by Ruby Comer
I was stunned! My ruby red lips blanched white as I stared at a clothing store’s display window several months ago on West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Seated in a wheelchair and hooked up to an IV and an oxygen tank was a mannequin in a hospital gown. It held a sign that said, “World AIDS Day Is Every Day. People Are People. End The Hate.”
I had to find out whose mind had conceived this display. I entered ES Collection to find out the poop. The owner, Nir Zilberman, I was told, was out of town. Upon his return, we tried to meet several times but our schedules wouldn’t mesh. Then he said he was going to be in Miami in a few weeks. Well, I’ll be snitched. So was I.
Cut to South Florida. I’m in the Sunshine State to attend a Miami AIDS Project fundraiser. I’m planting mein tukhus at ONE Bal Harbour Resort and Spa. Arriving late at night and a bit hazy from the wine I consumed on the flight, the bellman escorts this broad to her suite. In the elevator I chuckle out loud at the hotel’s name—ONE Bal Harbour—as it reminds me of my two much loved songs: “One is The Loneliest Number,” by Three Dog Night and “One Singular Sensation” from the Broadway show, A Chorus Line. The bellman must think I’m a lou-lou, but he politely smiles.
My cuddly room sports an espresso machine, a compact refrigerator, state-of-the-art bed, plasma TV, Gingerlily body wash (the small touches count), and—am I in heaven or what?!—a lovely bidet. It’s important, kids, to keep our nether regions tastefully spotless! The pièce de résistance is the massive bathroom sporting a sleek contemporary freestanding tub and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Collins Avenue and the turquoise-blue Atlantic. An added treat is a TV within the bathroom mirror—yes!
I unpack and, before bed, I kick back on my balcony, taking in the phenomenal view of the city’s twinkling lights. My thoughts turn to Nir.
Nir was raised in Israel and came to America in 1981 when he was twenty-one. A hairstylist, he eventually opened four salons and for twenty years he styled celebrity dos. Nir owned the first Aveda Spa in the U.S., which became a model for all international Aveda Spas. For thirty years he traveled worldwide launching the Spas. “They never do testing on animals and their mission is to save our world,” he informs. The maverick then turned his entrepreneurial dreams toward a “male Victoria’s Secret,” opening three stores: ES Collection, LA Jock Seduction, LA Jock Athletic—all located on Santa Monica Boulevard in WeHo. Nurturing a childhood passion, Nir began designing and created Seduction athletic/fetish brand. “I want people to know that fetish wear can be amazing if made with quality fabric.”
Heavily involved with such organizations as Project Angel Food and Being Alive, he sponsors various fundraisers throughout the year. “When any HIV/AIDS organization asks for support, I donate my space.”
Next morning before breakfast, I comb over the pristinely landscaped grounds of the hotel and check out the pool and whirlpool tubs, and the full-scale fitness center. No doubt about it, this sizeable beachfront hotel is welcoming and polished, just fit for a queen like moi. I end my journey at Mister Collins, the hotel eatery, where I find Nir already seated at an outside table. We face a charming park, sandy beaches, and the rolling waves of the Atlantic that match the fluffy clouds above. Yachts glide by leaving a foamy trail; all the while a breeze rattles the palm fronds that embrace us.
Ruby Comer: NIR! It’s so wonderful to finally see you face-to-face. [Scanning the view, I’m impressed.] This hotel is the one, huh?! [He nods.] Tell me what comes to mind when I mention HIV/AIDS?
Nir Zilberman: When I hear that word I think of life or death.
That window, that window! How in the world did you think of that genius window display?
I realized that thousands of people walk and drive by my store window every day. What better way to get my message out than to make the storefront the billboard of my heart?
Clever man. What’s your new storefront window display today?
It’s military, with the slogan, “Ask, We Tell.” The other window is about drugs.
When men and women do drugs, they often do not think about safe sex and condoms. Death can be a consequence of drug abuse.
Aye! When did you first hear about the epidemic?
In 1983. That’s when I had my first AIDS test [he gets tested regularly]. At the time, the only test available was one where I had to put my left arm on a table and the doctor poked me hard with a wood stick. I had to come back in three days for him to see how it was healing.
I know you’ve been very active in the AIDS community. Tell me some of your adventures.
When I was a hairdresser, I used to give free haircuts to children with AIDS. It was the most rewarding experience. I loved “my kids.” It was very hard for me to watch so many die…[he lowers his head].
Since then I’ve spent most every day trying to support people living with HIV/AIDS. I used to go to Santa Monica Hospital with huge balloons just to see people smile. The doctors would wear masks and gloves but I wouldn’t.
What motivates you to give to others?
I’m a born activist. I want to be the voice for those that do not have one, which includes people, animals, the earth…everything. I also have many amazing friends and employees living with HIV/AIDS.
Finishing his last drop of bottled water, Nir excuses himself and is off to meetings. We agree to meet up for a glass of vino that evening. I treat myself to “The ONE” treatment massage—100 minutes of pure bliss! I prep first with a visit to their steam room to get totally serene. The initial step of the treatment is to soak in a hydro pool, where jet sprays finger your body in segments. The subtle aroma of lavender and candles complete the scene. Next, I’m escorted to another room where I’m smattered in mineral salts. After a shower, I lay back down for a body application of thick lavender and aloe vera cream (face and scalp also included!) then I’m wrapped in special heating foil and a husky blanket for deep penetration. After some minutes, Galina, my Russian Tsarina, works her magic with a full body massage—making my feet yell, Don’t stop! I konk-out till the end of the session. I’m finally escorted to a comfy-sofa Zen area where she presents me with a glass of champagne and a plate bearing three scrumptious pieces of carefully arranged chocolates. Yum!
As the sun sets, I meet up with Nir in the lobby where the Art-Deco-meets-Asian-design creates a soothing calm. Delicious red woods, high ceilings, innovative lighting, and sophisticated accoutrements complete the environs.
Say, are you romantically linked?
No. I’m single and available. [He grins; his emerald eyes glint.]
As you well know, there’s an increase in HIV infection among young people. Any ideas how we can better influence them to play safer?
The only way to teach our young men and women is to tell our story. We need them to know our history and understand the truth. AIDS is not over and people are still dying from it every day. Get tested. Know your status. Play hard and play smart. Use a condom!
Good…good sound advice. Who’s your hero in the AIDS epidemic?
My hero is Princess Diana. She had an amazing heart and soul and went all over the world to spread her love for babies, children, and adults living with HIV/AIDS.
Tell me your interest in designing….
I love to make people feel and look the best from inside out. I designed my first dress when I was twelve years old. I hated school back then, but I loved fashion and beauty. After high school, I spent the first thirty years in beauty as a hairstylist. The next thirty will be all about clothing design.
Can’t wait to see what’s coming! What one thing do you miss about Tel Aviv?
Tel Aviv has a wonderful community. It also has an incredible history. Growing up in Israel made me the man I am today. There, we fought against terrorist attacks. Here, in the USA, I’m fighting the war against AIDS.
Lordie Mary, glad you’re on our side, Bub. Is there one person in your life who stands out the most?
My mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa all inspired me. They were Holocaust survivors and they showed me that life is all about loving, giving, and caring.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]