Art Basel

Russian real estate mogul Vlad Doronin stretches his world from Moscow to Miami

BY JANE WOOLDRIDGE

As a boy growing up in the palatial city of St. Petersburg, Russia, Vladislav Doronin first visited the Hermitage with his mother. Though the museum is perhaps best known for its Impressionist paintings, the works that resonated with Doronin were those by the Russian avant-garde. His early affection for those bold forms and colors has spilled into a broad passion for the visual that encompasses architecture, design and contemporary art as he has built a real estate-development empire centered in Moscow and now, Miami and New York.

After a stint as a commodities trader for Marc Rich’s firm in Switzerland, Doronin returned to Russia in 1993, bringing the expertise of highly regarded international architects to his office, retail and residential real estate projects. In the years since, his Russian firm, Capital Group, has developed more than 70 projects encompassing more than 75 million square feet, working with architects including SOM (formerly Skidmore, Owings & Merrill), France’s Jacques Grange, Spain’s Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, Italy’s Massimo Iosa Ghini. In 2014, Forbes’ Russian-language edition dubbed Doronin one of the “Kings of Russian Real Estate.” In pre-election times, he was often dubbed “the Russian Donald Trump” – a reference only to real estate; his spokespeople say he has no political aspirations. He often is called a billionaire, though he doesn’t appear on the Forbes Richest list.

His own Moscow home – he calls it his “biggest extravagance” – was designed by the late Pritzker Prize-winner Zaha Hadid, whose last condo building, 1000 Museum, is now rising near the Pérez Art Museum Miami. The two met a dozen years ago when Doronin hired her to plan an 800,000-square-foot condo building in Moscow that ultimately failed to win government approval. By then, he says, they had become friends.

“I still wanted to do something with her,” he says. The two met in London’s tony Mayfair neighborhood. He explained what he was seeking. “I don’t want to see any neighbors” – even though those along the so-called “tsar’s road” in a wooded area just outside Moscow are not exactly the proletariat. “I want to see blue sky above the trees. You have to go above the forest. She basically designed it at the table.

‘Do you like it?’ she asked me. I fell in love with it.”

The result is a 40,000 – yes, 40,000-square-foot house more in the vein of the Starship Enterprise than the typical dacha. It is the only private home designed by Hadid built before her unexpected death earlier this year from a heart attack. (She has designed several others for private clients, but they have not yet been constructed.) “I feel very sad,” he says of her death. “She became a close friend of mine. We had dinners together. She came to my house. … It was too early. She was a genius.”

For Doronin’s 57-story luxury bayfront condo project in Edgewater, Missoni Baia, Hadid recommended Hami Rashid, principal of New York’s Asymptote Architecture. The soaring live-in sculpture, says Rashid, invokes the minimalist spirit of Josef Albers, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt and Jesus Rafael Soto, creating a live-in sculpture. The Italian fashion house of Missoni is defining the interior ambiance in its first real estate collaboration.

Doronin’s U.S. firm, OKO, also has announced a 47-story luxury residential tower on Biscayne Bay at 25th Road, to be designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the firm behind Saudi Arabia’s gargantuan Jeddah Tower. He also holds property on Brickell Avenue – the result of a previous partnership with Miami developer Ugo Columbo – and says he is actively seeking more Miami sites. He began coming to the city in the 1990s, and in 2008 bought a home on Star Island. When he was younger, he said, “It was my dream to build something in Miami. I love New York; Miami was close and I would go for the weekend. It has different weather and a different atmosphere.

“I see how it has been growing in the last 10 years. Miami has become a 24-hour city. It is internationally significant,’’ he says, ticking off stats about airport traffic. “It is growing with exciting cultural development, with Art Basel and interior design.” And then there are the restaurants: Milos, Casa Tua, Zuma come quickly to mind. “What is important for me is it’s a nice life. Good weather and a happy life. Also for me, I like in general that America is a safe country. Safe for children, hospitals, education.”

Doronin also has homes in London and New York. So much space for the exquisitely designed furniture he collects, by Gio Ponti, Jean Prouvé, Le Courbusier, Charlotte Perriand, George Nakashima, Mies van der Rohe. On his wish list: Isamu Noguchi.

“I like interior design. I love to stay at home. I like the homelike environment, to cook dinner and be with the family,” says the father of one. He has both Italian and Japanese chefs but says he sometimes cooks himself. “I love Italian. I do pasta.” One can scarcely imagine the 54-year-old – so film-star handsome that his private life, once widely followed, has become an off-limits topic – dicing his own smelly garlic. Grilling steak and fish, yes.

With four homes, Doronin also has plenty of space for his art collection. Along with early purchases of Russian avant-garde masters Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky, Doronin collects works by more contemporary giants: Jean-Michel Basquiat; Ed Ruscha; Richard Prince; Urs Fischer; Julian Schnabel; Anish Kapoor; Frank Stella. He encourages young Russian artists and cultural projects through his Capital Group Foundation, founded in 2009. He also has funded restoration of historic Moscow churches and synogues, cancer research, programs for disadvantaged women and children and preservation of tigers in the wild — activities that earned him a place in a 2011 Forbes Russian-language article on business people who have made Moscow a better place.

In shaping his art collection, Doronin works with advisors – reportedly including New York gallerist Tony Shafrazi – but when it comes to furniture or artwork, the decisions about what to buy rest with him alone. “It's like a Faberge,” he says, referring to the Russian royal jeweler. “People tell me what is real or not real Faberge. Then I decide if I like it. I’m not only buying because of the name and investment. I'm buying what I personally like.”

Recently he has turned his attention to photography. His holdings include a large selection of black-and-white works by the late actor and filmmaker Dennis Hopper; Doronin has loaned it to London’s Royal Academy for a retrospective. “I think [Hopper] shows a real America,” noting particularly Hopper’s series of images from President John F. Kennedy’s funeral. “He was part of this movement, of representing America of this period. He was avant-garde in his period.”

It’s a theme that reverberates. Avant-garde. Ahead of his time.

Given his appreciation for design, it’s no wonder that Doronin has often spent vacations at Aman resorts, whose sanctuaries in remote Shangrilas like Bhutan, Phuket and Bali have become jet-set faves for their exquisite architecture and equally polished service. The brand is often listed among the world’s best by Travel + Leisure, Conde Naste Traveler and the World Travel Awards.

He first became familiar with the brand when he worked in Hong Kong, in 1990, and visited Amanpuri, on the lush Thai island of Phuket. “I left Russia because love to travel,” he says. “I was shocked by the design, service and all amenities [at Amanpuri.] It has an amazing location.” He quickly became an Aman junkie, visiting each new property – in Indonesia, Bhutan, India and then beyond Asia, in Morocco, Montenegro, Turkey and Wyoming. “I go to Aman because it’s not only the location, it’s the architecture, amazing service, food, interior design. And the peace.’’

A few years ago, Doronin was offered the opportunity to buy the brand, and he did so with a partner. “It was a good synergy between me and the best brand in the world,” he says. But the partnership soon deteriorated; after a contentious court battle, earlier this year Doronin was awarded sole ownership.

Since Doronin took over, Aman has added four properties, in Japan, China and the Dominican Republic, plus a 170-foot sailing yacht, Amandira. When an Aman near Shanghai opens in late 2017, it will bring the total number of properties to 31, in 20 countries. Doronin wants to expand the brand further into urban markets.

It’s a global design, in sync with Doronin’s real estate ambitions to expand his real state empire. Last year, he purchased New York’s iconic Crown Building at the prestigious corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue — an edifice once owned by Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcus and later by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Partner GGP controls the retail space; Doronin has the rest.

Next in his sights: Europe and Asia. And Miami, where he is seeking a site for an Aman.

To Doronin’s way of thinking, Miami is a relative bargain. Creating luxury condos similar to those he is developing in Miami costs three times more in New York and London. And that, he points out, translates into more favorable prices for buyers in a city they’ve come to know and desire.

“Miami became a very international city,” he says. For Doronin, his youthful dream of staking a homestead in tropics has become a reality. “My dream comes true.”

This article first appeared in the December issue of INDULGE magazine. Since original publication, the partner controlling retail space in New York’s Crown Building has changed. The partner now controlling that space is GGP.

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