87 Park

Fall 2015

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74 Bal Harbour Shops celebrates 50 years of blending sophisticated retail with the open-air beauty of South Florida living BY LAURIE BROOKINS PORTRAIT BY RYAN STONE AN OASIS BY THE SEA With its escapist vibe, Miami's North Beach often takes on the feel and attitude of posh Italian coastal towns, where seaside living is relaxed and devoted to gathering places that put an emphasis on appreciating the beauty that surrounds you. Life centers around the piazza, the public square where restaurants and shops comingle, and where residents and tourists alike inevitably converge, drawn almost magnetically to this intersection of commerce and friendly conversation. In South Florida, you are not likely to find a more sought-after piazza than Bal Harbour Shops. The retail destination, which routinely tops lists as the number-one performer in sales-per-square-foot in the U.S., has been celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout 2015, and it's undeniable that its popularity and staying power are rooted in the notion that this is more than a shopping center. Indeed, Bal Harbour Shops nurtures its imagery as a public square, albeit privately created, where a glass of wine and people-watching are appreciated on equal footing with fashionable purchases. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that this is where, among its roster of 100-plus retailers, you'll find the only freestanding boutiques in South Florida for Chanel, Saint Laurent Paris, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Graff and a few other A-list labels.) More than half a century ago, when retail developer Stanley Whitman looked upon this parcel of land, once occupied by a former army barracks, in the then sleepy village of Bal Harbour, did he envision the destination it ultimately would become? "He most definitely believed he was creating something never before seen in retail, while also keeping in mind that this would be a place where people might linger," says Matthew Lazenby, Whitman's grandson and the president and CEO of Whitman Family Development. Lazenby is the third generation of family members to oversee Bal Harbour Shops—though he's quick to point out that, even at 97 years old, Stanley Whitman remains actively involved: "You'll see my grandfather in the office multiple times a week, and he remains extremely interested and invested, especially with our future plans for expansion," Lazenby notes. "He's quite an inspiration." Throughout its history Bal Harbour Shops has enjoyed more than its share of industry firsts. Whitman's original open-air concept, which he famously likened to "shopping in a garden," was diametrically opposed to the standards of the era, when malls were crafted as giant enclosed boxes that purposely shut out the rest of the world. "People said he was crazy," Lazenby says. Whitman, of course, knew his design would set itself apart precisely because of that indoor/outdoor blend. When Bal Harbour Shops opened in 1965—comprised of 30 retailers, including Abercrombie & Fitch and FAO Schwarz—it was an immediate success. Others soon clamored to be included: Neiman Marcus opened its first location outside of Texas in 1971; five years later, Saks Fifth Avenue likewise signed on, making Bal Harbour Shops the only retail destination at the time to feature both department stores in the same location. In 1977 Gucci joined the mix, a notable fact because it was the first time Gucci would be seen within a shopping-center concept. Stanley Whitman had quite simply changed the face of upscale retail. "In those days my grandfather dealt with Aldo Gucci," Lazenby says. "You saw a lot of passion in retail because at the time they were still largely family-owned businesses. You still occasionally encounter that passion, and when it happens, that's really exciting." Lazenby points to Maison Goyard, which opened in November at Bal Harbour Shops, as one such example. The legendary French trunkmaker, founded in Paris in 1853 by François Goyard, remained a family-run company throughout most of its history, until Jean-Michel Signoles purchased the business in 1998. By then Signoles had been avidly collecting new and vintage Goyard pieces for more than two decades; he now runs the private company with his two sons. "While not an original family member, it's very obvious Mr. Signoles cares for the brand and curates it as though his last name were indeed Goyard," Lazenby says. "It is a big deal for us to have only one of the three freestanding Goyard boutiques in the U.S., and we are thrilled." Other recent and upcoming debuts include Italian label Ermanno Scervino, which opened its first U.S. location in August at Bal Harbour Shops, as well as a new Stephen Starr restaurant, Le Zoo, a Parisian-style bistro that, like Goyard, opened its doors in November. "Among the feedback we repeatedly get is that we can never have enough restaurants," Lazenby says (for the record, Le Zoo will be the sixth dining establishment; the fifth, The Grill at Bal Harbour, opened in March). Diptyque, the French perfumer known for its highly popular scented candles, is set for a mid- December opening, while designer Phillip Lim is on track to open his eponymous boutique in 2016, his third in the U.S. Status timepieces, meanwhile, continue to be a growing category, with Richard Mille opening in April, joining such renowned watchmakers as Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Hublot, IWC and others. And as part of the 50th-anniversary celebration, a gallery space, dubbed Fashion Project, which Lazenby calls "our effort to dip our toe in the water of a cultural component," has proven so popular that plans are under way for an increased slate of exhibits. Space remains decidedly at a premium for other retailers, Lazenby notes, with Prada, Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Roberto Cavalli and Tiffany & Co. among those who recently have expanded their boutiques. Often the decision to do so isn't solely rooted in accommodating increased foot traffic; rather, it's about creating an environment that accurately reflects the complete universe of a fashion house. Luxury labels are keenly aware that Bal Harbour attracts visitors from South America, Europe, Russia and points beyond, and thus the desire is to ensure their aesthetic statement is nothing less than comprehensive. Bal Harbour Shops is striving to support such an idea with its own expansion, a $400 million project that has been in the works for more than six years. While the best-case scenario is that the expansion will open by 2020, most crucial to the process, Lazenby says, is that the surrounding community be satisfied with the concept. "We've listened to all the feedback, much of which has caused us to go back to the drawing board and make changes," he explains. For example, the expansion's façade was altered to enhance the relationship between Bal Harbour Shops and its surrounding community. In short, the Whitman family was asked to open up the space even more, further blurring the lines between public and private. A half-century later, as much as some things change, the inherent feeling stays the same. "What's most impressive about what my grandfather created is not necessarily the mix of retailers, though he did indeed work very hard to bring them all here," Lazenby says. "Rather, what's most impressive about the legacy he created is the extent to which people connect with this place. There's a very real sense from our customers that this is a unique destination."

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