By Arielle Castillo | July 5, 2011 | Lifestyle
Leticia Leite, director of communications, Peixe Urbano collective buying website
In the heart of the design district, VIP customers stroll into a high-end kitchen showroom and take it all in: Recycled wood seams up flawlessly against frosted, handle-less cabinets. Carefully compartmentalized caverns appear from behind massive, crocodile-stamped leather sliding doors. Interlocking parts meld together as if by design magic. Everything opens and closes with nary a click. This is the airy Ornare custom closet and kitchen exhibition space, the Brazilian luxury design house’s first in the United States. And odds are that the clients ooh-ing, aah-ing and eventually buying these designs will be discussing the details in Portuguese.
|Clàudio Faria, owner, Ornare Miami furniture design company|
Much about the Ornare showroom—its particular sense of luxury, its ever-increasing success with buyers from its homeland—is emblematic of a new development in Miami. Though Brazilians have long been considered an especially powerful, even sexy, faction of the city’s multinational fabric, their numbers are growing here by the day. A host of economic and lifestyle factors are making the Magic City inviting for visitors from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and beyond. And a great many of them are choosing to stick around.
“We’re seeing more and more people spend time here,” says Lipe Medeiros, also a São Paulo native and cofounder of the South Beach-based SoFi Property Group, a high-end real estate team run by Keller Williams Realty. The company is surfing a wave of a new class of Brazilian buyers who are treating their investment properties in Miami as true second homes. “Maybe now they spend six months here and six months in Brazil,” he says.
Brazil’s current boom is having a ripple effect in Miami. As one quarter of the lately oft-referenced BRIC world powers (alongside Russia, India and China), the country is flourishing economically after long years of inflation and financial crises. Earlier this year, a Reuters report on the country’s official 2010 economic statistics painted a rosy picture, to say the least. Brazil’s economy had risen by 7.5 percent, the biggest jump in 24 years, and its currency, the real, more than doubled in US value since 2002 (from approximately $.25 to its current $.62)—all while the Miami real estate market continues to favor buyers. This has turned Miami into an increasingly attractive place to live, play and even work, especially considering its close geographical proximity to the mother country.
This perfect storm is benefiting Brazilians who’ve made Miami their home for a while—like Leticia Leite, a 30-year-old who moved from Rio de Janeiro to the US with her family at age nine. Leite is the director of communications for Peixe Urbano, Latin America’s first collective buying website. Though it launched just last year, it now offers daily deals in more than 60 cities in that country and in Argentina, with plans to expand further throughout Latin America. While she met the company’s founder, Julio Vasconcellos, in the United States, he and the company’s headquarters are based in Rio de Janeiro. But Miami, and her professional experience in the United States, has worked out perfectly for Leite. “The fact that I grew up in Miami helped me learn Spanish, which helps now that our company is expanding,” she says.
|Ricardo Dunin, founder and president, Flagler Group real estate development firm|
A similar back-and-forth interplay hums throughout the real estate field, as well. Take Ricardo Dunin, who moved here from Rio de Janeiro two decades ago and four years later founded the Flagler Group. The real estate development firm introduced Miami to the condo-hotel concept through projects like the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel and The Mutiny Hotel, both in Coconut Grove. When new project development became less profitable, he retooled and created Lionheart Capital. The company buys distressed properties, then rebrands and updates them—such as its largest projects, the luxe but temperately priced Ritz-Carlton Residences at Singer Island, Palm Beach.
That kind of ingenuity, he thinks, is a characteristic particular to his fellow countrymen, and a product of their history. “Brazilians tend to be really creative, and the reason is because they always had to be,” he says. “It was something you had to do in order to survive.” That creativity allowed him to look homeward in developing his latest company, Performance. He and Leite’s father founded the real estate development company in Rio de Janeiro, to capitalize on the lust to buy. “If you go to Brazil today, you get reminded of what the US was five or six years ago,” he says. “We launched a building, and in a weekend we sold half the units in pre-construction. Two weeks later, we’re 80 percent sold out.”
|Lipe Medeiros, founder, SoFi Property Group real estate sales and marketing team|
The success there is in turn allowing him to pursue more varied projects stateside, like the recently opened Peacock Garden Cafe next to the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel. The lushly landscaped neighborhood spot is not particularly Brazilian, but it’s another example of how the cash f low from the south impacts Miami.
The explosion of restaurants, galleries and other quality-of-life enhancers has in turn become a major selling point for Medeiros and his wife, Anca Mirescu, who’s also a partner in the SoFi Group. Medeiros first came to Miami from São Paulo in the mid ’80s, but in search of a faster pace, decamped to New York to launch the luxury lifestyle store Language. Miami, however, lured him back: “When I returned in 2004, I absolutely fell in love with two Miamis—what Miami is now and what Miami would become in 10 years. We’re getting very close to that.”
He and Mirescu have built a new PR campaign around the idea of “the new Miami,” which touts, on Portuguese-language websites and publications, developments such as Art Basel Miami Beach and the rest of the burgeoning cultural scene. “We’re demystifying for Brazilians the old Miami from 25 years ago, when they would visit the electronics shops downtown and go to Walt Disney World with their kids,” says Medeiros.
It’s working, especially with a new class of younger, cash-rich buyers. “It’s what I call the ‘beginner buyer.’ It’s somebody who never owned anything outside Brazil,” Medeiros says. “They made money in Brazil and have money in Brazil, and maybe a beach house in Brazil, an important car or a plane. Maybe they owned five gas stations and suddenly they own 170, and they want to buy in Miami.” The SoFi Group makes sure to step in and hold buyers’ hands through the American buying process, which is markedly more complicated than it is in Brazil, where deals are often settled on a handshake.
|Marcus Panthera, founder, Mega Model Management|
But concierge-level service is typical for Brazilians doing business in Miami. Medeiros, Dunin, Faria and Leite all concur. “The Brazilian people are very optimistic and friendly,” adds Marcus Panthera, who brought his Mega Model Management agency to Miami from Brazil. “In my work I need to have a very busy social life, and I believe being Brazilian helps me a lot with this.”
Beyond the relationship-focused business acumen, something many in the current Brazilian wave seem to share is a unique sense of style. In fashion, that’s best represented by the Osklen boutique on Lincoln Road in South Beach, the Southeastern flagship store for the line by designer Oskar Metsavaht. The pieces there are luxurious in an understated way, with soft fabrics and smart tailoring coexisting with a breezy, beach-boho feel.
Similar sensibilities can be found in Ornare’s interior handiwork. “It’s contemporary and clean, but the use of the materials—the raw materials combined with a modern look—makes it very unique,” says Faria. “Organic is very characteristic of a Brazilian product.”
|Romero Britto, world-renowned artist|
On the other end of the spectrum, the particular Brazilian joie de vivre is apparent in the almost omnipresent marketing of the bold, bright neo-Cubist pop art of Romero Britto. His primarycolored, thickly outlined paintings, prints and sculptures decorate countless public spaces from the suburbs to South Beach. Britto’s success story, however, is not one of riches to further riches. For one thing, he hails from Recife—not moneyed São Paulo or Rio—and arrived on a whim after visiting a friend. “If you are a rich Brazilian moving to Miami, maybe you move to Fisher Island and you have friends quickly,” he says. “When I moved here, I did not have the success I have today. Today I know a lot of people, but when I just moved here, the most difficult thing was basically integration and friendship in the community.”
As Britto’s artistic star rose, though, so did his profile in the Brazilian community, both among expatriates in Miami and back at home. Now, in his homeland, his work is as hot a commodity as it is here, and he says he’s enjoying increasing numbers of Brazilian collectors buying in dollars. “I have Brazilians flying here just to see me,” he says.
As they and their peers continue these round-trips, Miami life is taking on a distinct new flavor. “I estimate that Brazilians will account for more than $1.5 billion in real estate sales in the next 36 months here in Miami,” says Medeiros. “I think if you look forward two to three years, we’re going to have a lot more Brazilian businesses, like restaurants. I have clients already researching the possibilities of opening branches of high-end hotels here. Generally, Miami is becoming cooler and hipper in the eyes of Brazilians.”
Photographs by Lyall Aston