High in the hills of Bel Air lies the Sheats Goldstein Residence. John Lautner’s mid-century modernist gem is one of the most photographed houses in existence, owned by possibly one of the most enigmatic men in the world.
Hidden in acres of sub-tropical forest in perfect isolation, it’s like a Bond villain’s lair. Down a long, secluded driveway, the door is left open for me as I cross through a glass stepping-stone walkway over koi ponds and waterfalls into a retro-chic kitchen-den, where I catch James Goldstein on a day off from his 250-days-of-the-year jetting to fashion shows, basketball games and other exotic destinations.
Dressed in black, red-striped Adidas running gear, he is slight and deeply tanned, with frizzy white hair falling out of his baseball cap. “Hi, I’m Jim,” he says smiling, all suaveness and sincerity, and then mentions last night’s shoot with three supermodels.
Goldstein is something of a cult figure, being a front-row fixture on the fashion circuit with his signature Stetson and bling-and-brash snakeskin couture. He is launching his own label, which has a ‘Rock N Chic’ women’s wear collection for spring/summer 2014. The collection, mostly monochrome and metallic pieces, is similar to what Goldstein wears himself. “The feedback from potential buyers is that they want the type of clothes that Jim Goldstein wears,” he says. “I’m doing it for fun, with two friends from Milan. I’m the face and designer. I have no financial interests, but love the creative aspect of it.”
It all started about 15 years ago, he says, when French Vogue did a story on him after he’d been floating around international catwalk shows for decades. “I never set out looking for recognition or had any expectations, but all this exposure and sudden interest in me and my projects has given me more confidence. I met wonderful people such as Helmut Newton who shot at the house. He gave me an option of being paid or given photos. I chose the photos. Of that world, John Galliano stands out most and became a great friend. I like the fact he’s rebellious and love his designs. Since the scandal I haven’t seen him. I’d love to get in touch but he hasn’t been easy to find. I’m expecting one of these days he’ll reappear.”
As for his ‘mysterious’ millions: “If people think I’m mysterious who am I to discourage it?” he says. “I don’t own any trailer parks and, as for the porn rumours, not even close. Let’s just say I have investments in California.”
His stunning space-age home has been featured in films such as The Big Lebowski, Charlie’s Angels and some 300 fashion shoots. All shimmering glass and slanting angles, it was originally built by John Lautner, the rebel protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, between 1961 and 1963. Goldstein bought it in 1972 for US$182,00 and has been perfecting it ever since.
In a glass cabinet, there are pictures of him as a good-looking, whippet-thin young man with dark, slicked-back hair, dressed in a crisp-white shirt, white Mod suit and black Cuban heels, dancing. “That’s me and Jayne Mansfield at the opening of the Whisky A Go Go in 1964,” he says casually of his one-time lover. There are many snaps with gorgeous, barely dressed women: a curvy blonde spilling out of a slip-of-a-dress at a party in Beverly Hills; a sultry brunette in braids and bikini bottoms on a beach in St Tropez.
These days, Goldstein, an older gentleman of indeterminable age, is a real dude rarely seen without his Stetson or a Russian supermodel or two. “I need to be free. I don’t believe in marriage. I’m very independent and function well by myself. I don’t need to have someone with me all the time,” he says, admitting he’s always been a ladies’ man. “I think it’s because of my style, my uniqueness and I’ll leave the rest up to you.”
Along the way to his all-glass-walled bedroom, he waves at his hat collection, made from crocodile, cobra, anaconda, and bought from an unnamed milliner somewhere in Paris, and then opens his closet with its retracting rails, stuffed with more eyebrow-raising suits and shoes made of more such creatures. Isn’t exotic leather pimpish and dated, and what about the animals? “I have a real conflict about that in my mind, which I haven’t been able to resolve. I love animals and obviously I can’t justify my clothing tastes from that standpoint.
“I like to wear something when I look in the mirror and think: ‘Wow, this is really special’,” he explains. Apparently Goldstein often gets mistaken for a rock star. “When I see Mick Jagger, for example, he’s dressed conventionally.”
He takes me to his gleaming new rooftop tennis court carved into the side of a canyon that seems to float in the sky. Goldstein says he’s in the middle of building a movie theatre, his office, more hillside terraces and a nightclub “for occasional entertaining”, all beneath the tennis court. What if he dies before it’s finished? “I try to be optimistic and not to think about those things,” he laughs, and has no plans to slow down. “If I could do it all over again, I’d be in Miami. It’s more exciting, more international, closer to Europe. LA’s too quiet for me, everything shuts at 10pm.” This is probably one of the reasons for his private-lounge Club James.
“When I came to California,” Goldstein says of his arrival as a student at Stanford, in the early 1960s, “LA felt like the place to be. My father had a business, a department store in Milwaukee, which he would’ve liked me to take over, but I chose to stay here. The Sunset Strip was one long street party, you couldn’t move with all the people everywhere day and night.”
On the way out of his cool fantasy pad, I notice a painting of him and his black-and-white Interview magazine cover, which has been reproduced on t-shirts and worn by models all over Paris and Milan. “I don’t know why I’m called a fashion cowboy; it’s not a cowboy hat. It’s actually a trilby, pimps used to wear it.”