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Hot designer says big is bella

Bijan's controversial new ads featuring a rotund, Rubenesque model had a hard time finding a home, but now that they have, the public says, "Bravo."

Mr. Bijan and a fat lady are the talk of the town in New York magazine circles.

The hugely successful Beverly Hills clothier, known for his perfumes, men's fashion and outrageous ads, and his decidedly rotund model named Bella were first rejected and then embraced by some of the toniest Manhattan-based magazines.

The couple are featured in Bijan's latest ad campaign, which at first was roundly rejected, until Talk magazine's Tina Brown accepted all three ads.

The controversial advertisements _ meant as an homage to painters Peter Paul Rubens, Henri Matisse and Fernando Botero _ feature a high-heeled, nude Bella and fully clothed Mr. Bijan. The lush Latin colors and the interplay between the two are meant to represent the great paintings from the masters.

"I embrace the beauty of all women," Bijan said last week, sitting in his lush penthouse office across the street from his Rodeo Drive boutique, which is undergoing a $10-million renovation. Bijan had a $1-million budget for the print campaign and submitted the ads to magazines from Elle to Town and Country. All, though they regularly accept his advertisements, refused to publish them. Bijan said he called them and asked whether it was because the model was too heavy. "They said, "No, no, no,' " he said.

He couldn't pin down whether it was a question of taste.

So Bijan called his good friend Brown, editor in chief at Talk magazine, who was so moved by the ads that she agreed to run all three _ "Motel," "Siesta" and "Bella" _ in the February issue. Gossip in the New York magazine world must be fast, he said.

"Three days later, everybody called me back," he said. The February issues of Vanity Fair, Esquire and Departures each carry one of the series. Just why they changed their stance is not clear. Efforts to reach magazine representatives were unsuccessful.

Bijan is famous for outrageous ads that typically feature himself. There was the one in which Bo Derek flashed him and his young son. The designer expected another of his ads to be more controversial than Bella: It shows a beautiful young woman in Muslim headdress with the caption: "Jammal, you might as well know the truth. . . . I'm in love with Bijan." But the ad ran in recent issues of the same magazines.

By fashion advertising standards, the sensual and plump Bella is rather tame, said Cynthia Miller, Bijan's art director. After all, there are more overtly sexual campaigns, such as some of Calvin Klein's ads.

"You can put Kate Moss in underwear and photograph it and it's art," said Laura Fraser, author of Losing It: False Hope and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry (Dutton Books, 1998). But if you depict a full-figured woman in underwear "then suddenly it's pornography."

But whatever the magazines' thoughts on the subject, the public is going wild for the ads, said Miller. She has compiled e-mail from around the country about the campaign. Some writers even swore to buy Bijan perfume for the first time just to show their support.

The model, Bella, who is from Houston and was chosen from about 60 women, was in Los Angeles last week to film the Roseanne show. Larry King is interested in speaking with her as well.

"That showed me that people are fed up" with super-skinny models, said Bijan.

But Bijan did not create the campaign as a political statement, he said. "I am an artist," he said. "I did that because she was beautiful and inspired me."

Bijan is a savvy businessman who controls and creates all advertising for his own company. He is among the most successful designers in his selling of colognes; his two with basketball superstar Michael Jordan are among the most successful men's colognes in history.

But in his office, all that success is subdued as he talks about Botero and Rubens and how they found beauty in all women. One might have great legs like Sharon Stone or beautiful eyes like Cindy Crawford, he said, "but so what?"

All women have great beauty, he said. "It's there, my love. You have to do something. You think it's not there, but it's there."

For his boutique, he has purchased a $1-million 1968 Botero painting called The Rich, which features a wealthy, oversized couple.

"Look at the woman in the painting," he said. "See the beautiful lines."

She looked like a clothed Bella.

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