Why Miami Is the Hottest City in the Luxury Universe

Hardly a week goes by where I don’t get some sort of announcement in my in-box about a luxury happening in Miami. A watch boutique is opening in the Design District. A member of the Miami Heat is making an appearance at a shop in Bal Harbour. A swanky new South Beach hotel is hosting a party awash in models and celebrities.

Even though I spent a couple of days in Miami last December during Art Basel, it took another quick trip to the Magic City last week—to tour the new Panerai boutique in the Design District and interview Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati—for me to understand what now seems irrefutable: Miami is, bar none, the hottest city in the luxury universe.

Much of it has to do with Art Basel Miami Beach, of course. The 13-year-old American outpost of the famed Swiss art fair draws a glamorous contingent of dealers, collectors, critics, fashion designers, models, actors, and art world hangers-on to Miami Beach every December, and a luxury ecosystem has sprung up in its wake. The local restaurant scene has evolved over the past decade into an extraordinary concentration of the best cuisine in the world. The freshest sushi, the finest Kobe and Wagyu beef, truffle-dusted everything—you’ll find it all within (mostly) walking distance of SoBe.

Don’t overlook the hotel renaissance. In addition to renovated Deco standbys like the Delano and SLS South Beach, stylish properties are popping up along the beach like mushrooms after a rain, promising to transform this stretch of ocean into ground zero for the luxury hospitality industry. The Faena, for one, is coming to Collins Avenue this fall. That’s big. The Buenos Aires–based developers are opening an entire district in November that includes a hotel, private residences, retail, and an arts project. The Miami Beach Edition is already there, posting one seductive Instagram pic after another. And the 1 Hotel South Beach, an eco-hotel to end all eco-hotels, just opened.

From my room at the Thompson Hotel, which is located on the northern end of South Beach, I could see why developers are gaga over this hallowed coast. Even though I live in sunny Los Angeles, a dip in the Pacific Ocean is, at best, invigorating and, at worst, hypothermia inducing. By contrast, the water off the coast of southern Florida is a warm salt bath, free of pounding waves and perfect for bathing beauties, of which there are plenty. L.A. may have a reputation for attracting the beautiful people, but based on my anecdotal research, Miami is a magnet for European and Latin models of all persuasions.

For the luxury industry, the burgeoning Miami Design District is the cherry on top. The brainchild of developer Craig Robins, the district, which is located about 10 minutes west of South Beach, is home to one of the most exciting retail developments in the world.

Robins—who serves as president and CEO of Dacra, the real estate firm behind the revitalization of South Beach and Lincoln Road, among other Miami destinations—began buying up properties in Miami’s old furniture district in the late 1990s. He later partnered with L Real Estate, an LVMH-affiliated private equity real estate fund, to transform the down-on-its-heels neighborhood into a luxury retail mixed-use destination that features public art installations, cutting-edge architecture, progressive design, and fashion-savvy retailers.

The Swiss watch industry has fallen hard for Robins’ vision. In total, 20 watch boutiques, including a few fashion-jewelry crossovers such as Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany & Co., have a presence in the Design District.

The first of the district’s two major retail plazas, Palm Court, opened last year. Home to two-story boutiques by the watch world’s heaviest hitters—Hublot, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Panerai, to name a few—the plaza features interesting, original facades that are spectacular enough to appeal to passersby who come to admire the scene even if they can’t afford the goods on offer. And that’s the key. The pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, home to buzzy new restaurants like modern Italian newcomer MC Kitchen, is full of art installations—from the likes of Buckminster Fuller, John Baldessari, Marc Newson, and more—that attract not just wealthy older shoppers, but also art lovers, architecture buffs, and progressive-minded millennials.

Don’t get me wrong: The big spenders are there, too, flashing their red-soled Christian Louboutin heels as they climb into white Range Rovers and jam numerous shopping bags—Cartier, Harry Winston, Prada—into the backseat. Many of them hail from points south—the Brazilians are an especially strong contingent—but the whole world comes to Miami, so it’s truly a polyglot audience.

This year, jewelers have a new excuse to check out all the city has to offer. Come Oct. 15–18, the new-and-improved JIS show—now a part of the JCK family of shows—opens at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The LUXURY show is also coming to the same venue Oct. 13–16 (note: LUXURY is by invitation only Oct. 13–14 and opens to all buyers on Oct. 15–16). Check out JCK’s upcoming September issue for a guide to the best dining, nightlife, and show-shopping options within striking distance of the convention center—and trust me when I tell you that if you want to see the future of retail, Miami won’t disappoint.