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By Kurt Soller | August 27, 2012 | Style & Beauty
The Designer: Esteban Cortázar
When a young Esteban Cortázar moved from Bogotá, Colombia, in 1995 to live with his father in an apartment above the News Café in South Beach, he couldn’t stop looking out the windows of his new home. “I mean, there were topless supermodels on the beach in front of my house,” he says.
Then, when Cortázar was just 11 years old, designer Todd Oldham opened a store down the block, and Cortázar had the pluck to swing by and introduce himself. Oldham, along with Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, and Gianni Versace, had started to put Miami on the fashion map. And soon, Cortázar found himself hanging out at Oldham’s store, showing his new friend sketches and eventually getting invited to New York Fashion Week to see Oldham’s runway show. Only in middle school, Cortázar then produced his own fashion shows—in his school gymnasium. “I went to the MAC store and hired makeup artists,” he recalls of his early shows. “And the backstage had to be very organized.”
Seven years later, at 18, Cortázar parlayed those early Miami experiences into launching his own line, Esteban Cortazar, known for gowns in slinky fabrics, tiny skirts, and Florida-orange confections that Beyoncé and Cindy Crawford loved. Eventually, he was tapped to design for the French house Emanuel Ungaro, but only for two years. He left after he refused to work with the brand’s newly hired consultant, Lindsay Lohan. This was in 2009, and just this summer, he is back to designing clothes under his own name—thanks to an exclusive deal with the luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter, which begins selling his Esteban Cortazar line this month. “Now, I’m designing for a global customer,” he says, “but my aesthetic remains the same. It’s always been about being sexy.” Think high slits, asymmetric cuts, leg-accentuating trousers, and curvedefining evening gowns.
All told, he thinks clothes are meant to seduce, which is something he says he first learned from those women on the beach in Miami. Even when designing luxury ready-towear, he chooses fabrics like silk and chiffon that follow the body’s lines in a breezy, effortless way. “My goal, as a designer, is to celebrate the female body,” he says. “Almost caressing it with fabric, to make a woman feel beautiful.”
The Critic: Rodner Figueroa
If you’ve ever watched Rodner Figueroa, the host of Univision’s Sal y Pimienta, where spicy celebrity fashion critiques are the regular dish on offer, you already know he can make Joan Rivers seem saintly. Figueroa admits without a hint of guilt that “these cutting remarks come very naturally.” But he’s also quick to say that he unleashes fewer of them when off duty in Miami these days. He happily points out that the local dress style has moved far beyond what was once the standard cliché of “tight dress, short skirt, and high heels.”
Figueroa, 40, grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, but came to Miami in 1990, when “Versace was making the city cool for the first time since the 1950s.” But it wasn’t until Art Basel Miami Beach took off, last decade, that he saw city style on the up-andup. “The fair changed everything, in terms of fashion,” he says. Glamorous parties and an influx of one-tenth-of-one-percenters— an international roster of oligarchs, billionaires, and fashionistas, all trying to escape their miserable December weather—gelled into a scene where artists, gallery owners, art collectors, celebrities, and socialites could mingle, creating what Figueroa calls “a delightful mix of fashion frenzy.” After the first few fairs, locals became eager to hold on to the glam factor year-round, he says, whether shopping at The Webster or test-driving their latest Valentinos and McQueens at international hot spots like Zuma and Soho Beach House.
No one loves playing dress-up more than Miami’s newest residents from Brazil, who mix their own printed Osklen frocks with towering Tribute heels, or Figueroa’s countrywomen from Venezuela, who don Carolina Herrera for a more “preppy and conservative look.” Like all those displays at Basel, he credits this mix of creativity—not just cash—for making the city more vibrant. Or, in his more piquant terms: “I know a lot of rich people who are disasters when it comes to fashion.” Don’t we all?
The Mogul: Loren Ridinger
When starting any taste-driven business, it’s comforting if friends like (or at least claim to like) the merchandise. But for jewelry designer Loren Ridinger, it was critical they did. That’s because her closest gal pals have names like Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, and Kim Kardashian—women who spend plenty of time wearing baubles where the cameras can see them, and where a reporter’s first question is often, “Who are you wearing?”
Ridinger’s celebrity friendships helped her launch Loren Jewels, which started out as a sideline from the online direct-marketing company, Market America, that she and her husband, JR Ridinger, founded in 1992. (The company’s annual revenue tops $500 million.) What began as a hobby—Ridinger designing for a small circle of elite women—is now a fast-growing international business, with projected revenues nearing $4.5 million for 2012 and price tags of up to $45,000 per item. “I wasn’t planning on having a line,” she remembers. “Then Kim [Kardashian] came to me and said, ‘Everyone’s asking what jewelry I’m wearing, so I just named it Loren Jewels.’”
Despite the free press, Ridinger hesitated to produce a line, until she realized there was an untapped market. “The cool thing about Miami is that even older women want something young and fun,” she says. “You’ll see someone in her 50s with a short dress and great, big jewels.” Since so much of the city’s daily attire is casual, Ridinger designs her jewelry with low-key luxury in mind; although the gems can be “major,” the pieces themselves are simple and bold, meant to be layered so they can be added (or removed) as the sun sets.
Once the jewelry line took off, Ridinger ventured into the cosmetics business. Again, her famous friends served as catalyst: Her “girls” would comment on her beauty products, so Ridinger listened to their input and launched Motives, a full beauty and skincare line that she sells through Market America. The cosmetics push is bolstered by her social media presence, two blogs— lorensworld.com and myfashioncents.com—and a Twitter feed of more than 300,000 followers. “It turns out women want to buy color on the Internet, even though they can’t see, feel, or touch the makeup,” she says. With projected revenues of $52 million, it’s hard to argue.
With jewelry and cosmetics lines, Ridinger hopes to capture the spirit of Miami that wowed her when she arrived in 1997—the only city where she says she could be dancing on tables one moment, then attending a business meeting the next. “Women are not glamorous all the time,” she adds. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t always feel glamorous.” All it takes is a few bangles. Or maybe, even, just some new blush.
The Buyer: Laure Hériard Dubreuil
Even the City of Light can get pretty dull in winter. So when Laure Hériard Dubreuil, then a merchandising executive at YSL, decided she’d grown tired of her native Paris—and the months of rain and gloom that encroach each January—it was, quite literally, for “some sunshine.”
New York, where she had studied at FIT, was one option.... before she discovered the 305. “It is so rare to find a city on the beach with such a strong economy,” says Hériard Dubreuil, who moved here five years ago, “when the hotels were starting to build up and Art Basel was taking off.” One problem, though: There was nowhere for her to shop. “It was just malls,” she recalls. So she launched what’s basically an extension of her dream closet, somewhere she could buy the edgy, cool clothes she loves and help expose them to new customers.
Since The Webster opened in 2009, it’s been an instant success, thanks to plenty of press attention and events like Swim Week, which bring stylish travelers to town who then return home and spread the word of the highly curated store. Within the 20,000 square feet of Art Deco selling space, Hériard Dubreuil mixes hip luxury labels such as Carven, Proenza Schouler, and Stella McCartney alongside global mega brands like Tom Ford, Givenchy, and Chanel accessories. This season, she added designer Haider Ackermann (a Tilda Swinton favorite), known for his intricate draping and layering, to her retail mix.
When she’s on buying trips, Hériard Dubreuil targets the city’s nascent sophistication rather than any lingering stereotypes. “If anyone says something is ‘very Miami,’ I steer away,” she says, instead opting for “prints, colors, light fabrics, and a lot of little dresses.” A bit more St-Tropez (“We dress up, we party like them”) than Los Angeles (“more casual”). And as more international travelers have swung through town, she’s even been able to expand her offerings: Strong fur pieces, for instance, sell well among Europeans who have second homes in town but may spend winters skiing.
At The Webster’s core, though, Hériard Dubreuil is still buying for herself. “It’s all about what I would wear,” she says, mentioning offhand that she loves Balenciaga, where she once worked (“It’s part of my DNA”), as well as Lanvin, Alaïa, Pierre Hardy for shoes, and Céline. Great taste may have been her birthright: Generations ago, her family acquired Rémy Martin. Now, thanks to The Webster, others can purchase her aesthetic, too.
The Connector: Susan Stipcianos
“I wanted to move to America and go where it was cool to be Hispanic,” says Susan Stipcianos, who arrived from Bogotá, Colombia, in 1992. “It’s a place where we Latinos had to come to grow.”
She would know. As cofounder of the Dream Team Agency, Stipcianos is now a public relations executive—think Sex & The City’s Samantha, but with Sofia Vergara’s humor—who helps major brands figure out how to expand into the coveted Spanish-speaking markets, both in South America, where fashion and beauty retail is thriving, and here in Miami, with a growing Latin population that’s eager to spend.
After stints at Univision and in the music industry, Stipcianos linked up with Victoria’s Secret; soon, the company was asking her which countries it should be advertising in. And, quickly, she realized there was a business in helping corporations navigate the important Hispanic audience. Stipcianos built a client roster that now includes Estée Lauder, Lacoste, Rent the Runway, and Tresemmé. (It’s not all fashion all the time, though: Recently, she teamed with Turner Broadcasting to do PR for the launch of the first-ever Project Runway Latin America. The show is taped in Miami for the Latin American market.)
Perhaps the most valuable insight she can provide clients: how to market to upwardly mobile Latinas like herself. “We love Hervé Leger, which hugs our curves, and finish the outfit with a pair of Jimmy Choos or Valentino heels,” she says, adding that no look is complete without a Louis Vuitton handbag, Cartier watch, and “fabulous arm candy,” including bracelets by David Yurman and Me&Ro. On the men: a Rolex, but matched with Cuban beads.
As Miami’s tastes have influenced these new residents from Latin America, Stipcianos often sees these exchanges go both ways. There’s little she loves more than seeing a woman at a party show off her rosary beads, also worn as bracelets, then spotting similar styles in trendy boutiques. “Now, it’s cool to be a Latino,” she says, barely realizing that she helped make that happen.
The Executive: Deborah Slack
There’s one thing that Deborah Slack, vice president and general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue in Bal Harbour, tells her employees when they begin working at the store: “The client doesn’t have to live here year-round to be considered a local.” It’s not only Miamians who are crucial to her business, but the constant influx of visitors from Brazil, Russia, Mexico, and even Canada, who come to the city and are looking for something new and fabulous to wear.
That’s why she encourages her buyers to constantly refine their mix, seeking out the sort of colorful and vibrant clothes that a woman might splurge on while on vacation, an approach that’s resonated with women already living in Miami. Constant store renovations, which her Saks is currently undergoing, help keep these ever-changing deliveries feeling fresh, and Slack and her team are always working on their business plan to make sure their merchandise falls, in retail speak, under “good, better, and best price points.” Something for everyone, essentially, is what’s fueling the store’s success—whether it’s a Russian socialite hunting down a Gucci beach bag or a young arrivista trying on her first DVF wrap dress. Since Slack arrived and implemented this plan, Saks Bal Harbour has quickly become one of the best-performing stores in the company. To maintain a competitive edge, Slack and her team rely on close and personal relationships with the country’s best designers, something that starts at the Saks headquarters in New York. “Miami is viewed as a very important market within the organization,” she says, “which enables us to bring so many fashion designers and icons down here.” Brian Atwood may swing by to show off his latest stilettos, or the Rag & Bone designers come to town to host a fashion show, creating events that are more social than the usual trunk shows. “There are so many designers that say that when they’re designing their resort season collection, they have Miami in mind,” she adds.
Slack echoes other experts in proclaiming that Miami “is all about attitude, not age,” pointing to the success of designer sportswear—the store sells body-conscious dresses by Roberto Cavalli, Michael Kors, and Akris, to name a few—that can be worn with vertiginous heels in the expanding footwear department: “Colorful shoes, metallics. Things with a special twist to them.”
But even as these shoe trends change—platforms one summer, or delicate, strappy sandals the next—there’s one constant: After working in six different Saks locations in her 20-year career, Slack is finally hoping to stay put, right here in Miami.
photography by Jaime Rubiano (Cortázar); Presscott McDonald (Figueroa); Gregg Delman, Makeup by Jackie Gomez for St. Tropez; Hair by Mylo Carrion at Rita Hazan Salon (Ridinger); Presscott McDonald, Hair and makeup by Teresa Morgan, Mermaidmakeup.com (Dubreuil); Presscott McDonald, Hair by Marco Peña, Makeup by Claudia Betancur; Styling by Giulina Carrasco, Location courtesy of SOHO beach House Miami (Stipcianos); Presscott McDonald; Makeup by Jelissa Arencibia, Chanel, Saks Fifth Avenue (slack)