Last December, Leonardo DiCaprio and Baz Luhrmann shared a quiet moment at a private residence in Los Angeles. They were gathered at an after-party for a fashion show held that night by luxury brand Celine. Iggy Pop gave a surprise performance at the show, and Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber strutted the runway, all before DiCaprio and Luhrmann sat gazing into an elaborate outdoor fire pit. Seated on the stone edge and facing the famous pair was another guest, Michael Braun. He promptly burst into flames.
A lick of fire sparked what one partygoer described as a mohair sweater. Braun’s entire torso ablaze, DiCaprio recoiled in shock as Luhrmann sprang into action. Braun yanked the sweater off, extinguishing the flames in one lucky swoop. Shirtless and charred, clad in only leather shorts and Doc Martens, Braun was instantly the subject of an outpouring of text messages and social media DMs, sharing a video that captured the freak accident. It was a breakthrough moment for a man whom insiders have become more curious about as he has grown enmeshed in the closed-off social circle of the most famous people in the world.
“Who the fuck is Michael Braun?” one powerful agent texted me almost 18 months ago. They would be the first of many to ask. Be it his name-dropping Instagram account, appearances in group photos at the Vanity Fair Oscar party and the Met Gala, or grazing at the latest members-only restaurant to hit L.A., Braun is everywhere. Yet almost no one, except the many boldface names he collects as friends, knows who he is or how he came to occupy this rarefied space.
His acquaintances read like a celebrity yearbook: Kristen Stewart, Timothée Chalamet, Margot Robbie, Justin Bieber, Gigi Hadid, Taika Waititi, Channing Tatum. Many of them frequent parties at Braun’s West Hollywood home, which sits directly in the shadow of the Chateau Marmont.
I called sources from every corner of the social scene – industry figures, nightlife gurus, celebrity wranglers, restaurateurs, brand managers, top event planners, and so on – and they all had the same response: no one knew anything specific about Braun, but they had all recently asked friends about him. Hollywood is a town that runs on status, after all, and its players get anxious when they can’t identify someone’s place in the pecking order. Even some of the B- and C-list actors who have appeared on Braun’s Instagram (his handle is simply @Michael) know nothing about him. One admitted to reaching out to attend a Braun party simply because far more illustrious names were on the list.
Very little biographical information on Braun is available online. The Vancouver real estate developer Westbank Corporation is listed as his employer. Before his Celine sweater went up in flames, his watershed moment was a widely covered “Squid Game”-themed Halloween party he hosted in 2021 which drew Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick, the Biebers and many more. Vogue ran a lengthy photo essay using Braun’s name in its headline, with zero context as to how or why he’d convened the event. There are rumors he comes from a wealthy real estate family (untrue, Braun says). One person said that Braun and his best friend Vas J. Morgan, a British reality star, were vouched for in Hollywood by Topshop heiress Chloe Green (he denies this too). Another says Braun worked the Toronto International Film Festival circuit for years, looking to rub elbows with the glitterati (not entirely accurate, he says). Of average height and build, with frequently changing hair length and color, Braun’s trademark is his unusual voice — high-pitched with an emphasis on enunciation. Imagine Truman Capote by way of Saskatchewan.
The two biggest takeaways from many conversations about Braun were his sweet and accommodating personality (which can also come across as cloying and overly-flattering, some of his critics say), and the protected environment he provides for celebrities. Between COVID-19 and the ubiquity of camera phones and social media, Braun offers safe havens for stars to let their hair down, numerous sources said (unless, of course, he’s the one posting).
I recently reached Braun in Tokyo, where he is supervising the opening of a Westbank property. He called the sweater video “a viral moment” that inspired the same reaction every time: “The first question people ask is ‘Are you OK?’ And then they start laughing.”
Braun offers a very simple explanation as to how he fits into this glossy world: It’s his job. Born the son of a doctor whose non-invasive cosmetic surgery practice is a market leader in Vancouver, Braun said he took up real estate at age 22 and found his calling. He was hired 13 years ago by Westbank, which owns Shangri-La Hotels in Vancouver and Toronto. He says he was given clear marching orders for those properties: to make them Hollywood’s home away from home. Many film and TV projects shoot in Vancouver, and the Toronto Shangri-La is at the center of the city’s annual film festival.
“We wanted those hotels to be the destination of choice for the movie industry. Directors, top-tier talent, agents. My job as director of sales and marketing was to make Shangri-La the place to be,” he says. After cementing Shangri-La locations as go-tos for the industry, Braun says he recruited two big brands to solidify his stronghold in celebrity hospitality. The first was convincing star chef David Chang to open a Momofuku in Toronto — his first location outside New York City — in 2012, and the second was to bring Soho House up north, he says. Westbank is the primary tenant of the Adelaide Street building in Toronto where Soho House operates. It owns 50% of the business in that location, according to Braun. Representatives for Chang and Soho House did not have immediate comment on the matter. Another location eventually popped up on the TIFF circuit as a must-attend spot, he says: his personal penthouse apartment.
Braun shared that his business strategy mimics the blueprint of Chateau Marmont owner André Balazs or Sunset Tower Hotel and San Vicente Bungalows kingpin Jeff Klein.
“The reason people stay there is because there’s a familial sense with the ownership. It’s my job to create that rapport. You’ll see Jeff Klein hanging out with Tom Ford. If you brought André Balazs to the Oscars, every single actor would say hi to him,” Braun said. [Editor’s note: Not every single actor would say hello to Balazs].
To Braun’s credit, he is a good sport when asked directly about pervasive questions regarding his relevance. In regards to his excessive flattery, Braun said “sometimes people don’t realize my whole life and my current job is hospitality,” he says. “It can come across as too helpful to everyone, but I understand it. I respect some people that are better at being harsher.”
Braun is insistent that no one has ever had to “vouch” for him or his friend Morgan on the scene. His L.A. house has become such a noted destination that Braun has been known to lend it out to major brands, like he did for an event last year for fashion house Burberry where Madonna turned up and danced in his living room. His mother and sister, he adds, moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and he’s been shuttling back and forth ever since.
He has plans for increasing his visibility — more hotels, restaurants, and even a fashion collection currently underway. Interestingly, he notes he learned Hollywood etiquette about a decade ago from a former party fixture — Lindsay Lohan. “She’s probably the person that introduced me to socializing in Hollywood. She would be the seminal person in my entrance to that world,” he says.
Apologies to Lohan, but Braun is the one guarding the entrance these days.
Originally published at variety.com