Izze: The drink of imaginary legends

Matti Leshem and Michael Della Femina of Protagonist

Matti Leshem looks a little like the devil. Tall (maybe 6’5"), shaved head and goatee; has a penchant for expensive toys (cars, motorcycles, clothes).

And why is this The Knife’s concern? Because he’s also the CEO of Protagonist, a "Production/Branded Entertainment Studio based in Los Angeles" (to quote from his bio on the Huffington Post). And, among Protagonist’s multiple, if not multifarious, goals is to make you crave Izze, that fizzy fruity water in the narrow can or the glass bottle. No, better than crave: take it as an article of barroom faith, something you expect to see on a bartender’s credenza, next to the tonic water and the diet Coke.

Fifteen years ago, a company like Protagonist might have tried to fake you out with a plant — an actor hired to hang out in a trendy bar or club and repeatedly order his drink of "choice," using charisma to inspire his new friends to follow suit. Today, the plant has become a full-grown terrarium — a celebratory hothouse that springs up overnight.

Protagonist’s client is Pepsi, which bought Izze from its Boulder, Colo. creators about 19 months ago. And Protagonist’s job is to make Izze seem cool without seeming like they’re trying to make it seem cool.

It’s a classic bit of Hollywood marketing misdirection; here, the schtick is tying the drink to the celebration of "thought leaders." First it was Britney Spears attorney Laura Wasser with the "IzzeWasser" (blackberry Izze, tequila, blueberries, raspberries, lime juice, Chambord); more recently, the thought leader was the altogether imaginary Coco De Ville, created to celebrate the eponymous "spirit" of a new La Cienega Blvd. lounge next to STK, part of the One Group empire — the kind of spot that includes an underground car park with private elevator, the better to shuttle the paparazzi bait.

So, what does a nonexistent legend drink? An Izze de Ville is lime, orange, mint, simple syrup, vodka, pomegranate liqueur and pomegranate Izze. It’s not bad; imagine a Cosmopolitan with some diet Sprite and you’re pretty close.

Of course, a night of Izze de Ville makes only for a page of WireImage photos. But that’s fine; Leshem plans to honor another half dozen or so thought leaders in various locales before the year is out. Next up is East Hampton, but who’s the lucky subject?

At the Coco de Ville bar, Leshem asks a producer friend: "Hey, you want a drink named after you? You going to be in the Hamptons this summer?"

Fourth of July weekend, the producer says. He’s drinking bottled water.

"What do you like? What kind of fruit?"

Grapefruit’s good, he says. And blueberries are nice.

"Hey, that’s great. We’ve got a grapefruit Izze; we haven’t done that one yet.

"You hear that?" Leshem crows. "He’s our next drink, right here. You’re watching history being made."


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