FAENA Miami Beach: An Oceanside Dreamscape to Scramble Your Brains
By Janet Mercel
My first impression of the Faena empire was walking into the hotel entry to see South African model Candice Swanepoel perched atop the jewel-bead encrusted carousel rotating in the middle of the room. The glimmering, life-size installation created by artist Raúl de Nieves’, When I Look Into Your Eyes I See The Sun was commissioned by Bulgari and Brooklyn’s Art Production Fund, and was my first inclination that this was no ordinary place.
Miami, of course, is no ordinary town, and here, Alan Faena, the Argentinian hotelier/auteur, has found the perfect backdrop for his technicolor fantasy. Faena District, a design community in his vision, takes up four beachside city blocks, and is home to the hotel, a performance amphitheater (Rem Koolhaas/OMA), a luxury apartment building, and as of December 2018, a glittering retail bazaar that is tropical glamour incarnate.
There’s a current of passion and dedication to a higher level of quality that runs through the lush spaces at Faena, every luxurious inch of which is saturated in rich, lurid color without ever feeling overdone. I returned over and over during the week I was there for Art Miami , and not one of my friends complained when I suggested we meet there yet again, even in a city overwhelmingly flush with options to eat and drink.
Miami Art Week seems tough on the service industry: every table and bar is stuffed with over-stimulated fashion, art and design people. At most places, missed courses and botched drink orders are de rigueur. Not so here. Mobbed, surely, but the flustered faces and nervous tempers I saw everywhere else were curiously absent. Everyone here embodies the vibe, and the vibe is GOOD.
Tree of Life, the outdoor bar straight through the hotel lobby, became my working home base, because it feels like a beach jungle and is casual enough to swing through for small plates and a restorative drink any time of day. Inside the hotel, The Living Room is open late, deeply loungy and supremely cozy, in a Baz Luhrmann, cheetah-upholstered kind of way, and the dreamy cocktails, (absinthe! rose hibiscus spritz!), make me wish I did, in fact, live there.
Once you have your bearings, tear yourself away from the comfort of the hotel and wander across Collins Avenue to the adjacent Bazaar, the newest Faena baby and showpiece: four floors of high fashion eye-candy and dozens of labels, all curated under one roof. As in the hotel, color and texture are everywhere, patterns layered on patterns, with objects on every surface begging to be touched.
Josef Frank, the mid-century Swedish design guru, had a theory about maximalism. “Pattern is restful,” he said. Basically, when your eyeballs go into complete overdrive and your mind shuts down, the result is visual harmony. It’s a theory outstandingly successful in practice in the interiors here, as well as the merch on offer from each label, all of which speak to each other and to the space.
There’s a reason the experience is so seamless. Unlike many multi-brand emporiums, which can feel disjointed, the entire operation is run from the top down by the visionary retailer, Maris Collective. They began opening boutiques for the Four Seasons a decade ago, and have since opened many stand-alone outposts, including Fred Segal in LA. The Faena project is their perfect merge of hospitality and retail, and they bring their legacy of brand relationships with them to Miami.
Mimi Tamkin, Head of Fashion at Faena Bazaar, walked me through the day-glo brights in the Versace pop-up on the ground floor, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Part gallery, part boutique, the space currently houses Gianni’s last collection, and is on view (and 100% shoppable) until the end of December. On the other side of the ground level is the second rotating space, Serena Williams’ brand new line. Her spot is more spare than the rest, and it works beautifully to offset the collection of her own bright canvases from home that covers the walls. (Who else knew Serena Williams is an avid painter?!) This is the kind of individual detail and personality that makes the Bazaar so interesting. “It’s not just shopping,” Molly Segal, Brand Manager at Maris, tells me about the experience. “It’s like buying a piece of art.”
Building a team that represents the local community, artistically and culturally, is a huge part of the process in creating the overall vision, and echoes the approach they use when curating labels like Pedro García, Rosa Cha, Matthew Williamson, Brock Collection, and Ximena Kavalekas. The Bazaar makes a point of not keeping back stock and there’s only a few of each piece available, making it ideal for locals and visitors who are not interested in duplicating their neighbor’s ensemble. “We put an emphasis on customer service in the retail experience you don’t see much of anymore,” Segal, “It’s a tradition that we believe is dying and should never die.”
C. Bonz on the 3rd floor is a perfect example of that sentiment. Celine Benz, a bespoke embroiderer, works like a tattoo artist for clothes. She’ll customize nearly any piece in the Bazaar with a variety of techniques ranging from super simple monograms to elaborate, fully-stitched garments. Or shop from her capsule collection, camo jackets & tees, handbags, and vintage pieces, in color-saturated stitching. (You can also send her an existing piece of your own and she’ll embroider that, too.) “I put myself into every piece I make and fall in love every time,” she says. It’s always bittersweet selling a custom piece but making others happy helps me deal.” The sale of custom art merged with fashion? How very Miami.