Meet Hooman Majd: Gentleman, Scholar, and Modest Hero

Majd in Persian lamb diplomat (and maybe a Revolutionary Guard keffiyeh)

I met my dear friend Hooman Majd about a decade ago, when Chris Blackwell got the idea that I might be a good head of marketing for Island Records. I had known Chris for years. He is a visionary; a businessman who thinks and behaves like an artist. He brought reggae music and the Wailers to the world, not to mention developing and supporting artists like Traffic, Roxy Music, Grace Jones, Brian Eno, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Marianne Faithfull, Malcolm McLaren, U2, Tom Waits, and many others—as well as producing important films, being an important player in re-developing Miami's South Beach, and turning Jamaica into an even more delightful destination. I thought it would be great working for Chris, and it was, from the moment I started until he sold Island Records. But the best thing about it was meeting my friend Hooman.

Hooman Majd was the Executive Vice President of Island, which meant that he was Chris's right hand and left brain, the guy running the company day to day and doing much of the heavy lifting. Hooman had a fantastic ear, a great eye, superb executive ability, and the DNA of a diplomat. We were ensconced in "Worldwide Plaza," a big ugly building on the west side of midtown Manhattan that creaked and moved every time it was windy out. I had never met anyone named Hooman before, but my only surprise was that despite his unusual Iranian name, how very American he was. Well, not exactly American. Sort of haute American. A true cosmopolite. In fact one could make a case that Hooman, who I believe was what they call "stateless" at the time, was living proof that there is no nationality or culture superior to transcendental statelessness. Mr. Majd belongs to the world.

Like many of my friends Hooman had gone to "public school" in England, which accounted for his superior manners, his well-chosen words, and his pervading sense of irony. As I recall we were laughing within minutes and we never stopped. Hooman often laughed about public school, an experience he shared with Chris Blackwell and our mutual friend Michael Zilkha. Hooman would recall the headmaster warning the boys off the local girls. "For god's sake," the headmaster said, "If you must have sex, have it with a boy."


Although he was running one of the most important record companies in the world, Hooman was not a typical show-business exec. He wasn't a suit. In fact he generally didn't wear suits. I had come from ten years working as creative director of advertising for Barneys New York and I generally wore suits. One day one of our most successful acts, the Cranberries, came up to the office and I introduced myself to them as the chairman of Polygram, the conglomerate parent of Island. They didn't even blink. I guess I looked like a chairman. In fact I was really just a creative director, masquerading as a marketing director. I really don't like the idea of marketing, and all I really wanted to do was make album covers, videos, web sites, and those bizarre items record companies use for promotion—like light-up logoed yoyos or liquorice LPs. They gave me an office down the hall from Hooman's corner office, and a secretary, neither of which I wanted. If I had an office that meant someone expected me to be in it. My secretary's main job was actually divvying up the office between others who were visiting from out of town, or who wanted to make phone calls or have sex. I spent most of my time on the sofa in Hooman's office, brainstorming, drinking Evian from his fridge, laughing, and smoking cigarettes.

Hooman and I were big influences on one another. I got him into buying custom-made suits. He got me into smoking George Karelias, a Greek cigarette that we decided was the finest in the world and went to great lengths to get our hands on. We would sit around Hooman's Damien Hirst cigarette-patterned ashtray and discuss how to sell more records, how to make better videos and packaging, how to get around certain people in the company, and where to have lunch. Usually it was Barbetta, the oldest Italian restaurant in the city, where we could eat in the bar and smoke.

Producer Abbie Terhukle with Hooman at just about his most bearded

Although when I met him Hooman wasn't much of a suit guy, he was splendidly dressed. He wasn't against suits, I think he just felt that in a creative industry one didn't want to be a suit so one didn't often wear one; but I think that my rather eccentric way of wearing them was a bit of an influence, as his taste in shoes, sweaters, polos, watches, and sport shirts certainly rubbed off on me. Dandy is a misunderstood word, but Hooman exhibited a gift for combining clothes and colors that is certainly aesthetic and might be considered an art. He is the only man I know who can pull off a lavender overcoat and excite women simultaneously. We also shared certain habits. We were both into housecleaning as a hobby. I find it really zen as I believe Hooman does, and it is a testament to his absolute impeccability that although he smokes about as much as anyone still does you can't smell tobacco in his apartment. (He credits the Papiers d'Armenie that he burns. I credit his hygienic genius.)

We had a good run at Island, selling a lot of U2 records. I made a few nice album sleeves (although whenever I managed to get a sleeve or a video made I seemed to be intruding on another department). Hooman got into film production, executive producing The Cup, a wonderful film about Tibetan Monks trying to watch the World Cup soccer matches on TV, and Black and White, the ultimate wigger film, a black comedy by James Toback that starred Robert Downey, Mike Tyson, and Brooke Shields, among an all-unlikely cast.

Then after a few years, when CB sold his shares in Island, we were out—although Hooman's replacement, our mutual friend Davitt Sigerson (now a novelist) continued to pay my salary for a while out of benign neglect. But by then Hooman and I were friends for life. He is Uncle Hooman to my nine-year-old son, and practically every Christmas Eve Hooman has been there to help trim our tree. And one Halloween, I dragged Hooman out to a high-end cocktail bar, explained to him that the beautiful bartender had eyes for him, then made him go back later, alone. They have been together ever since, although today she is a master yoga teacher.

Anyway, I am getting into this for several reasons. One is that if there is someone that the Style Guy would look to for advice in sartorial matters, or matters of etiquette or protocol, it would be Mr. Majd, the son of a professional diplomat who worked for the Shah of Iran. That diplomatic background is why Hooman grew up in Washington, London, New Delhi, and Tokyo, among other places, after being born in Tehran. And because of the Shah's fall, Hooman never visited his native country between the ages of seven and, well, forty-something. But in the last few years he has been going back to Iran regularly, traveling the country and reporting on what's going on there for publications including GQ, the New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, the New York Observer, and the Huffington Post. Hooman also writes wonderful fiction. I published a bit in my now defunct literary magazine Bald Ego, a story about Iran that was illustrated by his excellent photographs. And now he has a best selling non-fiction book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, which explains in an entertaining and superbly informed manner what exactly is going on in a country that is perhaps more misunderstood in America than any other.

I think most of us who have Persian (Iranian) friends know that they are not Arabs. They may be Muslims or not. I'm not exactly what you'd call Hooman, who has some Jewish ancestors, descends from Zoroastrians, is the nephew of an important ayatollah (they don't come more important than Khatami), and who really, really enjoys Christmas. I hope I'm not blowing his cover by saying he's probably an observant atheist or an agnostic with Rastafarian sympathies or that his sympathies lie somewhere with mine, between Druidism and Olympus. But whatever their religion, the Persians I know are sophisticates and enthusiasts. Iran is not a backward country, it is not only a cradle of civilization but a hotbed of aspiration, where poetry and art are not ivory tower pursuits but a way of life. Their joie de vivre is expressed in the way they talk, the way the cook, and even the way they party. I find few feminine concepts sexier today than a chador worn to conceal a flimsy decolette cocktail dress and Manolo Blahnik heels.

In the final days of Bush I was terrified that the U.S. would bomb Iran. Hooman seemed certain of it. Neither of us were fans of Ahmedinejad, although I think we were both bemused by certain of his performances, but we knew enough to know that Iran has never attacked another country and its possession of nukes would be far less dangerous than the situation that exists today in Israel, Pakistan, and India. But we have made it to Obama-world and now it seems unlikely that artificially agitated hysteria will lead to a confrontation with Iran—a country that is rapidly evolving before our eyes right now.


The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (Doubleday) is available as a hardback, now discounted to $15.89 at Amazon and the paperback will probably be out in August. You may have seen Hooman on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher on June 19th or on John Stewart's The Daily Show. He has become something of a regular on Charlie Rose and the rest of the pundit circuit, as he knows his stuff and is a truly gifted conversationalist. On Bill Maher, Hooman shocked the fairly unplappable host by wearing, with an otherwise rather Savile Row kit, his giveh, the traditional folk knit Iranian shoes, dyed green for the Moussavi revolution. I had seen him in them just a few days earlier, and I've asked him to help me dye the giveh that he just brought back for me from Tehran. Also to help me try to stretch them out. I don't think these are size 12 like my last pair. The green shoes really seemed to send to Bill Maher for a loop. And that's exactly what men's apparel can do, when there is thought and wit behind it.

Hooman's pre-green giveh

What really threw me for a loop a while back was turning on C-Span to watch Ahmedinejad address the United Nations; and when Iran's "dictator" (he wasn't then, but maybe is now) opened his mouth, my pal's voice came out. I knew that Hooman had been spending a lot of time with Iranian politicians and diplomats but I had no idea about this. Hooman is not a fan of Mr. Ahmedinejad or his politics (quite the opposite, in fact), and is probably more horrified by the man's sartorial habits than I can imagine, and there he was—his mouthpiece. But I understood completely. One of the most difficult problems in relations between Iran and the West is what gets lost or confused in the translation. For example Ahmedinejad may have a bad attitude toward Israel, but he never said it should be wiped off the map, as in nuked. He said, "the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time." He's talking history, not megatons here. He has gone on to say that the "Zionist regime will be wiped out the same way the Soviet Union was," which was hardly through violence, but through political change.

To me my friend is a hero, utterly unsung and without any desire for such recognition. By associating himself with this despised foreign leader he was putting himself at risk in one way or another, but he understood that by twisting the Iranian president's words, even rather slightly, the administration that perpetrated a fraudulent war in Iraq might just try to excuse another gratuitious and egregious attack through fear mongering. Although Hooman might disapprove of most of what Ahmedinejad was saying, he wanted to make sure that he was understood, which is precisely what reasonable men must seek to do in times of hysteria, distortion, and unreason. What he sought to do as a translator, and what he does in his book, and everyday in his what he says and writes, is to express what was said in the cover line of Newsweek which featured an essay by him: Everything you know about Iran is wrong. Mr. Majd could probably be sitting around the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Hotel du Cap making movie deals. Instead he is patiently, painstakingly explaining what is portrayed as simple and is in fact very, very complex. Should things turn out well in Iran, that ancient storied country could turn out to be a paragon for the Middle East, a most civilized and cultured nation at peace and at ease with the West. And should that happen, Mr. Majd will have played an important role in spreading truth, by standing not only by his own word, but the word in general.


Just for the record, Mr. Majd likes Anderson & Sheppard suits, shoes from Alden and Edward Green, ties from Brooks Brothers Black Fleece, Band of Outsiders, and Hermès, and, due to the domestic unavailability of George Karelias smokes, he now puffs on Camel straights and Iranian Bahman's when he can get them. A true globetrotter, Mr. Majd always arrives with beautiful luggage—old Tanner Kroll and Globetrotter, Brigg, or Swaine-Addney—and he's on time. When we met he was driving a Landrover Discover, then switched to a Porsche 911, and now can be seen tooling round Manhattan on an extremely handsome Vespa. If you see him, wave.

Tools of the Trade: Moleskine

Today, my calendar being almost too clear, I thought I’d clean up around my desk. The first target was the windowsill. I don’t like using a windowsill as a shelf, and the one next to my desk had become the worst sort, a jumble of miscellany, lost and found, unfiled documents, and stacks of blank books, notebooks, and tablets, some unused, some filled with notes and jot. As I cleared out this minor eyesore, which I blame entirely and probably unfairly on the poor performance of an assistant, I began to look through the notebooks. Ripping out pages here and there, as they irritated me, and reliving moments from the last few years. I was amazed by how many Moleskine notebooks I’ve accumulated, and amused by some of their contents.


Moleskines are my favorite notebooks. They are well-made, from the paper to the hard binding, and they are closed by an elastic band and come with a placemarking ribbon. They come in black and red and in a variety of sizes. I have used lots of the journal size (5.25” x 8.25”), and I especially like the 3.5” x 5.5” reporter’s notebook that flips up instead of opening like a conventional book. I always get black. It’s a classic, very Clark Kent. Moleskine also make nice paper notebooks, city guides, planners, and watercolor books—a perennial favorite of chic bohemians. Moleskines were tools for the likes of Picasso and Hemingway. The original family business went bust in 1986, but it was revived in the next decade by the Milanese publishing company Modo & Modo—and today it’s one of the most popular accessories of the contemporary creatives, both genuine and wannabe. I never go anywhere without one and a Uni-ball vision pen, fine point, black.

Picture 1

I have never been a diarist and I never will be, but I am a serious notebook user. What you’ll find in mine might appear abstract. Sometimes there is an actual handwritten essay, usually jotted in a moment of clarity away from the computer, but probably more significant are lists, names, ideas, and phrases.

Here are some jottings that I found scattered among the books.

I assume these are painting-title ideas, from my being a semi-regular panelist on Mark Kostabi’s television game show Title This:

“Hey, where’s that ark?”

“We fell in love at Hollywood Squares.

“Ministry of Bad Vibes.”

“Tonight God has asked her to love me as a favor to Him.”

“Ancestor communicating through alphabet soup.”

“First Amendment Massage Parlor.”

“If you were Van Gogh’s wife he would have cut off his whole head.”

“The non-representational pile of leaves.”

“Transmission loss has an inverse accrual of distortion gain.”

“My silence was the silence of ten men.”

“Banco Bipolare.”

“God’s Day Off.”

“Digital Analogy.”

“I Wanna Be Your Gerbil.”

“High Tide Panic Attack.”

“Revolt of the Sauce”

“Kama Sutra Intern.”

“Last Tantrum in Paris.”

“Blinking Red Light District.”

There’s a big chunk of one book devoted to notes I jotted at the last ready-to-wear shows in Milan and Paris—mostly in the dark, so they read like code and are skewed at an odd angle in a weird hand reminiscent of the webs researchers recorded after giving spiders LSD. I swear it was just the darkness, and maybe a little Champagne.

Notes from the Hussein Chalayan fashion show, Paris, Fall ’09: “H.C. foamcore Tom Sachs butt crack hip boots with garters…Sprouse NASA print lunar landscape tech printouts….taking illustrational idea of Versace and Hermès and abstract realism….10th Victim leather breastplate and ass plate—like Gladiator Roman soldier moulded body armor—flesh leather butt shaped."

Picture 3

Notes from Maison Martin Margiela: "Bride stripped somewhat bare…perp walk leather jacket as veil…girl in a cloud in a planetarium…"

Fendi: "Trancy straight & narrow…women’s choir like religious Modernaires…"

Max Mara: "Italians shouldn’t have escalators….Little Red Stepford Riding Hood."

Roberto Cavalli: "Models should never be pilots. Half of them can’t find the end of the runway."

Givenchy: "Hair shirt hair skirt…potato faces…legionaire’s stovepipe hat…nose cone bra…lace over glitter…tits that mean business…tubular bells meets Cousin Itt…"

Brioni: "Obstacle course runway….the girls are in trouble. Shoot the DJ!"


“There’s a brand of heroin in Harlem called Tommy Hilfiger.”

He’s not the only celebrity who’s been appropriated thus:

Picture 4

“Yesterday in the NY Times there was an article about a French Roquefort cheese farmer who was arrested for attacking a French McDonald's. Is cheese farmed?”

And then shards of poems or jokes:

“Rhythm shook me like a thermometer.”

“I was in fashion once, but I made bail.”

“The third ear is the first to hear.”

“Tomorrow the anniversary of JFK’s head shot dead. New Frontier same as the old frontier."

Is this a title? "A vibrator named John Henry."

And quotes from what I’m reading:

“The goddesses that existed alongside the gods in primitive religions are in fact no longer within our emotional range,” he thought. “Any relationship we might have to such superhuman women would be masochistic.”—The Man Without Qualities, Pt. 2, p. 748

“In times to come when more is known, the word destiny will probably have acquired a stastistical meaning.”—The Man Without Qualities, Pt. 2, p. 783

“Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad.” Ch. 25, From Russia With Love.

And questions for interview subjects: "Is art all offense or is there defense? Do you believe in the Communion of Saints? Is the hand of God visible in the random? What does Wooly Bully mean?”

Lists of band names: “Cocktail Slipper, Morlocks, Henchmen, Vatican Sex Kittens, Stabilisers, Robin Kitschock"

Questions for myself: “Whatever happened to philippics?”

Quotes: “Frank says that artists today have become snobs about being alive.” Elaine de Kooning, 1959.

Notes to self: “Get GQ to send me to world capitals.”

Picture 5

Picture 6

Shopping list: “The Beautiful Fall, Pahlmeyer red wine, Scott’s Turf Builder, white buck bag”

Notes to self: “Get umbrella back from Lapo, thank Mats Gustafson.”

Did I say this, or someone else? “Why be difficult when with a little extra effort you could be impossible.” I hope it was me. “Modernism is not a done deal.” I bet that was Dave Hickey, not me.

Novel title? The Moon and Sixpence a Word.

If you don’t have a notebook, where are you going to store this sort of stuff? The alternatives aren’t pretty. The archives from my days as a standup comedian are mostly torn pieces of paper, bar napkins, and coasters. And who knows how many comedic gems and pearls of wisdom have fallen by the wayside when I was not prepared to jot. And so, my fellow travelers on the highways of philosophy and the byways of wit, it pays to be prepared with archival quality receptacles for the treasures of observation and reflection.

One word of warning, however, and that is to fill in the "In case of loss please return to:" form on the flyleaf. I left one of my notebooks in a business-class seat pocket on a flight back from China and never got it back. Thanks United Airlines! Moleskine conveniently adds, "As a reward: $_________." I don't put a number in there, but simply "yes," or, "substantial." Why limit their imagination? My imagination has filled that notebook with parts of a novel, a screenplay, and ad copy lines suitable for almost any luxurious product.

The Seasonal Wardrobe Shift Is Here

Today is the first day of the summer clothing season. It’s 60º in New York, and 52º in Paris, where I wish I was today. I’ll bet the Chestnut buds are about to pop. It’s sweater weather (a tan cashmere Martin Margiela V-neck) and I’m wearing white-and-brown saddle shoes. My assistant Michael showed up for work in off-white-and-brown saddles today. I know we were both shod for summer, because today is the first business day of the year where white is traditionally considered right. It’s one of those nice old fogey rules that I like to keep up, the same as taking my hat off in an elevator or walking on the curb side of a lady.

Nobody loves rules like an anarchist, which I consider myself in theory. To a real anarchist, laws are unnecessary because good manners should be enough to deter improper actions. Usury is tacky. Assault is undignified. Identity theft is simply not done. I know I’m an idealistic dreamer in this, but I have every confidence that some day humanity will be guided by cultural principles, not legal codes.

To me the rules of dress are simply proven principles, like the Golden Section or the Fibonacci number. I don’t say you can’t wear white shoes before Memorial Day; but I tend not to. And in my own personal code, because of global warming, I have moved the official white shoe day forward to Major League Baseball's opening day, and extended the white shoe season through the World Series.


Correct shoes during baseball season.

My white dinner jacket has finally been located. (I couldn’t find it the other day when I wanted to show it to some guests. It was in the basement, thank the insect god unharmed by the moths, carpet beetles, and other vermin that frequent that dicey space.) The seersucker is ready to go, although it will not be premiered on a sub-80º day, as are the linen and madras.

Let’s think about linen for a moment. There is no good reason why linen should be worn only in the warmest months. In our time of global warming, linen should be worn much more often. For one thing it is a much more environmentally-friendly fabric than cotton, which is one of the most problematic crops in the world. (For enlightenment on the problem of cotton I highly recommend watching the documentary The World of Monsanto.) Linen is not only Earth-friendly, it is also longlasting and superior in strength. I have a great old Issey Miyake linen suit that is heavy enough for October and I have no compunction about wearing it then.

The natty art dealer Barry Friedman in a proper linen jacket.

White suits or suits in the ice-cream hue range are traditionally for summer, although NBA coaches seem entirely unaware of the convention. And of course Tom Wolfe has made winter white a dandy’s splendor, and women have made it an institution—so there’s no reason men can’t wear white of a certain weight in outerwear. It has a long and honorable tradition among “Alpine troops,” and my wife has a wonderful Jean-Paul Gaultier toggle coat that I would wear if it were my size.

The author in a white cotton Ralph Lauren blazer and Hermes sailor shirt with hat designer Stephen Jones, in Stephen Jones hat.

All of this is common-sense stuff. But I would have absolutely not worn my saddle shoes last Friday. A man has to draw the line somewhere. (Such as the Tropic of Cancer or the Tropic of Capricorn.)

Anyway, the last week or so has seen me storing away the overcoats, the cold weather gear, and my heaviest suits (the 13- to 14-ounce Savile Row numbers conceived in their best no-central-heating tradition), and pulling out the Bermudas, the polos, and the patterned trousers. And suddenly here’s a whole new selection of duds that I haven’t seen or thought about since last September or so. The seasonal transition is interesting because it’s a natural moment for wardrobe appraisal and analysis, not to mention taking stock of one’s figure. Are you ready for the pool, the links, the clay and grass courts? Are you ready for lolling, basking, and shade-sitting? Are you ready for the seasonal plumage display of an expanded visual spectrum in line with the floral splendor of the botanical world? Are you?

The Madras Full Monty

With my madras and linen pressed, I feel rather ready. But every season one notices a few areas that could use reinforcement, improvement, or elaboration. I believe in buying substantial wardrobe additions when I’m flush, but shopping seasonally even when on a budget, believing that you can stick with the same basics, suits, blazers, trousers, etc., by refreshing them with new shirts, ties, and socks. And so I’ll be out there over the next week looking for ties that say “this summer,” some new polos, and socks.

I’ll be out looking for white socks to wear with my white shoes. And I don’t mean tube socks. I mean white hose. It’s something every well-dressed man should own. I’ve found good white socks at a good price at Barneys New York, on and off, and have also found good quality thin white socks at Uniqlo. In fact I may head over there right now. And after years of trading barbs on the issue I may go over to the position of GQ “style czar” Adam Rapoport on shorty socks. I have been mocking these for years, suggesting that the men’s sub-anklets should feature the same pom-poms one sees on some of the ladies’ equivalents, but after several seasons of observing these socks in foursomes I have developed a tolerance that, combined with my own tan line, has shifted my position. So where do you buy yours, Adam?

Mr. Hooman Majd’s bare ankle with traditional Persian shoe

Of course, for a lot of my friends summer means no socks at all till September. I am not one of the perpetually bare-ankled crowd, as my large Irish feet tend to perspire, but I do find tanned bare ankles okay. But they have to be tanned first. So I’m working on them weekends.

The author, in bespoke seersucker from John Pearse and Martin Margiela tee, with the artist Richard Prince

What will I buy this season? I’m always on the lookout for good tees wherever I go. A.P.C., Agnes B., Margiela, Supreme. As for tailoring, I have my old two-button light blue pincord suit in the pile of clothes to be donated to charity. I’m sure it will still look good on someone, but I need a hipper cut. I’m guessing that I bought this at Brooks Brothers ten years ago—as I recall I was on a break from a commercial and I went into the store with Kate Moss. They are cheap to begin with and this one was on sale. I may have paid about a hundred bucks for it. Kate wanted a pincord suit too, but they only had them in boys and they couldn’t fit her. Anyway, I need a slimmer suit.

Brooks still offers pin cord, and they’ve modernized the silhouette with slim lapels and flat-fronts, but at $598 they’re not the steal they once were. The GQ boys seem to favor the Uniqlo whipcord suit and I don’t blame them. They’re sharp and absurdly inexpensive. Sold separately, I think the jacket is $79.50 and the trousers $39.50. You almost can’t afford not to buy one.