What’s in a name? Everything if you’re Wolfgang Puck and Carolyn Mahboubi. The names of the chef who whipped up Spago and the exotic Persian whose family owns the prized Rodeo Collection in Beverly Hills are on every self-respecting cognoscente’s tongue.
But it was an even bigger name that got Puck and Mahboubi to showcase their wares at the black-tie opening of the Corte Bella condo development in Irvine on Wednesday night: Donald Bren.
Until the name of Orange County’s only billionaire came up at the bash--one of the most sophisticated real estate openings ever to hit Orange County--no one had been able to figure out how a San Diego builder got the elusive Puck and Mahboubi to leave La-La Land for Irvine, even for one night.
Now the mystery is solved: The Corte Bella development is being built on land sold to the builder--RecreActions Group of Companies--by the Irvine Co. Not to mention the fact that Bren is a regular at Spago--site of super-agent Swifty Lazar’s coveted Oscar bash--when he’s in town. Or the fact that Bren’s daughter, Ashley, occasionally plucks a creation from the racks of the Gianni Versace boutique that Mahboubi operates. (Versace is also a haunt for the likes of Jaclyn Smith, Victoria Principal, Lionel Ritchie and Mike Tyson.)
In fact, Bren has tried to lure Puck--"Wolf” to his intimates--and Mahboubi to Newport Center Fashion Island to open up shop.
“Mr. Bren asked me in 1985 to come to Fashion Island, " said Mahboubi, batting her sweeping eyelashes. “Newport Beach wasn’t ready for us then. But it’s definitely on its way. The money is here. It’s clear that Newport Beach is affluent. We just need to do more market research.”
Puck--sprinkling a baby Sonoma lamb with rosemary and thyme--said Bren can’t understand why he won’t open a Spago-like bistro in Fashion Island. It hasn’t been possible for him yet, Puck explained. He’s been too busy opening Chinois in Santa Monica and Eureka in Los Angeles (where he brews his own beer). Next, it’s a bistro in Malibu.
Then, Newport Beach? “Hmmmmm, if we do, it will be informal and fun, and I’ll need a house and a tennis court to go with it,” Puck said, laughing. “It took me two hours to get down here today.”
Occasionally, he plays tennis with Bren at the Irvine Co. chairman’s Holmby Hills estate, Puck said. “Mr. Bren is great on the tennis court. Lots of fun.”
“It’s beautiful here,” said Mahboubi. “Is Mr. Bren here tonight? I heard he was coming; but you never know.” (Bren was a no-show. “He’s out of the country,” said an insider.)
The 800 guests who attended the Italian-theme opening--a cross-section of the young and restless that included vendors, builders, designers and contractors (Why didn’t somebody invite O.C.'s creme de la creme ? somebody wanted to know. “ They don’t need condos in Irvine,” her partner replied)--were treated to festivities that began with culinary treats and ended with the premiere U.S. showing of Versace’s fall line.
On the agenda: Hate to gush, but incredibly tender baby spring lamb from Spago, mouthwatering swordfish from Eureka, and treats from Campanile, Toscana, Celestino and Valentino--some of L.A.'s best. Andreino’s and the Sorrento Grill represented Orange County.
As for Versace’s fall line, the watchword is super-short. The couturier from Milan showed his fashions at least six inches above the knee. All you need is gams.