May 1st, 2009
by Saxon Henry
Not so long ago, the action in Miami was limited to the South Beach scene. Miami developer Craig Robins, who was one of the major players in SoBe's revival, set out to change that by taking some of the vitality across the Julia Tuttle Causeway to the mainland.
His first impulse was to showcase cutting-edge design, so he named a section he carved from the Buena Vista neighborhood the Miami Design District, then enticed some of the world's top furniture showrooms to the area.
I was fascinated with design, and I realized that in the United States, it was in a sad state," says Robins, president of Dacra Development. "You could only see it in decorator malls, where people weren't allowed without licensed professionals." After he'd peppered the area with superb showrooms, a realization dawned. "What I learned about design is that it's quiet," he explains. "It doesn't draw many people." To remedy this, Robins lured some of the biggest names in edgy fashion and trendsetting art to the neighborhood and asked gastronomic superstars to open restaurants within the 18-square-block grid of streets. Though still a destination for design devotees, the area has eclipsed its name, drawing fashionistas, art lovers and foodies. "Design is now just part of the experience," Robins remarks. "The District has become such a fun place since we've attracted these highly exclusive fashion brands and some of Miami's best restaurateurs."
Apparel offerings include Marni, Y-3, En Avance and Tomas Maier. Milan-based Marni designer Consuelo Castiglioni is known for strong graphics and a comfortable fit. Maggie Gyllenhaal and supermodel Amber Valletta are Marni fans. Y-3 is the collaboration between Adidas and trendsetting designer Yohji Yamamoto, who fuses athletic apparel and high fashion. En Avance bills itself as sexy and trendy, so it's no surprise that Madonna and Cameron Diaz have taken home items from inventory that includes Tse and Juicy Couture.
Anyone who follows fashion will know Tomas Maier's name. The creative director at Bottega Veneta, the maker of Italian luxury leather goods, has opened an eponymous shop in the Design District that holds a mix of fresh fashion choices, chic elements for the home and one of the best selections of coffee table books relating to fashion, celebrities and design in town. Fans of Christian Louboutin will be happy to know that the French shoe designer will open a boutique here this September.
Two of the newest players on the local art scene, which has put Miami on the map since Art Basel Miami Beach came to town, are Wolfgang Roth and Reiner Opoku, who opened Wolfgang Roth & Partners Fine Art in the District late last year. The gallery holds regular openings, and showcases some of art's superstars alongside gritty emerging talent. Rosa de la Cruz, Miami art collector extraordinaire, will soon have a presence in the District with the completion of "The Collecting Building" in September. Art enthusiasts can also schedule tours of Craig Robins' ever-changing collection in the Dacra offices. Emeshel straddles the divide between art and home decor with its hand-blown molten glass and crystal sculptures. New lines of women's jewelry and fragrances also make the showroom a draw for the fashion-conscious.
Design of the Times
Showrooms holding haute home products are plentiful. Miami has a reputation for being the gateway to South America, so companies such as Ornare, a Brazilian manufacturer known for its exquisitely detailed and environmentally friendly cabinetry, and Adriana Hoyos, an über-talented furniture designer who was born in Colombia and raised in Ecuador, are right at home among the smattering of U.S. and Italian showrooms. Luminaire — notable for its cultivated, cutting-edge design — is apt to stage pop-up shops called Luminaire X that hold offbeat exhibitions relating to design in an array of illusive locations. The British-based Rug Company is one of the newest showrooms to open — a beautifully serene space that holds a vibrant display of carpets and pillows; and newbie Avant Gallery offers an audacious mix of new and collectible furnishings with iconic designer Verner Panton as a centerpiece.
During the first week of December each year, Design Miami, a sister fair to Art Basel Miami Beach that focuses on design rather than art, transforms the District, bringing celebrities to the streets and filling the cafes and restaurants to capacity. It's an exciting time to visit, but only if crowds are a welcomed circumstance. Organizers of the fair, Robins among them, select a "Designer of the Year" each year, commissioning substantive works that are left behind, like Zaha Hadid's dynamic sculpture in the Moore Building and Marc Newson's undulant gate at the Design and Architecture Senior High.
In Good Taste
On the food front, Michael Schwartz's emphasis at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink is local and organic, with some dishes deliciously wood-smoked. Seating spills into Atlas Plaza for sun-dappled alfresco dining. The Mediterranean tapas menu at Brosia, nestled next to Oak Plaza, is made more appetizing by the restaurant's expansive outdoor lounge under sweeping oak trees. Jonathan Eismann, well-known to Miami foodies, has two restaurants in the District, Pacific Time and PizzaVolante, his newest establishment with gourmet brick-oven pizza
and gelato. Ken Lyon's Fratelli Lyon, surrounded by avant-garde design showrooms Driade and Vitra, has a sexy Italian vibe and menu, and chef Michelle Bernstein's Sra. Martinez has a tapas menu that intermingles sensual Latin flavors. W Wine Bistro not only has a serious selection of wines for sipping or purchasing, but also tasty fare is served in a seriously relaxed atmosphere. If you are in Miami during the second weekend in any given month, Saturday nights bring Art + Design Night to the District. Galleries and shops stay open late and stage special exhibitions. Whether you come in the winter when the nights are breezy or during the summer months when the inky air is balmy, flip-flops and shorts are always welcome.