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By laurie brookins | January 1, 2010 | Style & Beauty
Frederic Dechnik recalls arriving in Miami three years ago “with our luggage and nothing else, and we didn’t know anybody here. I am very proud of what we achieved during that time.”
What the French-born Dechnik and his two partners—Laure Hériard Dubreuil and Milan Vukmirovic—brought about is nothing less than an evolution of how Miamians embrace fashion, and vice versa. Thanks to the vision of its three cofounders—each with a firmly established fashion pedigree—The Webster has imbued South Beach with a forward-thinking edge, an air of hip-quotient cool that’s decidedly more intellectual than the bright-and-blingy aesthetic that rose to prominence during those long-ago Miami Vice days. Perhaps even more impressive are the dual notions that The Webster’s birth took place amid the frenzy of the retail implosion between 2008 and ’09, and that this trio managed to forge its success story not in the permanent address, but in an equally buzzed-about temporary space.
When it opened in December 2007 in two sideby- side houses on the 900 block of Collins Avenue, The Webster Temporary indeed quickly carved out a niche as the style-centric barometer of South Beach and points beyond. Just a few hundred yards away, the Webster Hotel, a 20,000-square-foot, Henry Hohauser-designed building from the late 1930s, was undergoing a loving transformation respectful of its status as a historic landmark—but that in no way diminished the burgeoning conversation nearby. “We opened Temporary simply because the construction was taking so long, and we had started buying collections,” Dechnik explains. “In the end we were very happy, because it allowed us to start building a clientele, and allowed clients to see who we were and what we wanted to do.” Though the space ultimately would endure for 18 months as renovations lingered, it’s telling that The New York Times called The Webster Temporary a pop-up shop: Not unlike everything else about The Webster, it surged ahead of the curve with a retail idea that has become de rigueur.
Think of The Webster as being everything you love about the Paris fashion scene in your own backyard: You get your fill of stylish sophistication on the second floor while perusing such luxe labels as Balenciaga, YSL, Balmain, Maison Martin Margiela and Lanvin (more on the latter in a moment); downstairs, an outpost of the legendary Caviar Kaspia awaits, a chic home-away-fromhome for artists and models, designers and writers, A-listers and anyone else who favors the iconic eatery on the Place de la Madeleine. “It is the favorite restaurant in Paris for all three of us, the place where everyone in fashion goes,” Hériard Dubreuil says. “When we knew we wanted to include a restaurant in the hotel, we thought, Why not ask?” Kismet ultimately lent a hand: When the trio explained what they were doing and where, the owner of the original couldn’t believe it. “We told him the address, 1220 Collins Avenue, and he said, ‘I used to live in Miami and was working for a start-up company; my office was in that building,’” Hériard Debreuil remembers. “So right away everyone knew it was meant to be.”
But to showcase the best of la vie Parisienne is to only tell half of The Webster story: Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs likewise share space among the retail mix of more than 30 labels. “We started with well-known brands because we had to build a business and tell a story where nothing had existed before,” Hériard Dubreuil says. “Even so, it was about buying pieces from these brands that you couldn’t find everywhere, exclusive pieces from amazing designers. People got that right away; the reaction was incredible.” Dechnik believes Lanvin’s decision to open a Bal Harbour location before New York or LA can be seen as a direct result of The Webster’s impact: “We showed them they had an audience here,” Dechnik says.
These days on the first floor you’ll find Caviar Kaspia sharing space with such hipster designers as Visvim and Band of Outsiders—young, funky, affordable, highly popular in, say, Japan, but still relatively unknown in Miami. (Karl Lagerfeld is a fan of both.) Dechnik calls the second floor “a little more luxurious and mature,” with the heretofore mentioned labels, as well as Givenchy and Pucci. On the third floor, amid rich metallic panels, you find vintage pieces alongside jewelry by such designers as Brazil’s Ana Khouri and Ann Dexter- Jones (mother of Ronson sibs Mark, Charlotte and Samantha). “I wanted to create a concept that doesn’t exist in Miami,” Vukmirovic explains. “A full lifestyle concept store, with a restaurant, a sporty floor, a fashion-luxurious floor and a jewelry floor. I wanted people to be blown away by the decoration. I wanted it to have a minimalist feeling but with a real elegance of what Miami was in the 1940s.”
“Every floor has a different vibe, a different atmosphere,” Hériard Dubreuil adds. “We like to think we’ve created an environment where you can linger all day long.”
The trio at the heart of The Webster knows a little something about what it takes to create such desire: Dechnik, who serves as chief operating officer, holds former stints in retail and product merchandising from Gucci, Hermès and Yves Saint Laurent, while chief executive officer Hériard Dubreuil met Dechnik at YSL and was part of the merchandising team at Balenciaga (on a side note, she’s also a member of the Rémy Cointreau family). Vukmirovic, The Webster’s creative director, is almost as well known for the relaunch of the French men’s magazine L’Officiel Hommes, where he still serves as editor in chief, as for being one of the founders of the iconic Paris boutique Colette (and, indeed, The Webster often enjoys comparisons to the latter). The formula, all agree, simply works. “Milan and I have known each other for 15 years. We grew up together,” Dechnik says. “And we’ve both known Laure for more than five years now. We are more than friends; we are family.”
The evolution of The Webster continues with the recently opened roof lounge bedecked in vintage furniture, while plans for other Webster locations in the US and a private-label clothing line top their wish list. “We came here and fell in love with Miami,” Dechnik says. “The Webster is a story about our taste and what we love, so for people to respond so incredibly to that has been amazing.”
portrait by navid