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Design of the times: Discovering Miami's cutting-edge Design District

11 May 2018By Harriet Mays Powell

A new luxury watch and jewellery event is showcasing the starry cultural credentials of Miami's cutting edge Design District, says Harriet Mays Powell...

Held alongside the Art Basel fairs in Miami (December) and Basel (June), Design Miami is the premier venue for collecting, exhibiting, discussing and creating collectible design. Its founder, the real estate developer and art collector Craig Robins, is also the brains behind the Miami Design District, created in the city’s former Buena Vista neighbourhood.

The inaugural Watches and Wonders Miami was held alongside the elite of the car and yacht industries. All imagery courtesy of Robin Hill.

The area had succumbed to urban decay by the time Robins and his partner, L Catterton Real Estate, began buying land and developing a master plan in the 1990s. Fast forward to today and this 18-block neighbourhood is “a lab of creativity,” says Robins, “a place to visit and experience amazing cultural expressions”. And it is home to boutiques that comprise a who’s who of the luxury world.

As well as fashion, it includes cutting-edge design firms and contemporary art galleries, housed within buildings designed by world-renowned architects. Museums include the recently inaugurated Institute of Contemporary Art, while restaurants by Joël Robuchon and Jean-Georges Vongerichten are scheduled to open this year.

The design-led Louis Vuitton boutique in Miami

It’s also here that, earlier this year, VIPs from the world’s foremost watch and jewellery brands gathered for the inaugural edition of Watches and Wonders Miami, produced in partnership with Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. More than 20 brand boutiques and six pop-up shops participated in the four-day event, showing new creations from the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), the annual Geneva watch fair. “I don’t know of anywhere else that has so much art, architecture, fashion and design all in one place,” says Robins. “When people around the world intend to buy a really important watch or piece of high jewellery, I want them to know that the Miami Design District is their destination.”

The four-day event with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie allows the Design District to showcase what it is all year round, not just during Design Week

When the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie proposed a collaboration, it felt like “the realisation of a dream” – the creation of a special event that allowed him to showcase what the Design District is all year round.  Discussing the meteoric rise of the Design District, Robins says that aside from a necessary “element of luck” there was also “an element of need”. The retail world is at a pivotal moment, he feels. “Going to another mall and seeing a bunch of shops isn’t what the future of retail is about. Here, we are creating a cultural experience which combines art, design, architecture and museums. The stores here are redefining what retail can be.”

So is Miami the new art and cultural centre of the US? “Art Basel is clearly the most important art show in the US,” Robins replies, “and the most important design show in the US is Design Miami.” A combination of existing collections, new museums and projects by major architects is turning Miami into “a global city of cultural substance”. When asked about what’s on the horizon, he says that he “is excited just to be in the moment. There’s a lot of work still to do here, so I’m not in a rush.” But he has no hesitation in declaring that “we are the city of the future”.