Designers have long been drawn to Miami, with Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger all having owned homes there over the years.
But today, the Miami real estate market is hotter than ever among the fashion set — especially in a business sense. Fendi, Armani and Missoni are plastering their names on superluxury residential towers springing up across the city after having dabbled in the hotel world. Meanwhile, hard-core fashion followers (or in some cases their generous spouses looking for an original gift) appear willing to drop millions of dollars on apartments in the designer-branded buildings.
Setting the trend is Armani, which has partnered with developers Dezer Development and The Related Group on Residences by Armani/Casa in Sunny Isles Beach. The 56-story César Pelli-designed building, comprising 308 apartments priced between $2 million and $15 million each, isn’t due for completion until 2019, but already 72 percent of the apartments have been sold.
Gil Dezer of Dezer Development is no stranger to branded buildings, having worked on six with Donald Trump (before he became President, of course). He recently completed the Porsche Tower in Miami, the world’s first condominiums to have elevators that take residents directly to their apartments while sitting in their cars. “I was in Dubai when I stayed at the Armani Hotel and I said, ‘This is wow. We need to bring this to America,’” he said.
However, he admitted that it was a challenge to convince the famed Italian fashion house to take part. “It was not easy. They do their homework very well. We can do more damage than good as Armani is doing $9 billion a year in sales. They don’t need the few bucks that I’m going to give them. This is more about that they want to have a real strong presence and it helps their brand and it also helps sell [their] furniture.”
Dezer finally succeeded in persuading the Italian company to license their brand to him and today Armani is designing all the communal areas and for an additional cost to the buyer can also offer interior design, at about $300 a square foot. For the largest apartments, that works out at just over $1 million.
Armani has complete control of the interior design of the wider building, with Dezer admitting he has had to become “opinionless” on it. And, as with everything his company does, Giorgio Armani is personally involved. “He’s actually very involved, which is good and bad,” admitted Dezer. “It’s good because we get his stamp of approval, so we really know it’s an Armani thing and not just slapping a brand on. But we have to wait for him to get off his boat to approve something and we have to wait for him to fly here and fly there. Even if we need to approve an ad, he approves everything.”
Three blocks south of Bal Harbour, Fendi Château Residences, a 12-story, 58-unit boutique building, has attracted a range of buyers since it was completed last year (only four apartments are left), including some devoted Fendi shoppers. “We have some buyers that are truly, truly Fendi lovers who normally furnish everything Fendi. We had somebody who purchased a unit for his wife as a gift for their anniversary and he designed everything in Fendi because she loves the brand,” said Helen Ashford of the Château Group, the developer.
At $6.5 million for a three-bedroom apartment, these pads — which come with a use of a communal indoor spa, private chef, cinema and children’s room — have the highest starting prices of all the fashion-branded residences in Miami, with a penthouse setting buyers back as much as $25 million.
Meanwhile at the budget end of the market (if one can call half-a-million dollars budget), is Missoni Baia, a partnership between the Italian fashion family and OKO Group, the Miami-based property development firm founded by Russian billionaire real estate mogul Vladislav Doronin, in the up-and-coming Edgewater neighborhood.
Prices at the 57-story, 249-unit building overlooking Biscayne Bay, which is yet to break ground but is due for completion in the summer of 2020, range from $500,000 to $3.5 million. When it is ready, the communal areas will be decked out in Missoni’s trademark colorful designs, while residents will have access to five pools. Like Armani and Fendi, Missoni will decorate apartments at an additional cost.
And finally, also jumping in on the trend to join the apartment fray in Sunshine City is Karl Lagerfeld. The couturier has designed a lobby in The Estates at Acqualina, twin, 50-story luxury towers with 245 units that come complete with an ice rink and traders’ room where apartments cost between $4 million and $9 million.
Much like Armani, Lagerfeld has complete design control and is very hands-on. “The guy is legendary. He has come up with enormous creative solutions for our lobbies. Everything in the lobby will be his touch,” said South African-born developer Jules Trump of The Trump Group (no relation to the President). “Karl’s aesthetic, in particular, will be appreciated and valued by our guests, who desire an incomparable level of opulence, luxury, design and style.”
Dubai, Beijing and London are among other cities that are home — or soon will be — to residential buildings with interiors designed by famous fashion houses. But Miami is at the heart of this booming trend, partly a result of slowing luxury residential sales and political and economic uncertainty. Combined, these trends have made competition tougher and Miami developers more determined than ever to make their projects stand out.
“I see it as a way that developers are trying to differentiate themselves among all the competition in new development. Before this, it was cars with the Porsche Tower and the Aston Martin Residences and then the use of ‘star-chitects’ and famous interior designers,” said Jonathan Miller, chief executive officer of appraisal firm Miller Samuel.
“It’s not enough to say that I have the most beautiful building, the best views or the most welcoming lobby. They have to differentiate and they have to go to another level. We haven’t seen much of that in other U.S. markets. If it proves to be an effective branding mechanism, we will absolutely see it elsewhere.”
Yet its effectiveness is still uncertain. While sales figures seem healthy (not all buildings have released data), satisfaction levels remain to be seen — and won’t be until the new owners have settled in.
Jay Parker, ceo of Douglas Elliman Real Estate Florida, said while Armani, Fendi and Missoni are recognizable and influential brands synonymous with luxury, what remains unclear is whether the quality of the fashion houses’ products will carry over into all aspects of the residential developments from the food to service.
“When people buy in Ritz-Carlton, the level of service is established. We don’t know that yet with Armani or the others,” he said. “After all, fashion houses are not expected to influence the service element as much as the design element.”
As for why these big fashion houses want a slice of residential real estate, Robert Burke, the chairman and ceo of retail consultancy Robert Burke Associates, said one of the biggest desires of any label is to be a lifestyle brand and “this just allows them to be even more of a lifestyle brand because ultimately that’s what people are living.”