What It Looks Like When Baz Luhrmann Helps Design a Miami Hotel

Faena Hotel - P 2015

Argentine hotelier Alan Faena — a "Jay Gatsby but with the fashion sense of Tony Montana" — is building a $1 billion Miami Beach arts district. Its crown jewel, Faena Hotel, financed by Len Blavatnik and designed with an assist from Oscar-nominated Luhrmann and his wife, opens just in time for Art Basel.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

In 2013, Faena Hotel Miami Beach was behind schedule and needed direction. Alan Faena, the 51-year-old white-clad Argentine hotelier and real estate developer, his wife, Ximena Caminos, and his business partner, Ukrainian-born financier Len Blavatnik, were in France for the Cannes Film Festival. The Great Gatsby had just screened, and Blavatnik invited Baz Luhrmann and his set designer/costumer wife Catherine Martin aboard his superyacht to pose a question to the Hollywood couple: Would they be creative consultants for the hotel? Would they design the interiors and staff uniforms and "translate the essence of the Faena vision from Buenos Aires [where the flagship is] to Miami," recalled Luhrmann and Martin in a joint email to THR. (The couple had lived in Miami during the 1990s when they were working on Romeo + Juliet.) Faena confesses that he had been warned about working with entertainment folk: "It was considered crazy to work with people from Hollywood." But Caminos and the developer — who is finishing the $550 million redo of the hotel that will be only one part of a new $1 billion six-block arts district on Collins Avenue with its own flag, coat of arms and film festival ("It will be like a country," he says) — soon became convinced they made the right choice. "Baz edited the architecture, like film," says Caminos of the director, who sussed out the hotel that soft-opens Nov. 16 as if it were a big-budget set, using his hands to frame points of view. "We altered the architecture based on his 'camera.' He'd say: 'This wall doesn't belong. I need to see the ocean.' So the wall came down."

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Faena on his hotel deck in Miami, called “Dubai on the Glades” by local critic Alastair Gordon.

Faena Hotel occupies the former Saxony resort hotel, which Blavatnik purchased for an undisclosed amount, bringing the Argentine on board in 2011. In the 1940s, the Saxony set the bar for opulence on South Beach, or "the American Riviera." Today, the hotel's reborn 58 rooms and 111 suites, crowned with two penthouses, start at $745 a night. Luhrmann and Martin took inspiration from opera houses and L.A.'s Chateau Marmont, mixing Fitzgeraldian Art Deco with South American hospitality (each hotel floor comes with a butler), resulting in a compound that includes a 3,000-square-foot cabaret, a 36-seat screening room, a wine cave, an Argentine-style veranda kitchen (helmed by Netflix's Chef's Table subject Francis Mallmann) and an ocean-view restaurant set in a dome (headed by Top Chef Austin tocque Paul Qui). The 15,000-square-foot spa features a Turkish bath, or hammam, featuring a slab of semiprecious amazonite.

From left: Luhrmann, Faena and Blavatnik in New York. Says Luhrmann: “What Alan Faena, Ximena Caminos and their team are doing is unique, brave and unlike anything attempted before in Miami.”

Faena Hotel, part of the first phase of Faena Group's global expansion (which so far encompasses the Buenos Aires and Miami Beach outposts), will doubtless be the center of gravity for Art Basel Miami Beach, which runs Dec. 3 to Dec. 6, after which it will open to the public. "I am a huge fan of Baz and am so looking forward to experiencing Faena Hotel," says LACMA trustee Eva Chow, who will host a dinner at Miami's Mr. Chow during the fair to broadcast husband Michael Chow's mixed-media art show at Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum in 2016.

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The bathroom in the model room of the Faena Hotel, where lobby-level restrooms are made entirely of onyx.

Amplifying the hotel buzz is the puzzling persona of Faena him­self, whom Luhrmann calls "so Gatsby-like." Says Miami-born producer-director Brett Ratner: "Faena is reminiscent of long-forgotten hotel moguls like Morris Landsberg, who built The Deauville; Ben Novack, who built The Fontainebleau; and Harry Mufson, The Eden Roc. These guys came to Miami Beach and turned it into the playground of their dreams. It would be hard to accomplish what [Faena] has without being larger-than-life and with a healthy ego."

Futopia: The Faena Kingdom (or District)

Others have less exalted opinions. "He held court with a white suit and cane," recalls a producer who attended Faena's three-day expo at Basel last year. "Jay Gatsby but with the swagger and fashion sense of Tony Montana. Do people with that kind of money really need a wardrobe gimmick?" One South Beach proprietor says the art district king's "white-hat, white-shirt, white-shoes, 'I'm-changing-the-world' bearing" runs afoul of some local families and institutions, who for decades have been transforming Miami into a cultural gateway: "It's like, now Miami is open for bus­iness because he's arrived?" The press-shy hotelier feels no need to apologize: "We have a point of view: We call it 'Futopia.' That is 'Faena' with 'utopia.' I always tell my people that we're not doing any­thing [for] design. It's about telling the truth. I really know what I want."

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The oceanfront view of Faena Hotel.

No one disputes that Faena has thoughtfully tapped a roundtable of talent for the hotel and district, to be completed by 2017, which will include an arts center called Faena Forum (headed up by Caminos) when it opens in April; retail destination Faena Bazaar designed by Rem Koolhaas; a marina; a hacienda-style inn; and a residential building, Faena House, designed by Norman Foster. One- to five-bedroom res­idences start at $2.5 million (the 18,000-square-foot penthouse sold for $60 million), with closings at near 100 percent. Former MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, who is opening his show Unrealism at Basel this year with former frenemy Larry Gagosian, says of the district: "What's exciting about Faena is this convergence of architecture, art, fashion, music, theater, film, cuisine — it could be a game-changer because they have a year-round program," which will include ballets and debates at Faena Forum.

A bedroom in one of 111 suites with custom furnishings and Studio Job fabrics.

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L.A. set designers-turned-interior designers Roman and Williams' Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch (their credits include Zoolander) originally were among Faena's collaborators, but they quit. "There were too many words. Months and months of words from the man in the white hat. Words and words and birds flying out of the mouth and reinventing the world," Standefer has said. Luhrmann and Martin themselves departed in May, and the director tells THR: "There came a point in May when it was time for the cameras to roll again and CM and I had to return to our 'day jobs.' " It is unclear if Luhrmann and "CM" will attend the hotel's private opening on Nov. 16.

Not since the '50s has the city seen so much hotel action. Jonathan Plutzik's hotel The Betsy is expanding, and Tommy Hilfiger, set to remake his own historic hotel on South Beach, The Raleigh, says of the Faena: "It will only benefit everyone on the beach."

The Faena District’s coat of arms was created by Antwerp-based firm Studio Job, which also designed the district’s cathedral rug with Faena symbology