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.

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