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Gulf & Main Magazine

The Miami Design District - Fashion partners with the worlds of art and architecture to create a neighborhood bursting with innovation

Sep 23, 2015 03:51PM ● By Kevin

It’s a Saturday afternoon and the newly unveiled luxury stores of the Miami Design District couldn’t look more stunning. Sunbeams are dancing on the double panels of thick blue-tinted glass, two stories tall, that shape Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto’s sleek building in the Palm Court retail center. Here Piaget, Hublot and other high-end retailers have set up shop.

In the adjacent public space, towering slender palms sprout up around Le Corbusier, a larger-than-life bust of the Swiss-French architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, who was a major force in defining modern architecture—and no doubt influenced the architects who designed the surrounding buildings. Pencil in hand, the fiberglass sculpture by French artist Xavier Veilhan seems to be drawing the design district’s latest urban structures.

As shoppers move about the plaza, the corner building, where the sun is now casting its light, is reason to stop. Covering the exterior walls of the Louis Vuitton store are shiny white square patterns balancing on circular shapes and creating a spectacular art form. Inside, exquisite handbags with the coveted LV logo and hip accessories in the latest shades of blue, yellow and orange line the shelves.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Miami Design District, located about three miles north of downtown, was a hub of showrooms for working interior designers; then the wave of restaurateurs moving to the mainland from South Beach added a dining aspect to the scene. Now the district has found a new calling as a neighborhood totally dedicated to innovative fashion, design, art, architecture and dining. At the forefront of the “new” design district, however, are the world’s most sought-after retailers: Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Harry Winston, Versace, Prada, Givenchy, Dior, Christian Louboutin and the list goes on. Given Miami’s reputation as a glamorous tropical destination that’s not shy about reinventing itself and is well known as a magnet for the rich and famous, the Miami Design District may just be the East Coast’s version of Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive.

Palm Court - Sou Fujimoto by Robin Hill c LO RES 36Construction is still going on with more stores and restaurants slated to open into 2016, but the plan is to have the district glowing in time for the annual Art Basel (Dec. 3-6), the world’s premier art show for modern and contemporary works, which attracts international artists, collectors, curators and gallerists, as well as art-centric visitors of all sorts.

Encompassing about eight square blocks, the district’s heart beats along the pedestrian-friendly NE 39th and NE 40th streets. Lined with luxury stores and connected by plazas and sidewalks, this is where any shopper who appreciates (and can afford) the finer things in life will leave weighed down by designer shopping bags.

“I may not be a regular customer here, but a mini-shopping spree is definitely doable,” says South Florida resident Claudia Sculthrope, as she eyes the pendants at Tiffany & Co. At Louis Vuitton two Brazilian shoppers are contemplating a pair of handsome men’s loafers, calculating in their heads reals to dollars. Rushing down the street, a stylishly dressed young man asks directions to the Christian Louboutin store, and long-legged model types crisscross the streets with shopping bags swaying.

Among the most impressive boutiques is Versace with its storefront of stone slabs and display windows outlined in gold trim that’s polished to perfection. A mannequin in a signature Versace print dress and saucer-size designer sunglasses draws shoppers in, while the store itself features a tile floor that incorporates Italian influences.

When it comes to designing a building to represent a brand, Emilio Pucci hits a home run. The wildly famous design house known for prints with flowing lines presents a black-and-white geometric façade on its building that reinforces the patterns on the dresses in the shop’s window.

On the tree-lined streets, starkly modern architecture, like the JBL Building with its diagonally pleated concrete exterior that houses Omega, blends seamlessly with the softer more traditional architecture of Harry Winston—an arched doorway and canopy-adorned windows similar to the diamond salon’s Fifth Avenue flagship store.

To architectural photographer Robin Hill, who has photographed just about every noteworthy structure in Miami since 1999, the Miami Design District’s excitement is in every detail. “One of the things I really like is the parking garage,” he says of the underground facility that is topped with a replica of R. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome entitled Fly’s Eye Dome. “When you come up through the dome, it’s a very theatrical entrance into the courtyard [Palm Court], and you see this beautiful building by Sou Fujimoto. The glass is blue, and you can see its texture and juxtaposition against the blue sky.”

With all the artistic forces working together, the no doubt delivers a theatrical experience that’s only going to get bigger and better in the next few years.

Written by contributor Patricia Letakis, who has written extensively about Florida for the past 20 years.



The Neighbors

Sandwiched in between the old and the new, the Miami Design District is surrounded by neighborhoods that complement it. To the south is Midtown Miami, a new urbanism development that sprouted up in 2005. Residents flow out of condo towers to walkable streets where they can shop for necessities at stores like Target or dine at new restaurants like Bistro Cassis, where sidewalk tables, escargot and a glass of wine re-create the French experience.

To the north, historic Buena Vista is one of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, where homes dating back to the 1920s include Mediterranean Revival, Mission and Art Deco styles. Efforts to preserve these houses and zoning that doesn’t allow for condo towers work in favor of keeping the neighborhood’s charm.  —P.L.

Given Miami’s reputation as a glamorous tropical destination that’s not shy about reinventing itself and is well known as a magnet for the rich and famous, the Miami Design District may just be the East Coast’s version of Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive.