The Playboy Mystique

Santiago Opinion December 9, 2017

By Christophe Choo

Beverly Hills real estate broker Christophe Choo remembers Hugh Hefner and the legacy he left behind on South Mapleton Drive.


When Hugh Hefner passed away, he left behind a legacy of lavish living elevated by luxury real estate. Mr. Hefner embodied the American Dream. He was a self-made businessman and a purveyor of a life of his own creation, who hosted fabulous parties for fabulous people in silk pajamas and a smoking jacket. I had the fortune of meeting Mr. Hefner on a few occasions — usually during charity events held at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills. Though our meetings were brief, he was always gracious and exciting to be around.

As a self-made businessman myself, I admire the empire and lifestyle Mr. Hefner built. Like me, Mr. Hefner had a modest upbringing. He grew up in Chicago, and served two years in the U.S. Army as a noncombatant toward the end of World War II. He married his college sweetheart, Millie, in 1949. He worked in copywriting for a number of years until he decided to start his own publication in 1953. He called the magazine “Playboy” at a friend’s suggestion; he thought the name reflected sophistication and glamour. Six decades later, Playboy is not just a household name — it has come to represent aspirational living, prestige and yes, sex appeal. Mr. Hefner also embodied the L.A. dream. This is something I continue to champion for my clients everyday. After all, it’s everyone’s dream to come here and live among the beautiful mansions, palm trees, endless sunshine and movie stars. Mr. Hefner kept that fantasy alive for many people.

The ultimate symbol of that fantasy was the Playboy Mansion, of course. He purchased the landmark estate on South Mapleton Drive for $1 million in 1971. It subsequently became one of the most famous properties in the world, with its iconic 22,000 square-foot Gothic-Tudor style residence, 29 rooms, guest house, swimming pool with infamous grotto and zoo of monkeys, cockatoos, peacocks and other exotic birds. It is one of the few private properties in Los Angeles with a zoo license and a year-round fireworks permit. The 5-acre compound was also an incredible real estate investment, making its home along the border of the tony Los Angeles Country Club and among L.A.’s most expensive properties. Just down the street, there is the Manor — formerly the home of Candy and Aaron Spelling, which reportedly sold to British heiress Petra Ecclestone for $85 million. (She has since listed it for $200 million.)  In 2016, Mr. Hefner’s mansion reportedly sold for $100 million to Pabst beer heir Daren Metropoulos. He told The Wall Street Journal at the time that he plans to combine the mansion’s five acres with the neighboring 2.28-acre English Manor estate he purchased from Mr. Hefner’s second ex-wife, Kimberley Conrad. Mr. Metropoulos allowed Mr. Hefner to live out his days in the very mansion that he transformed into a lasting symbol for the Playboy brand.

The mansion, and the playful lifestyle waiting behind the gates, has a mystique that remains sought-after by many people around the world. Once, I took a Norwegian friend visiting L.A. to a property I sold across the street from the Playboy Mansion. Like so many young men, his dream was to go to the Playboy Mansion. I told him, “Keep your eyes open because you never know when you’ll see one of the bunnies coming out!” Sure enough, he kept his eyes glued on that property the entire time! Eventually, the gates opened and he could see a few girls getting out of a car. It was a fun L.A. memory he carried with him all the way back to Norway. When I sold the house next door to the mansion in 2011, I would often hear the peacocks calling and just laugh to myself. Only in L.A. and only at the Playboy Mansion!

Mr. Hefner was a man of his own invention, a man of mystery, but he was also an invention only made possible in Los Angeles. Where else in the world could a man from humble beginnings carve out a whole new lifestyle and vision for himself? This is the land of dreamers. I can’t think of a better place to sell the ultimate dream: luxury real estate.

Lucky being lucky

Santiago Opinion July 2, 2017

By Amanda Cipro


I am sitting in a very expensive sofa in a large beautiful lounge of a London Belgravia mansion with my friend Cynthia. Behind the beautiful furniture and curtains that I am admiring, there is the tasteful touch of an interior designer. Cynthia is beaming with joy, her hands holding her big tummy. At 45 years old she is expecting her first baby (a boy) with Mark her millionaire husband. They met less than two years ago when he hired her catering company for a charity event. ‘At that time my catering company was struggling. Not in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined to fall in love, marry a millionaire and expect my first baby in such a short space of time,’ she says with her brown eyes sparkling behind her trendy glasses. ‘I was in the right place at the right time. I feel very lucky!’ Whilst I share Cynthia’ s happiness, I cannot help thinking about my fate that in too many occasions has put me in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, a couple of years ago in Palermo, I was walking down a narrow street when a pot of geranium accidentally fell from a window sill on the second floor, and landed on me fracturing my left shoulder, which took a very long time to heal. Or how about my holiday in Greece, a few years before, when a group of attractive men were playing volleyball on the beach. To have a better view, I sat on the sand, unaware that I was squashing a small nest of wasps. I ended up at the local A&E in excruciating pain with 3 wasps’ stingers stuck in my behind!

Everytime I get upset for my misfortunes, to cheer me up my mother says that I will never know if my bad luck has saved me from something even worse! Fortunately, like most of us, I do get some lucky breaks too – though not as many as I would like. Luck is hard to study but scientists have begun to uncover the large role that chance plays in our lives. We are actually more like pinballs bouncing around a machine, than captains at the wheel. Certain types of people are well suited to this fact of life.

Elizabeth Nutt Williams, an American psychology professor, found that chance was a significant factor in shaping the career paths of thirteen professional women she studied. Women who take advantage of coincidences have competence, self-confidence and the ability to take risks. Dr.Richard Wiseman has studied luck for over ten years and has found that those who call themselves lucky are extroverts. To launch his study he placed advertisements in national newspapers and magazines, asking for people who felt consistently lucky or unlucky to contact him. Over the years he interviewed these volunteers, asked them to complete diaries, questionnaires, intelligence tests and invited them to participate in experiments. The findings have revealed that although unlucky people have almost no insight into the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their fortune. Wiseman conducted an experiment in which he placed the same chance opportunities – money on the ground and a potential encounter with a connected businessman -in the path of two different people. One of the participants claimed he was an unlucky person, the other said things always seemed to work out well for him. The ‘lucky’ guy immediately noticed the money on the ground and pocketed it, then struck up a conversation with the businessman in the coffee shop where he had been planted. Meanwhile, the ‘unlucky’ man stepped right over the cash and sipped his coffee without saying a word to anyone in the coffee store, let alone the businessman. The lucky people scored higher in openness and lower in negative emotional stresses like anxiety, anger, guilt and depression. Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and as a result miss other opportunities in the less obvious pages. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, they are able to observe the whole picture, rather than just narrow their perspective to one specific thing. Dr. Wiseman’s research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

If, like me, you are not the blessed soul who follows these principles do not despair! You can still attract good fortune through Feng Shui. The English dictionary defines luck as, among other things, “the occurrence of events without apparent cause”; “an unpredictable good event.” The word ‘chance’ comes from Latin ‘cadere’ (to fall). It is random and therefore unexpected. We western people tend to believe that luck involves us being in the right place at the right time. The Chinese would not disagree. They do, however, have ways to make the place right, they call this Feng Shui. It literally means ‘wind and water’.They are the two natural elements that flow, move and circulate everywhere on Earth. They are also the most basic elements required for human survival. Wind – or air -is the breath of life and water is the liquid of life, without them we would die. Feng Shui is a traditional Chinese concept linking the destiny of man to his environment. Our surroundings affect not just our level of material comfort but also our physical and mental health, our relationships and our worldly success. Feng Shui examines how the placement of things and objects within it affect the energy flow in our living environment and how objects interact with and influence our personal energy flow. This all in turn affects how well we perform and succeed in our personal and professional life. This is achieved by positioning or designing our surroundings in harmony with principles of natural flow. Bad Feng Shui brings bad luck. Good Feng Shui brings good luck. I have always heard of this Chinese concept but only recently I became aware of how it actually works, thanks to my friend Anthony who firmly believes in it. A couple of weeks ago I was invited to visit his new apartment. He hired a Feng Shui expert to arrange his furniture and environment so that the energy or ‘chi’ is now flowing gently and smoothly through his home.‘‘Chi,” he says, “is energy that also flows through our body.” The energy flow can be stagnant (think clutter and overflowing closet) or it can move too quickly (think long, dark corridors, staircases) or it is obstructed (think walls, trees.) The unbalanced ‘chi’ may lead to ill health, domestic strife or financial concern. Anthony explained that his practitioner of Feng Shui brought a map (bagua), placed it over the floor plan to find out where specific enhancements were to be applied to bring good luck to the areas most important to him (wealth, romance, creativity, health). He claims that his life has already improved. When I pointed to a small statue of a three-legged brown toad with a coin in its open mouth, seated on the floor of his entrance hall, he explained that it is auspicious for attracting wealth. “It looks so menacing,” I remarked, “no wonder it works, it would scare off any thief and save you from being robbed!” I also noticed a big glass bowl full of goldfishes placed on the kitchen table. That surprised me as I knew he didn’t like any kind of fish. “They are for attracting money,’’ he said awkwardly. I spontaneously offered to look after his goldfish whenever he next traveled abroad. With them in my flat, I might just win the lottery! Anthony now considers himself quite the expert on Feng Shui and has offered to come to my place to rearrange my furniture. I haven’t told him yet that he will also have the unpleasant job of decluttering my two huge wardrobes which are overflowing with clothes to allow ‘Chi’ to run freely in my flat (and my life). In the meantime, I have put a big toad in my entrance hall to keep any potential intruder away. No doubt it is less expensive than a burglar alarm.

If you do not believe in Feng Shui or cannot afford to hire a costly professional practitioner but still want to create your own luck there is an alternative option, and it is free! It is called ‘creative visualization’ and is a mental technique that uses the imagination to make dreams and goals come true. This is the way Amber, a friend of mine, has literally been living her life for the past ten years. It started when, fed up with the British weather, she kept daydreaming of living in Florida in a seaside location. Almost every day she would picture herself sunbathing or sitting outdoors drinking coffee. Thanks to a chain of unexpected events, less than a year later, she moved to Boca Raton where she is now living. For Amber her mind has since become a sort of magic wand! She has been focusing her thoughts on what she wants with excellent results. Amber explained that to be successful at creative visualization I need to be very clear about what I want and put passion and intent on creating it in my mind. I have to ban any negative self-talk from my life because, as Buddha once said, “we are what we think.” Our thoughts create our world. Our world is what we think and believe it to be. Once I know what I desire I imagine it vividly, picture it like it was a movie playing on the big screen. It is important that I really want it because if it doesn’t speak to my heart I will not be able to invest my energy and emotion into it. I have also to spend a few minutes, several times a day, before going to sleep at night and first thing in the morning, enjoying my visualization. With my monkey mind jumping quickly from one thought to another, unfortunately this method of creating luck doesn’t work for me. I have trouble focusing repeated times on the same subject. I prefer something even easier. There is a common saying ‘luck is blind but bad luck sees well.’ In many corners of society it is popular culture to think that if one person is beset by misfortune it means he/she has the evil eye. It is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to a person when they are unaware. A look can cause pain, injury, or bad luck to anyone on the receiving end. People who are envious or simply think that a person does not deserve the good fortune bestowed on them also give the evil eye subconsciously. Throughout history, man has made many forms of talismans designed to ward off bad luck. A rabbit’s foot is the most common European example and the Nazar is widely common in Middle East countries. Traditionally, it is a dark blue circle or round sphere with the shape of an eye in the middle. I was given a Nazar as a present last Christmas and now I always carry it with me. It does not matter whether it works, I just need it like a child clings to a comfort blanket with the hope that instead of pots of flowers I get rose petals falling on me. Wish you good luck!