me to get my hair and makeup all over again,” she laughed.
DeVille was exceedingly friendly, as were the rest of the all-star adult stars I met over two days on that set.
“Do you mind having been dubbed the ‘Meryl Streep of Adult Entertainment?’” I asked Angela White at the craft service table during a lunch break.
“I am neutral on it, really. The Daily Beast named me that,” she answered. The Australian brunette laughed and decisively shook her head “no” when I teased her about looking for vegemite on the buffet. I am not sure why, as a grown man, I was nervous talking to her, but I was.
It was all laughs when the zany, red-haired, “Fitness Nala Ray,” posed for a whimsical picture with me – a photo graciously shot with my phone by Kazumi, who I learned has millions of online subscriber fans. Ray had the stars smiling all the time with her colorful costumes, bright make-up, and endless screwball enthusiasm.
Riley Reid saw us taking the photo and chimed in. “You are a bad boy. You want us to chastise you!” A subsequent Google search revealed tiny Riley Reid is a huge star after a 13-year, hall-of-fame career that has yielded countless academy award “equivalents,” most of which I hesitate to specifically name on this page.
Just before rolling on a take, one of the performers, a curvy, straight-haired brunette called “Lena the Plug,” came over and plopped her bottom in front of me on the table at which I was sitting. She wanted to improvise something for the scene.
“Is it okay to flirt with you?” she asked, tugging off my glasses.
I smiled and nodded. Then told her, “That is the biggest diamond wedding ring I have ever seen!”
“You’re the one wearing a Gucci scarf,” she countered.
“Amouranth” in a green bikini was literally set dressing for the entire project. I spoke briefly with her but she was a little more reserved and intimidating. The flaming redhead (as opposed to Nala Ray’s red hair) is on record as saying she earns $2 million a month letting people watch her sleep on streaming platforms.
These industrious women have crafted their individual brands and, though competitors, by collaborating and mentoring each other, have created entertainment empires. They are like super friends like the “adult Avengers!”
The funny frolicking in Van Nuys reminded me of a midsummer night’s dream.
Social media Influencers in bikinis cover all categories, it turns out.
Vanderbilt Beach, on the Gulf of Mexico in North Naples, is one of Florida’s most pleasant stretches of sand. Seven miles of shoreline stretches in front of hotels, private housing, and state park property.
One 85-degree, Sunday afternoon, like many others, after a beer, I was stretched out in the sun on a beach towel listening to the lapping of the waves, laughter of children and bleating of the birds.
The bliss got a little blue when I heard two women behind me talking. Their conversational language included words with “f’s” and “s’s.” They were talking about some dramatic events involving boyfriends or husbands, as I suppose many women do. These tales were peppered with salty language.
After a while, I could not resist the temptation to take a gander at the women propelling this prose. From behind my sunglasses, I twisted my head back to take a sneak peek at the chatty Cathys turning out the truck driver talk.
What a surprise when I saw two supermodel-style, bikini-clad, platinum blondes in all their fairer-sex femininity. So much for typecasting.
Their lewd language was not really bothering me, and I am not one to judge, but just for the fun of it, I sat up and turned around.
“Ladies,” I started. “Please, excuse me ladies…”
When they turned from each other to look at me, I continued.
“It is Sunday afternoon. Would you mind watching your language?”
I think both of their jaws hit the sand at the time before the longer-haired, one in the pretty pink bikini finally spoke.
“Are you f-ing kidding me?!”
They were both seated on the sand but took a defensive posture.
I sat perfectly still, straight-faced, and stared silently at them for about five beats.
“Yes!” I laughed with a big smile.
“Oh, F you!” the other one cried out as we all started laughing.
This trick triggered an afternoon of spicy storytelling and, if I remember correctly, less swearing. The pretty-in-pink blonde told me she had served in the military, which maybe explained her vibrant vocabulary.
And it turned out the other woman was Mariah Medina, a major Instagram influencer in the recreational fishing industry, so now I understand!
Contact Michael Patrick Shiels at MShiels@aol.com His radio program may be found at MiBigShow.com or weekday mornings from 9-noon on WJIM AM 1240