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The Manhattan clothing boutique is the globe-trotting entrepreneur's first foray into what he hopes will become an international luxury brand with restaurants, resorts, furniture, housewares—maybe even yachts
One recent afternoon, Jean "Johnny" Pigozzi, the globe-trotting art collector and entrepreneur, greeted a young couple as they walked into LimoLand, his new clothing boutique in Manhattan's Meatpacking District. "Hello, hello," he said brightly in his deep, somewhat incomprehensible pan-European accent. One member of the duo was wearing a neon green backpack reminiscent of the glaring colors that define Pigozzi's fashions. The satchel caught the French-born Italian mogul's attention—but not for the right reason. As the pair shuffled past him, Pigozzi lowered his voice to a whisper. "These kids will not buy anything," he said. "I know the people who buy. If they have a backpack, they don't buy."
Pigozzi goes to extreme lengths to know just who buys. He keeps a close eye on LimoLand—his first boutique dedicated exclusively to his clothing line of the same name—even when he's not there. Four surveillance cameras positioned around the 750-square-foot store allow Pigozzi, 58, to observe the business from, alternatively, his villa in the South of France, his spread in Panama, and his apartments in London, Paris, Geneva, and Manhattan. Although he's been in the fashion business only a few years, he's already profiled his core customer. "Old men? Very good!" he says. "A 45-year-old with a bald spot? Excellent." Pigozzi has created his unsubtly titled collection with a specific buyer in mind. "I'm really interested in R-O-Ms," he confesses. "Rich. Old. Men."
This is hardly surprising considering that Pigozzi, the Harvard-educated heir to France's Simca automobile fortune, is a friend to ROMs the world over. He has collected a cohort—David Geffen, Barry Diller, and Bono among them—through his various turns as a businessman, venture capitalist, philanthropist, photographer, patron of the arts, and, perhaps most notably, international playboy. "I don't think there's a billionaire that Johnny doesn't know," says movie director Brett Ratner. "He's at the center of the universe." When Vanity Fair published its 2008 "New Establishment" list of the most influential people in the world, it ran a chart explaining how each was connected to Pigozzi.
However, if you ask Pigozzi for his avocation, he says he's simply "curious." Curious enough to have dabbled professionally in film and hedge funds; to have amassed the world's largest known private collection of contemporary African art; and to have founded a marine and forest research laboratory on a small Panamanian island that he bought for the sake of land conservation. "Every five years, I decide to learn something new," he explains. It was in this spirit that he decided to design fluorescent streetwear for aging rich dudes.
Pigozzi, who has a a hulking, 6-foot-4-inch frame and a penchant for loud palettes, started LimoLand in 2007 out of sartorial frustration with the muted hues and lean sizes dominating designer menswear. He wanted to create a brand for wealthy Europhiles who like their wardrobe casual and loose—and who, since they don't have to impress anyone, aren't afraid to add a little color. "There are a lot of people who don't want to dress in black and don't have to wear suits," says Pigozzi. He started drawing designs by hand, hired a consultant for "the technical stuff," and invested about $1.5 million of his personal fortune to launch the line, which now ranges from a $45 T-shirt to a $595 weekend tote, in elite boutiques in Tokyo, Paris, and New York.
Sales at the LimoLand shop so far have been promising, Pigozzi says, which bodes well for his plot to build an international luxury brand. In "three or four years," he claims, clothing will be only 30 percent of the business. The other 70 percent will be some combination of restaurants, liquor, hotels, travel resorts, furniture, housewares, and maybe yachts. (His own, a converted research vessel, was named the world's 58th largest in 2006, according to Power & Motoryacht magazine.) Pigozzi's "ultimate goal" is to bring LimoLand to Moscow and mainland China. "I have big dreams," he says. "I want to make a lot of money off of this."
It doesn't hurt to have a Rolodex full of famous friends. LimoLand's celebrity clientele includes Ratner, pop star Usher, hotelier André Balazs, orange-clogged chef Mario Batali, and Mick Jagger. "It will not be surprising to me when it's a success, because he's a very clever guy," says billionaire investor Ronald Perelman, who's known Pigozzi for 20 years. "He's targeted in his thinking. I think he'll come out with products that people will want to have."
Most pieces are outrageously bright and, perhaps as a result, mogul-chic. In his boutique they are seamlessly displayed against an exposed-brick wall adorned with a portrait of the gangsta rapper Birdman by artist Tom Sanford. The trick with each piece, Pigozzi says, is in the details. LimoLand's Navy blue hoodie sweatshirt—"the blazer of the 21st century!" he says—has a rainbow pattern in the zipper's teeth. "Johnny's attention to detail—and his sense of humor and color and his philosophy about his collection—is really unique," says Madeline Weeks, GQ magazine's fashion director. "Cashmere companies won't do a bright pink or purple sweater for a man. He likes to stand out."
Within the next year, Pigozzi plans to open another LimoLand in Manhattan and possibly one in Los Angeles. He's also trying to get his clothing into luxury department stores such as Bloomingdale's, Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, and Nordstrom (JWN). Meanwhile, Pigozzi is promoting his other projects. He recently published a book of photography about his world travels, and an accompanying exhibition is currently showing at Manhattan's Gagosian Gallery. His next stop is Miami for the annual Art Basel/Miami Beach fair, where he plans to peruse African and Japanese work.
At the end of the day, Pigozzi says, he doesn't want to be bored. "I hope that in the next 30 or more years I have to live, I will be doing everything that I don't [yet] know I will be doing. That's what makes it fun." Just like designing contrast color sweatpants for rich old men.