Shopping in Miami is reaching new heights, led by a seismic surge in the diamond-encrusted Design District. Brian Noone reports from the blossoming neighbourhood
The Magic City has never been a place of subtlety, so it should be no surprise to see the two-storey sign for the Miami Design District, the city’s most exclusive shopping enclave, shouting out from next to the freeway as you drive back onto the mainland from Mid-Beach. It’s hard to imagine a similar marker signifying the proximity of Bond Street in London or Via Montenapoleone in Milan, but in those two cities the clientele is likely to be in the area anyway.
In Miami, they are not. The sprawling metropolis has tremendous personality but no central hub where it concentrates its charm. The sleek-lined Design District is set, in fact, in a neighbourhood, Buena Vista, whose century-old homes are much more likely to house the cooks and cleaners working for the Design District clientele than the shoppers themselves.
Which is all very Miami: the intimate juxtapositions of haves and have nots, of old buildings and new façades, of access and exclusivity. And the Design District is, like Miami itself, booming. The District is home to more than 60 boutiques and 12 restaurants and is set to add more than 23,000sq m of retail space in the next 12 months – not to mention the new buildings for the Institute for Contemporary Arts and the Garage Museum, an art-filled public square and a much needed 900-slot garage. Covering 18 square blocks, the District is making a bid to become Miami’s landmark of luxe, and it is well on its way.
Earlier this year, Dior opened a three-storey flagship swathed in white sculpted panels that mirror, says architecture firm Barbarito Bancel, a dress from the 2007 S/S collection. It is also an attractive counterpoint to another ornate building with a concrete façade, the nearby Tom Ford boutique, which opened late last year with a pleated geometric face designed by New York-based Aranda Lasch.
Other shops set in the pedestrian-friendly district include Hermès, Bulgari, Valentino, Givenchy and Harry Winston, while newcomers over the next year include powerhouses like Dolce & Gabbana, Saint Laurent and Gucci, who is crafting a 650sq m space, while shoe specialist Christian Louboutin is planning to expand the existing boutique significantly.
Dining in the District is keeping pace with the couture names, welcoming both L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen in 2017, joined by Estefan Kitchen, a modern Cuban eatery backed by Miami royals Emilio and Gloria Estefan.
Elsewhere in the city, retailers are doubling down on locations both tested and new. Bal Harbour Shops, home of Miami’s most glamorous shops since the 1970s, is attempting to double its 42,000sq m footprint, and new developments near the CBD, Worldcenter and Brickell are countering with their own shopping precincts: the former has recently scrapped an underground shopping mall in favour of a pedestrian street, to open in 2018, while the latter has a steel-and-glass “climate ribbon” that funnels the Biscayne Bay breezes to shoppers below. In a city of constant change and dramatic differences, the one constant these days is expansion.
Miami’s art scene is amping up to stimulate the Art Basel buzz all year round. The Pérez Art Museum Miami relocated to lofty new digs downtown in 2013, now the hub of Latin America-centered city, and showcases are popping up everywhere: the next year (or two, given the city’s shaky relationship with deadlines) will welcome the Faena Forum in Mid-Beach, part of the newly created Faena District and aiming to match the global reach of Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum, the new ICA building in the Design District, the new Bass Museum, one of the city’s astonishingly large number of private collections, and the too-big-to-believe $900m Nader Latin American Art Museum, which has become the art world’s greatest controversy – and will, if built, become its biggest draw, with an extensive collection and a sweeping silhouette designed by Fernando Romero, the architect of Carlos Slim’s Museo Soumaya in Mexico City.
November 2016, Departures