By Jeffrey Slonim | August 19, 2009 | People
ABOVE, FROM LEFT: Former President Bill Clinton, Ernest and Aneta Kuklová; Unik Ernest, Rihanna and Fergie. BELOW: The Edeyo foundation's first annual toy distribution in Haiti
Unik Ernest is like a cheerleader for global celebrity branding. “I never met my dad,” he says, dreds cascading. He pronounces English with the round, mouth-filling vowels of his native Creole, a language he grew up with in Haiti, where his single mother sold fabrics to support her young family. “Schooled” French was the second tongue he mastered. “Cursing at your parents,” he says. “I never heard anything like that in Haiti.”
Born Franky Ernest, friends rechristened him “Unik” (meaning “unique”) and the moniker stuck. He decamped for Miami in 1989, shortly after Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled Haiti. Known for crisp Valentino suits and his endearing patter as an MC, Ernest started as a club promoter at The Spot, Mickey Rourke’s club in Miami. “I met Wesley Snipes at Voodoo, just after New Jack City,” he says. “He was driving a red Lamborghini. I handed him an invite, and he showed up at my party. Then in ’94, when I moved to New York, where I was promoting nights at Chaos and Cheetah, and then Serafi na, he gave me his number.”
A celebrity magnet, Ernest met Jamie Foxx while playing drums at Chaos. “He sat down next to me, and we just started pounding,” he explains. “Garcelle Beauvais, from The Jamie Foxx Show, [is] Haitian, and he invited me to the set in LA on a charter jet. Ashton Kutcher I’ve known since he was a model… a long time. I knew his ex-girlfriend January Jones. Ashley Scott [another of Ashton’s exes] was my roommate in Miami. When Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo DiCaprio were doing The Basketball Diaries, they were regulars at Spy and Cheetah. Wahlberg flew me out on a jet to be in his very last music video. I stayed in a dive hotel off Melrose, and he was living in a big glass house off Sunset.”
On the mike at Gin Lane, one of Ernest’s former venues, after the New York premiere of Dreamgirls, Foxx aped Ernest’s slight stutter as he shouted out celebrities. “International superstar Jamie Foxx is in the house,” Foxx shouted, also calling out Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson, who then belted out “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
Others who imitate Ernest’s unique rap? Leonardo DiCaprio and Will.i.am. “Leo’s pretty good,” he says. “But Jamie is the best! I try to get them to move,” says Ernest, who works closely with his brother Kyky and cousin Dimitri. “I’m an MC, an entertainer. I stopped by Rumer [Willis]’s 21st birthday in Vegas, and the boys at Tao tried to get me to stay Sunday.”
His nightclub PM, which he opened in the Meatpacking District in 2003 and recently sold, is legendary. His PM in East Germany, a club he licensed, continues to throb. At PM in New York, Gisele’s birthday was wallto- wall models. After the premiere of Entourage, Jeremy Piven drummed until 4:30 AM. One could almost expect the unexpected: Bill Gates, Marilyn Manson.
Ernest became familiar with Europe at an early age. “Lionel Richie recently asked where he should take Naomi Campbell to dinner in the South of France,” he says. “I suggested La Colombe d’Or. I’ve traveled with Jamie Foxx to Germany, London and Paris. They know me in Cannes, Saint-Tropez and Sardinia. I’ve hit London with Mickey Rourke and also Scarlett Johansson.”
And during Paris Fashion Week, where he hosted parties for Diesel and Emanuel Ungaro, the guest lists were, indeed, “cwazy”: Ciara, Lenny Kravitz, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher and John Legend.
Ernest is also beloved for giving back. In 2007 he founded Edeyo, which means “help them” in Creole. “Instead of getting presents on my birthday,” he says, “I asked people to contribute. We’ve already built a school in Haiti for 200 kids.”
Through Lokee Worldwide Productions, he has consulted on events and product launches with Nike, La Perla, Lufthansa airlines, Interscope Records, Virgin Mobile and Def Jam. And from Saint-Tropez to LA, why do celebs turn up for Unik celebrations? “They know me, they know where my heart is,” he says. “And they love the work I do for Haiti."
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LOKEE WORLDWIDE PRODUCTION (FERGIE, CHILDREN); CLINTON PRESS OFFICE (CLINTON)