...and Now for a $10 Million Xmas Tree
updated 12/10/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/10/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST
At their small, crowded shop, known in L.A. as "the Gucci of Christmas decoration," customers such as John and Julie Forsythe, Aaron and Candy Spelling, Victoria Principal and Neil Diamond can sample hundreds of handmade, limited-edition items. The treasures range from a $50,000, 50-piece pottery crêche from Italy to a stuffed bear dressed in a tutu—a steal at $10. Instead of ordinary wreaths and tinsel, Christmas Fantasy tosses up silk flower-and-greenery garlands for $250 and six feet of blown-glass beads at $50. There is an endless variety of Santas, snowballs and sleighs, plus winged elves with gossamer hair. Hand-blown glass balls, some shaped like animal figures ($8 to $38) are favorites of Linda Ronstadt and Johnny Carson's newest love, Alex Mass. "She goes around saying, 'I want eight of these,' " reports Moore, "and Johnny will say, 'No, six will be enough.' "
Besides Nativity-inspired knick-knacks, Christmas Fantasy is also crammed with fully decorated trees. Unadorned, the 10-foot tall, artificial Alaskan pines cost between $270 and $2,200. When the branches are decked with dolls in French-ribbon dresses and gold braid covered balls (as in Kern and Moore's Christmas Court creation), the price leaps to $4,400. Their Old World Tree is festooned with glass baubles, most of them in silver, gold, red or green. "These were Americans' first commercial Christmas tree ornaments," claims Moore. The $5,500 price tag, however, is pure 1984.
For their clientele, Moore and Kern occasionally make house calls. Last year they transformed Barbra Streisand's home into a sea of peach and green. "We made up pine cones, acorns and greens decorated with ribbon," says Moore. His most elaborate design is the tree he did this year for Cartier. Flashing with diamonds, emeralds and rubies, the $10 million tree was protected by 18 armed guards when it was displayed at the store.
Although some customers are jolted by Kern and Moore's tab (they charge $100 an hour and bills often run as high as $8,000), Moore insists, "Everyone we've done has come back." Last year the duo grossed $500,000 and expect to double that amount this year with the help of two new shops, one in Costa Mesa, the other in Torrance.
Moore, 26, and Kern, 38, got into the Xmas biz three years ago as a way to make extra money. Both had been raised on farms in Illinois before relocating in California, but they didn't meet until 1981 when Kern, a theatrical agent, and Moore, a publicist, were working with client Zsa Zsa Gabor. One night a mutual friend reminded Kern of the Marina del Rey apartment he once decorated for the holidays. "Brad's eyes lit up," recalls Kern. "He immediately felt this was a service that could catch on." They invested $168 in cheap announcements and delivered them to 300 of their firms' top clients. The following day Sheila Barbera (wife of one of the cartooning Hanna-Barbera partners) asked them to decorate her home for her annual holiday luncheon. "I hung up," says Moore, "and called Gavin to say, 'I think we just made back our $168.' "
Kern and Moore originally bought their supplies from other retailers but soon realized that the smart way to market "the best of Christmas" was to go into business themselves. This February they will start collecting Christmas treasures for 1985 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in West Germany. From there they will travel to England, France, Italy and Greece in order to work out exclusive contracts with local artisans.
Since Moore and Kern can't pay house calls on every American in the land, they offer some basic tree-trimming rules that anybody can follow. "Hang the lights first," they advise. "Beading and garlands come next. Then add the ornaments. You've got to approach it with fun and love. If you approach it like a job it will look like a job." One thing Kern and Moore rarely do, however, is photograph their made-to-order designs. "It would be awful if someone asked for a Victoria Principal tree," sniffs Kern. "We're not the FTD of Christmas trees."