BY JIM BROSSEAU | December 23, 2014 | Style & Beauty
Luxury retail catches up with Miami's billionaire boom.
Shift dress ($2,125) and patent signature tote (price on request), Versace. Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-864- 0044. Brass triple ball cuff, Jennifer Fisher ($945). Barneys New York, 832 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305- 421-2010. Candy clutch ($850) and Lythe sandals ($1,195), Jimmy Choo. Village of Merrick Park, 358 San Lorenzo Ave., Coral Gables, 305-443- 6124. Woven raffia and leather Sicily bag, Dolce & Gabbana ($1,895). Bal Harbour Shops, 305-866-0503. Saffiano Galleria bag, Prada ($2,500). Miami Design District, 180 NE 40th St., 305-438-2280
How times have changed. Back in 1982, I was walked to the roof of the old Senator Hotel by a seer. In the distance was the Atlantic in mid-morning reverie. Just below, though, was the slow-moving Ocean Drive foot traffic of the retired Northerners who’d made South Florida an easy punch line. But my guide, the legendary preservationist Barbara Capitman, saw something else: She rhapsodized about a place that would become a sizzling metropolis, a place of the chicest hotels, finest restaurants, and “most exclusive shops.” I remember thinking—as a lot of other non-visionaries did at the time—Don’t hold your breath.
It seems Capitman, from her plush Art Deco armchair in the heavens, is having the last laugh. The metropolitan area’s well-documented arrival as an urban global player has brought the requisite upgrades to the local cultural, nightlife, and real-estate scenes. Now comes a renaissance within what was already home to a respectable collection—if not a surfeit—of designer shingles.
Renderings showing an aerial view of the 27-acre Miami Worldcenter.
Miami’s retail construction and expansion, as foretold by the still unfolding metamorphosis of the Design District, will be led by Miami Worldcenter, a 27-acre mixed-use development downtown, in which a whopping 765,000 square feet are slated to be devoted to shopping. Anchored by Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, the behemoth will also be home to a host of top-drawer retailers. Its Seventh Street Promenade—open to pedestrian traffic only—will practically run from the AmericanAirlines Arena to the complex’s hotel and exposition space. The first phase of construction, set for next year, is expected to yield a $1 billion impact on the region.
Merely a few hundred yards south, and adding 565,000 square feet of shopping and entertainment options to the area, will be Brickell City Centre. Lending verve to the Brickell financial district, the billion-dollar complex has snagged the posh Saks Fifth Avenue, sure to flood the Brickell Avenue sidewalks with “hers” Louboutin heels and “his” Gucci loafers. Fashion aside, the center is likely to make headlines with its trademarked and groundbreaking green “Climate Ribbon,” an elevated trellis connecting all Brickell City Centre entities and creating a pedestrian-friendly microclimate, otherwise known as a breeze.
Taking stock of the competition, the venerable Bal Harbour Shops has embarked on a $300 million expansion, adding 350,000 square feet that will include some 20 tony boutiques and a theater. Not only will flagship Neiman Marcus grow larger, but an entirely new department store, Barneys New York, will launch among the palm fronds.
Continuing its real-time awakening, the Miami Design District will shape the luxe-shopping landscape with an abundance of sophisticated retailers over the next year. Starting with Bulgari, slated for its opening this month, doors are scheduled to swing open next year at Christian Dior, Harry Winston, and Hermès, to name only a few. “By 2016, the Design District will boast over 100 international high-end retailers,” says real estate developer Craig Robins, a signal force in the district’s high-fashion ascent.
Featuring 22.5k gold leaves applied by hand at the prestigious Ateliers Gohard, the Gold Leaf Rayons vase is sold at Lalique for $50,000.
It’s a far cry from the perfunctory up-market offerings that once would have been more than adequate for a city the size and makeup of Miami. Not anymore. Today’s bilingual and multilingual retail cognoscenti can spot a Vuitton knockoff a mile away. Just as they look for certain vintages where they dine, particular menu offerings at their spas, and, of course, spectacular ocean views in their local high-rise homes, so, too, do they expect—some would say demand—only the finest from a shopping experience.
For nearly a half century, that experience has been the purview of the Bal Harbour Shops. With its koi-stocked ponds and exotic plants, the complex carved out a place in the hearts of everyone from the region’s old guard to its heady, English-as-a-second-language arrivistes. As longtime resident and public relations maven Amy Zakarin says, “It’s of the region. It’s authentic; it belongs in and to Miami.”
Though the city has hardly outgrown the subtropical sophistication that has been a Bal Harbour signature, the rise of downtown and its new inhabitants inevitably has affected the where and how (and how-much) of shopping. The residents of towers on and off of Brickell Avenue may like their Porsches and Mercedeses, but many of them—relatively young, physically fit, and, perhaps most important, at ease on the sidewalks of New York, Paris, and Buenos Aires—don’t want to be fulltime slaves to internal combustion engines. Alicia Cervera Lamadrid, managing partner of Cervera Real Estate, sensed this shift coming several years ago when she stood on the sidewalk waiting for a Brickell light to change. “I looked around, and there were 10 other people,” she recalls with a laugh. “It used to be I was always alone. Now, of course, with all the new buildings, there are joggers and strollers—you name it.”
Not that the international influx and the top-tier hotels catering to it hadn’t already had an impact on the number of designer names found in such places as the Design District. “Every time I’m in New York now, I say, ‘I can get that in Miami,’” says Zakarin. “I don’t know anyone who takes trips to New York just for shopping anymore.” Indeed, with stores like Barneys taking up occupancy at the Bal Harbour Shops, other Manhattan mainstays are poised to become Miami staples, as well.
Sapphire and diamond Rhythm collection necklace with 19.25 carats of sapphires and 34.70 carats of diamonds, Graff (price on request). Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-993-1212
But the developers of Miami’s billion-dollar, superluxe emporia emphasize that the additions to the retail cityscape won’t simply be cookie-cutter, glass-and-steel structures. Christopher Gandolfo, vice president of development for Swire Properties, the developer of Brickell City Centre, for example, is looking forward to the day when mall designers from around the world come to study the center’s exclusive climate- control system. For his part, Nitin Motwani, Miami Worldcenter’s managing principal and also the economic-development and marketing chair of the Miami Downtown Development Authority, revels in the idea of the complex “acting as a connector of downtown,” with its Metromover access: “We’re designing with the area in mind.”
Attention to what makes Miami Miami is paramount for Bernard Zyscovich, who emphasizes that in updating and expanding Bal Harbour Shops, he and his team have “carefully taken into consideration type, scale, location, and character enhancements to this world-class retail destination.”
Whether taking their cues from a luxury-shopping pioneer or creating one for another generation, the players who order up scaffolding and give the commands for more cranes to soar over the skyline are confident their timing is right. Debora Overholt, senior director of leasing for Brickell City Centre, points to the “solid” forces informing the current retail explosion. Those forces include new and potential homes rising into the sky such as SLS Lux and Brickell Heights; thriving after-office-hours activity at hot spots such as Cantina La Veinte and Segafredo; and top-tier hotels popping up in places once ghostly beyond 6 PM. As for concerns that the cavalcade of retailers in the pipeline could create a glut, Overholt counters, “As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.”
What all the “boats” will have to offer today’s seen-it-all consumers is what stakeholders in the new retail developments frequently—or, more to the point, incessantly—refer to as the “total shopping experience.” In other words, there is a certain cachet to trading at, say, Dolce & Gabbana along the fashionable Avenue Montaigne or Fendi in the stratospheric reaches of Madison Avenue. As Craig Robins observes, “Seasoned international visitors and part-time residents from around the world have high expectations in regards to fashion and cultural destinations.”
The billion-dollar Brickell City Centre.
To help meet those elevated expectations, Miami’s power brokers have had to dig as deeply into their imaginations as into their pockets. The results have been by turns innovative and responsive to the changing rhythms of life in the metropolitan area.
Developers of the sprawling Miami Worldcenter, for example, assert that it will be one of the nation’s largest private mixed-use construction projects. Encompassing 10 downtown blocks, it will help link up the Central Business District with the increasingly vibrant Arts & Entertainment District. “The magic of making Worldcenter is that—unlike other projects where people have worked with existing properties—we’re starting from scratch,” says Motwani. “We’re taking a lot of time to make sure we get it right.”
Bal Harbour Shops has indisputably gotten it right from its debut in 1965. Patrons enjoy the ambler-friendly scale of this elegant arboretum-style complex and its reputation for quality service. So the pressure is on for the Zyscovich Architects firm as it devises the expansion of the venerable retail destination. “Our team’s proposed vision calls for enhancing its current lush, tropical landscaping and beautiful walkways and lighting,” says Bernard Zyscovich. With that third anchor store—added to stalwarts Neiman Marcus and Saks—and several boutiques in the works, a new pedestrian-welcoming façade will help maintain its manageability.
If preserving a treasure is part of the Bal Harbour plan, creating one is on Swire Properties’ agenda with Brickell City Centre. As part of the emphasis on “experiencing” a visit to its sprawling shopping and entertainment space, the center will herald the US appearance of Mexico’s fine-dining cinema chain, Cinemex. Movie night there will include the cuisine of chef Mikel Alonso of Mexico City’s prized Biko restaurant.
Limited-edition Rendez Vous Ombre sandal, Roger Vivier ($12,000). Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-868-4344
Discerning international shoppers are likely to feel at home among the public spaces and art that have secured the Miami Design District’s place on the must-experience map. The 100 international designers set to open doors in this hip enclave over the next 12 months or so include Tom Ford, Piaget, Valentino, and Zegna.
But the prevailing image of money-to-burn consumerism in the city’s throbbing heart—even as lunch mates at db Bistro chat about a new residential tower with a reported dozen-plus billionaires moving in—doesn’t always match reality. It’s not that simple, says Brickell City Centre’s Christopher Gandolfo. The savvy international consumer, Gandolfo contends, “is looking for value, not necessarily to throw away disposable income.”
The value of keeping pace with the region’s seismic demographic shifts surely won’t be lost on such established players as Dadeland, Aventura Mall and, more recently, the Village of Merrick Park, in their own quests for a slice of Miami’s ever-more sophisticated residents and visitors.
As philanthropist and inveterate shopper Yolanda Berkowitz muses, “Luxury consumers seek out the products they want, [so] all the players will have to step up their game. It’s win-win for everyone involved.” And if the luxury-shopping boom hoists Miami into the pantheon that already includes the likes of Paris and New York, well, as Berkowitz enthuses, “Yay for us!”
Bernard Zyscovich, Bal Harbour Shops
In its version of a mission statement, Zyscovich Architects trumpets the importance of “a sensibility to the defining cultural characteristics of the community.” Those are reassuring words to customers who, over time, have formed an almost proprietary relationship with Bal Harbour Shops.
Still, architect Bernard Zyscovich, founder and CEO of the firm bearing his name, knows the scrutiny he’ll receive as he expands the shopping icon, which turns 50 in 2015. Yet, it’s the breadth of Zyscovich’s knowledge of cities worldwide that comes into play as the architect reimagines a local jewel. “Its consumer is, by definition, global and sophisticated,” he says. “In our research, aside from the highest-quality fashion offerings available in the world, we also found that people like to leisurely stroll and take in the natural ambience that is unique to the Bal Harbour Shops.”
The already-bustling dining scene, too, will be buttressed, as Hillstone at Bal Harbour Shops vies for hungry luxury hunters.
Nitin Motwani, Miami Worldcenter
There’s an almost boyish excitement in Nitin Motwani’s voice as he describes a complex that will take Miami one step closer to its all-but-fated place in the luxury-shopping galaxy. But then, with the revitalization of downtown a year-round consuming passion, Motwani is understandably jubilant to be at the top of the team breathing life into Miami Worldcenter.
“What’s really exciting is it’s not just us thinking it, it’s actually doing it,” says Motwani, managing principal of the center’s developer, as well as economic-development and marketing chair of the Downtown Development Authority. “It’s truly a humbling experience. I spend a lot of time focused on downtown, following the lead of so many prolifi c developers.”
Among the things he’s learned from their example is the three R’s of urban viability: residents, restaurants, retail. His 27-acre Worldcenter will include all three. “The parks and sidewalks and how connected things will be to the cultural institutions—people will be amazed at how well it’s all been integrated.”
Craig Robins, Miami Design District
It’s tough to think about the Miami Design District without the name Craig Robins coming to mind. Yes, he’s the visionary who spotted the potential for greatness in what was once a lackluster neighborhood north of downtown. But he’s also continued a stewardship now defined by the pending arrival of scores of world-renowned designers over the next two years.
The CEO and president of his own company, Dacra, Robins is reshaping the Design District’s image in the way he did that of the Art Deco District. The perception of the former took a leap toward the big time when designers under the sterling LVMH umbrella—including Vuitton and Dior—decided the time was right to be part of the Design District’s simmering—if not yet sizzling—urban frontier. “We’ve been able to become a solid world-luxury retail destination,” says Robins, “and our focus is to solidify that.”
Always impeccably turned out, Robins embodies the fashionable sensibility that has become the Design District’s identity. Leading retailers, he says, “have recognized that the neighborhood has taken on an interesting character— urban, authentic, sophisticated, and culturally engaged. In the past two years, we have welcomed Cartier, Céline, Prada, and [others] to the district, and there will be numerous additional brands launching in 2015,” including Tod’s and Miu Miu.
From what Robins describes as a “nexus of commerce, creativity, and multiculturalism,” he contends a “Miami point of view” has emerged: “There’s a clear appreciation of quality, graciousness, and craft.”
Debora Overholt, Brickell City Centre
When Debora Overholt moved from Washington, DC, to Miami in 1999 to manage Dadeland Mall, she thought she’d be returning to the nation’s capital in a matter of a few years. “Back then,” she says, “it wasn’t easy to find someone in the organization to transfer to Miami.” Not anymore.
Today, as the new Brickell City Centre’s senior director of leasing for retail, Overholt has a new attitude about a community she’s come to see as her home, bringing just the right mix of retail to the groundbreaking shopping complex. It helps that Brickell City Centre will be anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue. “One of the things I observed when I worked with Saks at Dadeland was how well it served the Latin American market,” she says.
The intelligence gleaned from her 15 years in South Florida tells Overholt that “in Miami, the consumer is more interested in the brand; there isn’t as much attention to the price of an item.” Still, she cautions, “You can’t just open your doors and expect people to walk in.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS STEIN; MANICURE BY CASANDRA LAMAR USING DIOR VERNIS/KAT BURKI HAND THERAPY AT FACTORY DOWNTOWN; GRAFF DIAMONDS LIMITED (GRAFF)