Hermès opens flagship store in Design District; other new tenants announced

Hermes CEO Axel Dumas walks through the French fashion house’s new flagship store in the Design District at its formal opening on Thursday, November 5, 2015.
Hermes CEO Axel Dumas walks through the French fashion house’s new flagship store in the Design District at its formal opening on Thursday, November 5, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

As iconic French fashion house Hermès opened the doors of its flagship store in the Design District on Thursday, developer Craig Robins announced that nine new luxury and contemporary brands had signed leases for shops in the fast-growing retail neighborhood.

The 13,000-square-foot Hermès shop is just the third flagship store the company operates in the U.S. The other two are on Madison Avenue in New York City and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. It runs a total of 27 around the country.

“For the French, Miami embodies the dream of a paradise,” Hermès chairman CEO Axel Dumas told a crowd of reporters as workmen touched up the white paint of the store’s exterior.

Miami, he said, has become “one of the design capitals of the world and a hub for Latin America.”

The light and airy three-story shop, at 163 E. 39th St. in Miami opens to the public Friday at 10 a.m. Last month, Tom Ford also opened its first Miami boutique a few blocks away; its official grand opening comes later this month.

With much of the neighborhood still under construction, the Design District is less than halfway to its full potential, said developer Robins, who is the largest property owner in Miami’s latest retail hotspot. (His partners on the project include major real estate firms L Real Estate, General Growth Properties and Ashkenazy Acquisition.)

About 50 stores are open today, with another five ready to go by March. This spring, Robins announced an expansion that would see the Design District grow to more than 120 shops by the end of 2017. That doesn’t count tenants of other developers who have also invested in the neighborhood.

On Thursday, Robins said the latest tenants to sign leases are Saint Laurent, Joseph, Tory Burch, Loro Piana, Tod’s, Isabel Marant, Zilli, Alice + Olivia and Be Miami. Almost all of them plan to open by the end of 2016.

“We’ve finally turned the corner and now there’s a very substantial and robust group of stores in the neighborhood,” Robins said. “This is where we transition from all that construction to having all the stores open in a kind of free-standing neighborhood setting that doesn’t exist in the rest of Miami.”

He said that sales this year were up at 11 of the 13 stores that were open in 2014, some by as much as 50 percent. The Design District is north of Midtown and Wywnood in the historic neighborhood of Buena Vista. It runs from Northeast 36th Street on the south to Northeast 42nd Street on the north, and from Biscayne Boulevard on the east to Northwest First Avenue on the west.

The introduction of contemporary brands including Alice + Olivia and sneaker shop Be Miami, as well as the earlier additions of perfume house Creed and skincare line Aesop, mark a change for the luxury-centric Design District.

“We’re now beginning to get a diversity of styles and price point,” Robins said.

New York-based women’s fashion line Alice + Olivia, which more than 30 locations around the world, plans to open a 3,200-square-foot flagship on the corner of Northeast 40th Street and Northeast First Avenue in the third quarter of 2017.

“The Design District really epitomizes the convergence of retail and art and that was a natural extension for our brand,” creative director and CEO Stacey Bendet said.

She said the company’s products had sold well enough at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue in Bal Harbour Shops that her team decided Miami could sustain a stand-alone store.

Hermès previously had its own shop in Bal Harbour but moved to a temporary location in the Design District in 2013.

“Having seen the Design District in its early days, one would be very skeptical and wonder if it’s going to work,” said Hermès’ U.S. CEO Robert Chavez. “It was a bet. But we knew having a freestanding store would allow us to express ourselves architecturally . . . and our sales in the temporary location actually exceeded what we were doing in Bal Harbour.”

Chavez added that the slump in Latin America’s economy, which has slowed down the local luxury real estate market, hadn’t affected sales for Hermès. “We have a very strong local client base in Miami,” he said.

The new flagship will include a boutique for Crystal Saint-Louis. It will be the only U.S. store for Europe’s oldest operating glass-maker, which was founded in 1586.

And in Hermès’ rooftop garden stands a sculpture of a brightly colored horseman, visible from the street below, waving orange flags from both hands. Only Hermès’ flagships in New York, Paris, Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai are graced by the horseman’s presence.

“He embodies the bursting creativity and freedom,” Dumas said, “that we see in Miami.”

Miami Beach mermaid finds a new home

On the south side of the new Hermès flagship in the Design District, high up on a wall, a nymph rides two “water” horses, half-steed, half-fish. Made of concrete and stucco, the neo-classical sculpture once adorned the old Lombardy Hotel in Miami Beach. When the decades-old hotel was demolished in 1995, the artist Kenny Sharf, desperate to save the piece, called Craig Robins, who agreed to pay for its removal and restoration by local sculptor Oliver Sanchez. For many years, it was part of Robin’s personal art collection. Now, it has a new home. Said Robins: “It’s an important and historic addition the Design District.”