Desperate for Design

"Stand back, people! Everybody take two steps back!" The cop at the door of the Moore Building in the center of Miami’s Design District Thursday night was getting a little frantic. A horde of VIP badge-wielding design fanatics, and the people who only dress like them, was threatening to storm the velvet ropes in their desperate attempt to ogle the latest Forest Myers chair and Wendell Castle coffee table. It had the potential to get ugly.

Toto, I think it’s safe to say we’re not in Basel anymore.

Unlike the decorous vernissage that opened Design Miami Basel in Switzerland last July – a staid affair in an Elizabethan church in which elegantly attired European design patrons sipped wine and surveyed vintage Maria Perguy cabinetry – this bash was more a cross between a Tickle Me Elmo sale at Wal-mart and a Saturday night at Crobar.

Craig Robins, the event’s founder, resplendent in a white suit, black glasses, red-laced sneakers, and shiny bald head, held court in the main exhibit hall, gleefully swapping air kisses with models wearing crotch-high sequined skirts and fur vests. Now there was a happy man.

Loud, electronic music set the beat, and high test vodka martinis fueled the conversation. Food was non-existent. I managed to score one, sad, chicken pot sticker all night. Dress code leaned more toward jeans and stilettos than couture. This is Miami, after all.

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The building was a design statement itself, with the chewing gummy-like installation by last year’s Designer of the Year winner, Zaha Hadid, still arching the 5-floored atrium. It was joined by this year’s home improvement, a weird silver arrow arrangement, tastefully accessorized with a matching silver Audi, compliments of this year’s winner, Marc Newson.

Upstairs, the New York gallery, Sebastian + Barquet, was selling the prototype of Newson’s Lockheed Lounge. Asking price? "We’re looking to start at $2.5", one of the owners told me discreetly. Given Newson’s record-breaking sale of nearly $1M for his famous chaise at auction last summer, he may well get his price.

Elsewhere, the most exciting stuff was at the Contrasts Gallery from Shanghai, whch featured some stunning ceramics by XYZ Design, Borek Sipek and Andre Dubreuil.

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Further up the stairs, Phurniture, Inc. showed a collection of furniture by Shlomo Hanush that looked like crumpled aluminum foil. It looked fresh and cool, if utterly useless for sitting.

Barry Friedman and Droog Design conspired to put together an assemblage of furniture by 10 of Europe’s most innovative designers, and called it Smart Deco. It was.

Downstairs, at London’s David Gill Galleries, Barnaby Banford showed some sly ceramics. They weren’t your mother’s Hummels.

Lots of other stuff was a retread of what evidently didn’t sell in Basel. It had the potential to feel a little tired when not accessorized by a crowd of red hot tattooed mamas.

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But, all in all, it was a smashing beginning, and a clear indication that in Miami, at least, design has the mojo to compete with its older more established art brethren. On with the show!

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