Mermaids, S&M and a Camel: How One Luxury Developer Is Spicing Up L.A. Real Estate Open Houses

Courtesy of the Society Group
Guests at developer Niami’s Jan. 18 fete were greeted by a camel.

Nile Niami hosts over-the-top bashes plotted to attract buzz and buyers to his supermansions amid a cooling real estate market: "In my life, everything is for sale."

The theme of Nile Niami's first "underground" networking party was Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch's triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, which is considered a moral warning on excess and erotic derangement. So as the queue formed outside the mansion on Londonderry Place in the Hollywood Hills on Jan. 18, expectations were running high.

Weeks earlier, the crowd — a mix of L.A.'s well-heeled and tragically hip — had been sent a cryptic save-the-date teasing "forbidden fruit." Guests were informed of the address only 24 hours before the soiree. Milling outside the gate of the $55 million mansion, they collectively worked their way through some queries: What is the purpose of this event? Who is the host? And why must we sign a liability waiver before entering?

What the 500 guests — who included actress Fiona Xie (Crazy Rich Asians), Ian Ziering and a smattering of real estate types like Rodeo Realty's Ben Bacal — would discover is that they were attending one of the most extravagant open houses in the history of L.A. real estate.

After elbowing through the scrum and past the security detail, attendees came upon the first of many over-the-top set pieces and performances — this one Fellini-esque: hundreds of candles in colored bags surrounding a large, selfie-ready brown camel. And that was before they even reached the front door. "The idea was to create something that was a combination of Burning Man, [Mexico's] Ondalinda music festival and Coachella," says Niami, a luxury developer who in 2018 set out to create a series of secret events to showcase his portfolio of supermansions. The idea was inspired by similar events that are popular among the tech elite in Silicon Valley. But this being L.A., where buzz almost always trumps anonymity, Niami — who has developed homes for P. Diddy and the Winklevoss twins — is tearing off his proverbial party mask to speak to THR about his endeavors. "We did have an underlying thought that if we get the right people there, and they see the house in that light, it might entice them to make an offer."

Since L.A.'s real estate boom kicked off in earnest in 2012, the race to generate buzz around an eight- or nine-figure listing has escalated to Cold War-era arms race levels, especially when it comes to super-luxe amenities (I'll see your candy wall and raise you a two-story Dom Perignon cellar). Niami, with the help of real estate marketing firm The Society Group, is merely taking his marketing to the same extreme.

Borrowing from Bosch's triptych, the Londonderry party, which cost about $100,000, was organized into Heaven (upper floor), Earth (entry floor) and Hell (lower level). Bikini-clad women draped in blue and red scarves floated like mermaids in the home's two glass-bottomed pools. Upstairs, a virtual reality headset experience — hosted by a practically nude pair of actors (Adam and Eve) — transported partygoers into Bosch's world. On the lower level, a little person wielding a pair of giant garden shears shaved clippings off a petite woman covered from head to toe in soft green moss. Nearby, women bedecked in leather S&M gear, whips and chains in hand, gyrated for a steady stream of spectators. Not far from the "edibles bar" (yes, those types of edibles), bartenders were serving up shot after shot of a Thai liquor fermented with cobra snakes ("It was actually kind of disgusting," says one person who sampled it). At the base of the stairwell, a line formed outside a secret passageway as a guard confiscated cellphones from those who wished to enter. As the party wore into the wee hours, people took to a small dance floor where a violinist dressed as a forest nymph strummed alongside a Rastafarian banging on a big drum, and a DJ hammered out techno beats.

The Londonderry party was the second event hosted by Niami at one of his listings. In November, he threw a bash at a Bellagio Drive property to fundraise for victims of Malibu's Woolsey fire. The event attracted a potential buyer, says Rayni Williams, who with husband Branden has the listings on all Niami projects. Up next: a secret Oscars afterparty Niami was asked to host at another Bel Air property.

In addition to Londonderry, Niami has 9066 St. Ives Drive (listed for $19 million) and his Opus at 1175 North Hillcrest Road ($68 million, down from its original listed price of $100 million 18 months ago). And he's months away from completing The One, a $500 million spec home in Bel Air that will be the most expensive listing in U.S. history. But recent indicators suggest that L.A.'s real estate boom may finally be cooling, which could mean a nine-figure headache for developers like Niami. In L.A.'s luxury sector, the number of sales in fourth-quarter 2018 was down nearly 20 percent from the previous quarter and down 7 percent from a year ago, according to the latest market report from Douglas Elliman. And the number of days a home sat on the market climbed 50 percent from the previous quarter and 30 percent from a year ago.

Niami says his milieu — large-scale projects that take years to complete — comes with a certain amount of risk and that fluc­tuations in the stock market are overrated, adding that his pool of buyers have plenty of assets. "I was concerned in January — it was dead. But it has just recently, and I mean really recently, picked up. Things are stronger than they were last year." He hopes to host a Londonderry-style bash every three months and says the Jan. 18 party generated interest from a buyer. That home is his residence, but, he quickly notes, as if anyone needs reminding: "In my life, everything is for sale."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.