THE SOUTHERNMOST MAINLAND U.S. CITY HAS MORE THAN GATORS (REAL) AND SERIAL KILLERS (FICTIONAL). IT HAS COME OUT OF THE ECONOMIC SWAMPLAND AND IS BECOMING A HUB FOR ARTS, DESIGN, AND LUXURY LIVING AND RETAIL.
Miami is hot — really hot. The summers are long and the winter, if you can call it that, is short with an average temperature in the low 20s. But it’s not just the weather here that’s sizzling. After decades in the doldrums Miami is positively booming and in a surprising twist art and design have been the driving forces of the city’s renaissance. In 2002 the Swiss-based art fair, Art Basel, opened a US outpost in Miami (it runs over the first week of December each year), which brought with it hordes of cashed-up art collectors. And as Vanity Fair noted in November last year they “came for the art but stayed for the beaches and the scene”. That led to two things: luxury apartments and luxury stores.
The apartment boom started in the early 2000s, hit a hiccup in the 2008-9 economic downturn and then went into overdrive with the soon to be completed Faena District — a redevelopment of eight city blocks by the Argentinian developer Alan Faena. At the heart of his development is Faena House, an apartment building on Miami Beach designed by Foster & Partners. Among the buyers of the 42 apartments are the art dealer Larry Gagosian and the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein. The penthouse sold in September for $US60 million ($87m) — a record for Miami — to Kenneth Griffin, the billionaire founder and CEO of the hedge fund Citadel, according to a report in The New York Times.
A few blocks back from the beach is the Miami Design District — a 10 block former industrial area of low-rise warehouses that is currently being transformed into a luxury shopping, art and dining precinct where the city’s newest residents will be able to escape the heat and relax in the time-honoured tradition of hedge funders. The development is the brainchild of Craig Robbins and his company Dacra, the largest property owner in the project, who has partnered with a handful of major real estate firms including L Real Estate, a division of LVMH, to bring the project to life.
By the end of this year the Design District will be home to 120 luxury stores, a hotel, 15-20 restaurants, apartments, art galleries, furniture showrooms and large-scale public art projects. A new Institute of Contemporary Art, currently under construction, is due to open mid-next year. By the end of 2015 about 50 stores had already opened, most of which are freestanding buildings toasting each other with their architectural flourishes. The Design District is essentially an open-air shopping mall, but by allowing brands to design their stores from the ground up it has avoided falling into cookie-cutter blandness.
At the heart of the centre is one of the most understated and elegant luxury stores anywhere. The gleaming white, three-storey building is unlike anything else in the area and if it wasn’t for the statue of a horse peaking from its rooftop, you would be hard pressed to know it is the home of Hermès. The 1200sqm store is only the third such flagship (stocking all the elements of the Hermès brand) in the US after Madison Avenue in New York City and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. There are 34 Hermès stores in the US in total, but this Miami outpost is unique.
“For the French, Miami embodies the dream of a paradise,” Hermès chief executive Axel Dumas said at the store’s opening in November. “The city has become one of the design capitals of the world and a hub for Latin America.” It was important for Hermès when building a store of this size in Miami, according to Dumas, that the premises reflect the city as well as showcase the brand’s products. To do that the company turned to its frequent architectural collaborator, the Paris-based firm RDAI.
“When we are designing a building for Hermès we always try to understand the context and to be part of the milieu in a way,” says RDAI creative director Denis Montel. “But here when we first visited there was almost nothing. There was just a few small trees so the trees became the starting point for the project. We said, let’s put a tree at the centre of the building so we created an L-shape for the building in order to have a little courtyard and planted a mature Guiana chestnut tree ringed with a bench for contemplation.”
The building has a double skin — the inner layer is essentially a glass box, whereas the outer layer is a shell made from hundreds of white-coated steel tubes of varying thickness that, according to Montel, were designed to resemble the roots of a banyan tree. “It’s extremely open and you have the benefit of light all day long but it’s also protected with the second skin. From the inside the building with all the light coming in seems almost fragile, but from the outside it reads like a solid building. That is why I say it’s almost like an installation instead of just a building,” he says.
A double-height space that is flooded with natural light greets visitors on entry. The ground floor houses menswear and home products and also has an entry to the Saint-Louis crystal shop in shop, only the third such boutique in the world for the crystal manufacturer which was founded in 1586 and acquired by the Hermès Group in 1989. A sweeping staircase takes customers to the second floor which houses women’s ready-to-wear, accessories, silk scarves, watches and jewellery. On the third floor is where you’ll find the brand’s highly coveted bags as well as a perfumery and Hermès’ very first products: saddles and equestrian accessories.
In Miami, Hermès previously had a boutique at the upscale Bal Harbour Shops development and moved to a temporary location in the Design District in 2013. “Having seen the Design District in its early days, one would be very sceptical and wonder if it’s going to work,” CEO of Hermès USA Robert Chavez told the Miami Herald at the new store’s opening. “It was a bet, but we knew having a freestanding store would allow us to express ourselves architecturally. And our sales in the temporary location actually exceeded what we were doing in Bal Harbour.”
Montel says that architectural expression is a very laid back one for Hermès. “We really wanted customers to have the feeling of entering into a fresh space,” he says. “There’s a lot of stone and terrazzo, everything is white or off-white and there is not much colour and not many different materials. Normally we would have a more extensive range of materials in a Hermès shop but here we wanted to reduce it. It’s really hot outside every day of the year and here when you enter you feel comfortable with the fluid and organic shapes and minimal materials. You have this feeling of something lazy. We are in Miami, so it’s very relaxed.”
“The city has become one of the design capitals of the world and a hub
for Latin America.”
The new Hermès store in Miami, designed by French firm RDAI, opened in November.
The Hermès building has a glass layer and an outer one of steel tubing, letting in daylight. The inside décor is simple
and a cool haven from the Miami heat.