As far as we can tell, tall, bright-eyed blonde Irena Medavoy has it all. Stunning good looks, a loving super-producer hubby, a beautiful home, jetset lifestyle and the heart to support her favorite charities. But as our STEPHEN CHRISTOPHER discovers, her best virtue might be what her friends love most about her—that prodigiously zany sense of humor.
Socialites generally aren’t the sorts to bust an interpretive dance move for our camera. So at our photoshoot when philanthropist Irena Medavoy starts gyrating—arms darting dramatically upward—all the while spinning on her heels and making hysterical Zoolander-like expressions—we relish her crazy antics, and can’t help but fall in love.
Even off-camera, Irena’s not-afraid-to-be-silly realness pulverizes any pretentiousness as she shouts self-deprecating lines that have us all rolling. “Shall we lose the Spanx? Yes! Yes! Let’s lose the Spanx!”
Her friends, like Dr. Cheryl Saban, agree: “Irena is one of the funniest, most spontaneous people I know. Hands down, she is a fiercely loyal friend—a devoted and adoring mother and wife, and honestly, an angel in our midst. I adore her!”
Irena’s an equally funny story-teller, like this one about her first crush: “Mine was Paul McCartney from the Beatles. I freaken’ just loved Paul McCartney. In my home-ec class I made a Paul McCartney doll with his face from Teen Beat magazine plastered on it. I slept with this doll until my mom finally got rid of it, because she thought it was so pathetic. Fast-forward to one night my husband Mike and I are at Mr. Chow’s having dinner after a Paul McCartney concert when guess who walks in the door! Paul…McCartney! Now you have to understand, everyone comes to our house, and I never care. I admire them, but I’m not swooning. So here’s Paul and he walks right up to our table and my husband introduces me to him as his wife, and I shout, ‘Paul, you’re the first man I ever slept with!’ And everybody at the table is shocked and goes ‘What? What?’ Mike says, ‘What?’ Paul must have thought I was a groupie from his past. So I try to explain to him, ‘No, no! There was this doll!’ He looks confused and embarrassed and I’m embarrassed. ‘No! No! There was a doll.’ The next time I ran into Paul, he laughed and joked, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re the only one I didn’t sleep with.’”
Of her early dating life, Irena laughs, “Oh, no, are you kidding me? I never dated—I married everybody. I’ve been married four times. I’m the Elizabeth Taylor of this generation. In my 20s I married just because I thought that’s what you did. I thought if he asked, you said yes. But in my 30s, 40s, and 50s, I’ve been married to Mike.”
Hubby is movie producer Mike Medavoy, who, with over 318 titles under his belt, has touched most of the best American films of the past 40 years. Gems like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Annie Hall, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, Network, Amadeus, Dances with Wolves, Silence of the Lambs, Black Swan—you get the picture.
The couple have one son together, Nick, 17, who stands 6-foot-8. Irena recalls the day he was born like it was yesterday, “Mike cut the cord, and with baby Nick in his arms, danced and sang “Singin’ in the Rain.” It was a poignant moment because my mother was dying in our house just as my son was born—a juxtaposition of the frailty of life and birth. It was the most amazing moment. My son is just…I have no words. The only thing I ever wanted in life was to be a mom. I only wanted to be a mom.”
The Los Angeles–born beauty twirls on the heels of her Stuart Weitzman 50/50 high boots, “I love these boots—they’re like sexy Uggs!” she exclaims, “I wear them with everything.” By everything, she means everything. Her closet is a showcase of Dolce & Gabanna, YSL, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, and, of course, Louis Vuitton. “I love LV—always have, always will. I just got two of the light roll-on bags for Christmas.”
The luggage came just in time. She’s on her way to Paris for the Chanel and Dior Fall/15 couture shows with fashionable friend Florence Azria. While there, they’ll be hitting the exclusive party of a other BFF, Tania Fares.
Born Irena Gerasimenko, she grew up in Hollywood, attended Hollywood High, and her first gig was, naturally, at the Hollywood Reporter. Irena was inspired by her mentor, publisher Tichi Wilkerson Miles (who later wed Arthur Kassel). A full-ride scholarship took her to USC, but after two years, she left for Sunn Classic Pictures’ PR department. After that, a successful modeling
career, some acting roles and then work on QVC.
It’s been ten years since Irena was at the center of the Beverly Hills Botox case that started with “the most regrettable decision of my life: to allow Botox to be injected in the back of my neck, spine, and all over my head to cure my migraine headaches.” It led to her trial against Allergan, where she alleged that she’d been seriously and life-alteringly harmed by the spread of the formula throughout her body. While she didn’t succeed at trial, the FDA has since “approved the following revisions to the prescribing information of Botox Cosmetic: A Boxed Warning highlighting the possibility of experiencing potentially life-threatening distant spread of toxin effect from the injection site after local injection.”
Irena’s passion lies with her charity efforts—especially those involving children. She was the founder of Team Safe-T and a charity executive and fundraiser for the Industry Task Force. She was the co-chair of Coach for Kids at Cedars-Sinai, and she works with Georgie Smith on a charity that provides a home for foster kids who age-out at 18, A Sense of Home (asenseofhome.org).
It’s only natural that the blonde beauty, who looks twenty-years younger, would get into the skincare game. Along with pals Mareva Georges, Nicole Avant, Laura Dern and Sybil Robson Orr, she’s launching a special Tahitian-formula product. “Going back into business is exciting—especially with these wonderful partners.” If the secret coconut oil concoction has anything to do with Irena’s youthful appearance, she’s on the right track.
The Katz Meow
Who is that stylish philanthropist with the model’s good looks who recently completed her tenure as vice chairman of the Kennedy Center’s National Committee for the Performing Arts? That one—the tireless supporter of so many charities including downtown LA’s Dream Center? She’s Kelly Fisher Katz.
Our CATHERINE WILLIAMS caught up with Kelly in hubby Martin Katz’s Jewel Suite at the Towers at the New York Palace Hotel.
I spot Kelly Fisher Katz across the living room of the Martin Katz Jewel Suite at the Towers at the New York Palace Hotel in Manhattan. As she glides across the room to greet me (and yes, she glides), I am reminded of why I’m so fond of her. Kelly is one of those rare women who commands attention without demanding it; unfailingly elegant but not without spunk. She’s the fiercely loyal friend who always has your back.
“I’m working today, so I’m doing a casual day,” she says, explaining her jeans. Her look of jeans, a Chanel jacket, Alaia walking shoes, and a Birkin slung across her arm is nonetheless photo ready. Kelly insists on a glass of wine as we tour the suite. As part of a $140-million renovation of the New York Palace Hotel, Kelly’s husband, famed jewelry designer Martin Katz, was chosen to design the lavish three-story jewel-themed suite. Martin’s brilliant designs are on display everywhere, but the breathtaking interior design is Kelly’s.
As we settle onto a sapphire-blue sofa, it occurs to me that Kelly could easily add ‘sought-after interior designer’ to her already full résumé. “It was a labor of love. We designed everything from the artwork to some of the furniture. Every book I chose is something that Martin is passionate about. Everything reflects the idea of luxurious jewels. When you rent the suite, you live amongst a million dollars worth of jewels.”
The Jewel Suite marks the first interior design project for Martin and Kelly, though since winning the prestigious Gold Key award in 2014 for Best Suite, they have had numerous offers to design other hotels, a bar, and even a private plane. “We have to figure out how much we can do. We’re a small team and we are really in the jewelry business. Now I’m into the interior design world. It’s like a new career, which is exciting.”
Scheduling is the key. Between traveling for her own career as a spokesperson and voiceover artist, and for her husband’s business, Kelly’s plate is full. But there is always time to indulge her love of fashion. “I love Chanel. I was very blessed to be invited to the couture show in January when Karl Lagerfeld turned the Grand Palais into a brasserie. Oh, my goodness, it was just incredible!” She gushes about Alexander McQueen, Alaia, and her penchant for collecting Hermès bags. And of course, Tom Ford. “I think he’s a genius and so multi-talented. The man does everything well.” But she is quick to add, “Talking about designers can sound so over the top. I am not always that fancy girl. I really love being in jeans and a t-shirt. That’s my comfort level too.”
Beyond her impeccable style, attention must be paid to Kelly’s role as a driven philanthropist. “I get the most satisfaction from helping people and doing my charity work.” She’s a champion for arts education, and I sense her frustration with the lack of artistic opportunities for children. “We don’t have a budget for arts educators in the state of California.” It’s a problem she has worked tirelessly to remedy. Kelly spent years on the board of PS Arts in Los Angeles and just completed her tenure as vice chairman of the Kennedy Center’s National Committee for the Performing Arts, which works to fund and create arts education projects for children. “We want to make sure that every child can be exposed to the arts at some level. You never know how they will be inspired. They could go to a ballet once, be inspired, and it follows them through their life and they wind up in a career in the arts. It’s really all about educating children.”
Kelly is also an ardent supporter of the Dream Center in downtown LA. And she isn’t just writing checks. She’s a hands-on participant, counseling drug- and alcohol-addicted men and supporting human-trafficking victims. As she shares several stories of lives that were utterly transformed by the Dream Center, her enthusiasm is contagious. “You can’t help but be moved if you go there; it’s a phenomenal place.”
Her compassion and commitment are refreshingly genuine, and seem to bring her own charmed life into focus. “I’m so grateful for my health and my family. And I have the most wonderful friends. We count our blessings whenever we’re together. We talk about it, we acknowledge it. I think if you can get a good group of friends who become your family, that’s a big blessing.” I couldn’t agree more.
Art Director: Stephen Kamifuji
Photographer: Tracey Morris / TraceyMorris.com
Stylist: Tiffani Chynel / TiffaniChynel.com
Models: Donna McPhail and Lenka Haskova / HMMLA.com
Makeup: Anna Branson / TheRexAgency.com
Hair: Jackie Fanara / JackieFanara.com
Manicure: Elisa Wishan / TheRexAgency.com
Photo Assistant: Christian Shenouda
Digital Tech: Robert Morris
Art Direction: Stephen Kamifuji
Photographed by Tracey Morris
Styled by Angel Terrazas
Makeup by Christina Henry
Hair by Christina Buzos
Digital Tech: Robert Morris
Photo Assistant: Christian Shenouda
Exclusive interview with Philanthropist Dr. Carla Sands. Dr. Carla Sands is president of the Blue Ribbon organization.
Dr. Cheryl Saban is an author, philanthropist, skier, kayaker, glassblower, mom, and if that weren’t enough, the President appointed her as a Special Representative to the U.N. Our STEPHEN CHRISTOPHER catches up with the tireless over-achiever at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel.
My son, Sean, was obsessed with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. He had the DVDs, the posters, cups, caps, action figures in every size, and when Halloween rolled around, he very specifically needed to be the red Power Ranger. No, daddy, not the blue one.
Take my son and multiply him by a thousand-million (the number Sean always uses when he means a lot) and you have the universe that made Haim Saban, the creator of the super-hero franchise, one very wealthy man. Forbes says he’s the 128th richest American, with a net worth of $3.1 billion.
For the past 26 years, and for the life of the Rangers, Saban’s better half has been Cheryl Saban, Doctor Cheryl Saban, to be precise, a kind of superhero in her own right. The elegant, statuesque mother of four holds a PhD in psychology. She’s also an author, a philanthropist, and a women’s advocate. After that, are all the ‘ings’ that this overachiever does: glassblowing, skiing, kayaking, baking, and knitting. Back in the day, she was also a disco singer.
Judging by mere appearances, you’d never believe Cheryl’s two children from her previous marriage are now 40 and 38. Her youthful look and slim size-2 figure makes this completely implausible. Today, after decades as a blonde, she’s decided to change things up and is debuting a sassy dark brunette bob at our photo shoot. She arrives looking very ‘Audrey Hepburn’ in her black, skinny-to-the-ankles JBrand jeans, black cashmere mock turtleneck, grey Neiman Marcus sweater wrap that hits mid-thigh, and a chic pair of black flats.
The wardrobe stylist slips Cheryl into a breathtaking Elie Saab couture gown, and as she strolls along the pathway, a crazy crackling sound can be heard coming from her shoes. The heels are crushing the sequins along the hemline and they’re popping like firecrackers and flying off. Everyone laughs—albeit nervously—the dress is on loan from Saks for the shoot and Genlux is, naturally, on the hook for any damages. Fortunately, Cheryl saves the day: “I love this dress. Can I buy it?” By the end of the shoot, she’s also carted off other items like the full Stella McCartney ensemble. Saks will be very happy.
The Beverly Park estate the Sabans call home is, in Cheryl’s own words, “embarrassingly large—over 25,000 square feet.” With genuine sincerity, she quickly couches the admission of excess: “We’re grateful for everything we own, and we’ve worked hard for it. We don’t take it for granted and one of the guiding principles of our lives is to give back.”
And that they do. The couple’s list of philanthropic giving is long—very long. The Motion Picture and Television Fund, Soroka Children’s Hospital in Israel, the John Wayne Cancer Institute, American Israel Education Foundation, and the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, to name just a few. Cheryl herself also serves on numerous boards including Girls, Inc., Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and the Board of Overseers at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. Again, to name just a few.
One act of giving, in particular, meant a lot to Cheryl. When she was a young woman in need of medical attention, the Los Angeles Free Clinic was there to help. She remembers being treated with respect and kindness. And like a plotline for a feel-good movie where the audience cheers at the end, when the opportunity to return the favor came up, the Sabans gave big. How big? Let’s just say big enough to rename the facility The Saban Free Clinic in Los Angeles.
Cheryl’s pet project is her Self-Worth Foundation—something that evolved after the release of her most substantive book, What Is Your Self-Worth? A Woman’s Guide to Validation. She’s cheerfully vowed to give $10 million to specific women’s organizations. “I had difficulties in my own childhood. I was sexually assaulted when I was in my teens. It was an extremely painful experience, so I focus my attention on women and children who are in groups like the Rape Crisis Center in Santa Monica. It needs to be on everybody’s radar, and we need to find a way to put an end to it. I have empathy for these women, so now that I have the resources to help, I jump right in.”
Cheryl’s also sponsoring Girls Who Code, created by Reshma Saujani and Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter. The program helps prepare high-school girls for their future by teaching them how to write computer code. Not surprisingly, Cheryl is also learning to write code. “It’s never too late or too soon to learn new tricks—I’m totally down with lifelong learning.”
Just last year, Cheryl was the recipient of a very honorable appointment. She was named by President Obama as a U.S. Special Representative to the United Nations and spent nearly four months in New York focusing on issues concerning women and children. (The post is to be confirmed later by Ambassador Rice and the Senate).
When she’s not helping to save the world, Cheryl’s favorite passion is glassblowing. “It takes a long time to get good at glassblowing, and mastering it takes years. You have to be there, in the moment. Focused, because you’re dealing with 2000-degree molten glass. It’s also true with sports like skiing and kayaking—you have to be focused. It’s that way with anything. It’s hitting the sweet spot or having a good ski day. When your skis are in the right position and you’re making all of your turns, it feels sooo good.”
Yesterday, a beautiful gift arrived at my door. It was from Cheryl. Carefully wrapped in a simple white box was an exquisite glass sculpture created by Cheryl herself as a thank you for this interview. Her favorite quote by Pablo Picasso quickly came to mind: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” In Cheryl Saban’s case, those are clearly words she lives by.
Art Director: Stephen Kamifuji
Stylist: Holly Copeland / HollyCopeland.com
Makeup: Annie Ing / CelestineAgency.com
Hair: Randi Petersen / ArtistsbyTimothyPriano.com using Redken
Manicure: Elisa Wishan / The Rex Agency using Orly
Photo Assistant: Drew Roberts
Location: Special thanks to the Peninsula Beverly Hills
Art Direction: Stephen Kamifuji
Photographer: Joseph Chen / josephchenstudio.com
Stylist: Anna Shay
Hair & Makeup by Miho Suzuki using Schwarzkopf USA and Laura Mercier
Post Production: Eunji Kim