After a splashy preview that started with Art Basel in early December, the highly anticipated Faena Hotel Miami Beach (3201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-534-8800; opening rates from $745 per night) is officially open for business. Part of the six block, eight building Faena District, which is set for completion in late 2016, the project includes luxury condominiums, a shopping bazaar and the Faena Forum arts center in addition to the 169-room luxury hotel. The $1 billion project is the brainchild of flamboyant Argentinean developer Alan Faena, along with a star-studded cast of collaborators. We caught up with the hotelier, who has a passion for storytelling and a habit of dressing in all white, to learn more about what went into creating one of Miami’s most imaginative and intriguing developments to date.
What potential did you see in Miami that led you to developing the Faena District?
Alan Faena: My partner Len Blavatnik, who’s been my partner since 2000 when we started in Buenos Aires, he came to Miami [and invested in] this whole Saxony property. I wanted to do, in a way, what we were so successful doing in Buenos Aires. I like to create a district. Why a district? Because in a district it allows me to create our point of view—how a utopian place should be—so we worked together with the best minds of the world to create this unique, utopian place.
It is a truly unique hotel and it’s clear that a lot of thought went into the concept. This idea extends to the entire Faena District. What inspires you to create?
What inspires me to create is to elevate people. I [think of it as] people coming into our home and making them feel special, helping them to get delight in every detail. When you see the property, I’m very much involved in every detail of every aspect of every part of the district.
Art is integrated into every component of the hotel and it’s a big part of your mission with the Faena District and the forthcoming Faena Forum. Why is art so important to you?
I see life as an artistic expression. Working with artists—like in The Cathedral with Juan Gatti, with [Alberto] Garutti, with Baz [Luhrmann] and CM [Catherine Martin], with all the people—for me, it’s not important, design for the matter of design. It’s not important, beauty for the matter of beauty.
For me, it should be beauty, but it should have intellectuality in the same proportion to beauty. That’s what makes a place special and unique and this is what I create: a mix between beauty and intellectuality. I always say to my team here, we are not design. I don’t care about design. If it’s design only for design, you have nothing to say. I am a storyteller. I love to tell stories. I love to transmit stories.
And I love to work with artists to express my storytelling with different expressions. That’s why I worked so well with Baz Luhrmann and CM, his wife, because they are people who are used to storytelling. They are used to working with scripts and they create a magic that their movies have. It’s a mix between imagination, music, design, but always story. A true story, a real story. I bring a story with a point of view and this is the way that I work.
I’d love to know more about the collaboration with Baz and Catherine.
It was a great collaboration. They are great. They are super talented. They took my idea and they got it. As Baz said, “We do the same thing. You do what we do, but you make it in reality.” For me, it’s like cinema. What I do is like cinema.
What’s been your approach in seeking out these creative collaborations, from Baz and Catherine to Juan Gatti to your chefs, like Francis Mallmann and Paul Qui?
I think it’s all based on the same story. It’s based on my script where I work with every artist, with every designer, with every architect, with every engineer to create, at the end of the day, a whole story, an elliptic story.
[It’s] the same way it will work with our show at the [Saxony] Theatre that very soon will open up. That makes it so special.
Do you have a favorite room in the hotel?
They are all beautiful. The Cathedral is incredible. The Living Room with the tigers. As you can see every place takes a lot of risk. In a world of today where, passing by, everything looks the same, this doesn’t look like any other place.
What’s your philosophy on hospitality?
I have a great team around me. We don’t forget that this is a billion dollar investment with my partner. It’s a big project financially and we bring together the best people in the industry. Scott Geraghty, our COO is a superstar. He opened the St. Regis in New York. We have a dream team. I always said that the people I have around me in operations are the dream team of the industry.
As you mentioned, the Faena District was a major financial investment and you’re introducing a lot of things to Miami that we haven’t had before, like the theater and the Faena Forum. What made you think this was a risk that would pay off?
I was sure from the first day because the city was needing it, and from here we talk to the world. That’s why we had the success at Faena House breaking all the records by square foot in the history of Florida [Editor’s Note: the penthouse sold for $60 million]. I think it’s already paying off.
Are there any new projects on the horizon?
No. I am focused here for the moment. That storytelling doesn’t end when we open the building. We keep going. We are only telling 50 percent. We have our theater, our living room, our art center to continue creating these stories to the world through storytelling and art and culture.
I have to ask, you have a signature style of dressing in all with and with a white hat. Is that part of your storytelling? Why do you do it?
It’s like, me. I never need to be another one to be me. I always bring truth to myself and truth to my vision and truth to my story.