Less than an hour before the scheduled deadline for the most famous residential auction in recent memory, the high bid on The One — a property that had once been floated at a value of $500 million and had more than $250 million in claimed debts — was just $70 million, and Chad Roffers was remarkably calm.
“Most people tend to wait ‘til the last 30 minutes, and sometimes the last 10,” Roffers, the president of Concierge Auctions, which managed the process, said by phone. “So I think thus far things are proceeding the way we would have anticipated.”
The long-awaited bankruptcy sale of spec developer Nile Niami’s troubled masterpiece had begun four days earlier, following a weeks-long marketing campaign during which brokers gave tours to 42 potential buyers. Aaron Kirman, one of those brokers, attempted to woo various billionaires, including Chinese and Middle Eastern nationals, over lunch and dinner at their residences in London and Paris.
“There was not any high-net-worth person interested in real estate that wasn’t aware of the property,” Kirman said.
Yet by the time bidding began on Feb. 28, only five bidders — including Don Hankey, the property’s primary debt holder — had registered. The process was conducted online, with bidders maintaining anonymity with assigned numbers and their offers visible in real time on Concierge’s website.
It began slowly: A $50 million opening bid came on Monday, then a $60 million counter on Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon, another bidder raised it to $70 million.
That held as the clock ticked down, and there was no more action as it hit 30 minutes. Or 10. Finally, after 3:58 p.m., within two minutes of the close, the online ticker lit up: A $90 million offer had come late enough to set the clock back three minutes. It was down to seconds when another small overbid came, then another. The high-stakes overtime went on for about 15 minutes when a $126 million bid popped in. “Going once!” read the online chat-box ticker. “Going twice … Final call … Sold!”
Days later, the Los Angeles Times revealed the winner: fashion mogul Richard Saghian. But who, really, was Saghian? And what did he want with a still unpermitted, heavily indebted, globally notorious 105,000-square-foot ultra mansion?
Three years before Saghian would become a trivia answer — the winning bidder in the world’s priciest-ever home auction — Cardi B dropped a new video. The 51-second clip opens with the famously unfiltered rapper and social media star wearing outlandishly large dark sunglasses, tight jeans and a snow white turtleneck.
“You know what’s so crazy?” the singer chirps in a playful tone, thrusting her left arm forward to show off a massive, conspicuously glittery watch. “A hundred thousand on the wrist, but my outfit tho bitch? Sixty dollaz!” She briefly hypes the glasses next (“10 dollaz!”) before revealing the source of her sartorial thrill: “Fashion Nova baby! I’m gonna be on a budget ‘til the day I die, bitch!”
It was a paid hit. Cardi B was already a Fashion Nova ambassador who had her own collection with the brand. But thanks to the rapper’s zany spontaneity, the social media plug felt authentic — and, like nearly everything she touches, it went viral.
It was also a perfect illustration of the particular business genius possessed by Saghian, who founded Fashion Nova as a brick-and-mortar outlet but transformed it into an empire through a masterful incorporation of social media.
Saghian, who declined to be interviewed for this article, grew up around the apparel industry in Southern California, where his Iranian-born father owned a women’s retail store in the hardscrabble Fashion District. He went on to found his own company in 2006, when he was in his mid-20s. The first Fashion Nova, located in the Walmart-anchored Panorama Mall in the San Fernando Valley, focused on budget “clubwear.” Expanding the brand’s range of styles in the ensuing years, Saghian added several more stores in malls around L.A.
By 2013, commerce was increasingly moving online — and Fashion Nova customers, who included early social media influencers, were tagging the brand in Instagram posts, giving it 60,000 followers before it ever sold clothes online, Saghian has said. He launched a website and reportedly sold all his inventory in a weekend.
Since then, the company has skyrocketed to a place among retail’s biggest players. Its success comes from its nimbleness and staggering production efficiency: By using 1,000 or more different manufacturers in L.A. and China, the company can turn a design inspiration into a sample within 24 hours, allowing it to release hundreds of new styles each week.
Along with paying such celebrities as Cardi B, Kylie Jenner, Khloe Kardashian and Nicki Minaj to post about its products, the company trades clothes for exposure from thousands of influencers and now boasts 21 million Instagram followers.
“For models and influencers, being on our Instagram page is very powerful,” Saghian told Paper Magazine in 2018.
Fashion Nova has also faced controversy, including accusations of design stealing and pressuring manufacturers to drop competitors. The New York Times ran a searing piece in 2018 that detailed Labor Department investigations of exploitation at factories producing its clothes. (Fashion Nova has vigorously denied the accusations.)
The brand now does more than $1 billion in annual sales, and its success transformed its reserved 40-year-old founder into a real estate player. Saghian, who has a Forbes-estimated net worth of $1.4 billion, bought a Hollywood Hills mansion for $17.5 million in 2018, and then a Netflix executive’s Malibu beach house last year for $14.7 million.
He has revealed little about what, exactly, drew him to The One. Saghian is a fan of the contemporary architect Paul McLean, who designed both The One and his Hollywood Hills home. He was also excited by the prospect of owning a local property with a size and scope that will likely never be matched because local building regulations have shifted — restrictions that gave him confidence in a hypothetical flip, according to people familiar with the matter.
The One “is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can never be duplicated,” Saghian said in a statement. “There is nothing else like it.”
A bankruptcy judge, over last-ditch appeals from lawyers for Niami and various creditors, approved the auction sale on March 21. But the property is still a work in progress: It has no certificate of occupancy, and recent court testimony revealed it was damaged by last winter’s rainfall. The city building department, meanwhile, has alleged it exceeds its approved height. Saghian’s attorney told a reporter that after the auction, his client came to realize the property’s circumstances were more complex than he previously thought, and it was unclear how much more money he might have to fork over before he could actually move in.
He does, however, intend to move in, according to a source, likely confining his own residence to the property’s 5,000-square-foot primary suite, which has its own pool, elevator and garage. That leaves 100,000 square feet for other uses, which will likely include Fashion Nova events and parties. The Instagram possibilities, of course, are limitless.