Posted on Wed, Feb. 18, 2009
What is Miami chic? Designers offer their interpretations
by James H. Burnett III
You see it on South Florida party invitations all the time, on fliers, social club banners, nightclub promotional posters.
''Dress code: Miami chic.''
Seems a simple enough exhortation, no?
But the problem with it is that for too many South Floridians, even those who consider themselves stylish -- perhaps especially the stylish, ''Miami chic'' is as elusive as the Holy Grail and as diverse as snowflakes.
With the South Beach Wine & Food Festival beginning Thursday, that annoyingly vague phrase is generating friendly debate and some agreement among South Florida's fashion plates who say with a little compromise, some common definitions of ''Miami chic'' can be set once and for all.
In some corners of South Florida, country club pastels on men along with rolled up sport-coat sleeves, à la Don Johnson circa 1984, are chic. In other corners, it's denim jeans with more paint and embroidery on 'em than anything you'll find hanging in the Miami Art Museum.
Those sharkskin suits that Miami Beach resident and Golden Globe-winning actor Mickey Rourke has been wearing -- the ones garnished with garish pocket squares, silk cravats and striped silken shirts?
''Totally Miami chic,'' says Katharine Rubino, Miami-based spokeswoman for Nieman Marcus.
''It is a funny one,'' says Beth Sobol, president of Miami Fashion Week, the 11th annual event that runs this year March 19-22. 'Compared to other communities' chic, it is a casual yet elegant style of dress for men and women. Stylish, designer driven, fabulous fabrics, light colors. But yes, I know. What does that mean?''
The trick to defining Miami chic is to pick outfits that fit within those vague parameters without taking too much advantage of the lax standard.
''A chic Miami look really isn't your over-size jeans or a belly-bearing shirt or whatever,'' Sobol says. ''And on the other side it's not all done up and buttoned up. For example, on a woman, it's a beautiful silk halter dress. That's a look that works distinctly well in Miami and may not work in another warm part of the country.
''For men it varies, but one definite Miami chic look would be linen pants and shirts, or linen sport coats, with open collar and no tie. For corporate events, it really doesn't matter what you interpret for men, because everyone's going to be wearing suits regardless.''
SHOES MAKE THE MAN
Men who are going to pull off Miami chic should remember the right shoes, Sobol says. ''I'm talking traditional-looking, classic dress shoes. Too pointy or too square in the toe, and it looks like you're trying too hard. And whatever you do, keep 'em polished.''
Nieman Marcus' Rubino adds that her description of Miami chic would include ''light-color, light material body-skimming dresses on women that show off fit frames and tailored shirts and slacks for men.
''It's Miami. What sets our chic apart is that people who know style here don't just dress to look good. They dress to make a statement,'' Rubino says. ''And right now that statement includes big platform shoes on women, bold jewelry. Not traditional black-tie or traditional cocktail, but a feminine ruffled blouse, a one-shoulder dress with pink in it, those platform shoes and the bold jewelry, and a small clutch to complete the look.''
And that declaration of Mickey Rourke's metallic look as cool.
''There's a reason, and it sort of goes to why some people haven't been able to pinpoint what Miami chic means,'' Rubino says. ''Rocker glam is hot. Mickey Rourke has been able to combine different light, fun fabrics in that vein, and have fun with them. That's key to Miami chic, mixing and matching. Look at his pocket squares! There's nothing sexier on what could otherwise be a drab men's sport coat than a colorful pocket square. That's what makes his look Miami chic.
''And if a guy still isn't sure, then it's a Robert Graham, slim-fitting dress shirt, or an Etro slim shirt, with designer, bright loud, tennis shoes.''
Think Ed Hardy or Prada kicks.
MAKE IT LOOK EASY
Whatever you do, Rubino says, don't layer too many trends, because, as Sobol suggested, ``it'll look like you're trying too hard.''
For Vanessa Menkes, vice president of the Opium Group, which runs three high-end nightclubs in Miami Beach, while Miami chic is casual there is such a thing as too casual.
''We see tourists sometimes who come here to relax and have a good time, misunderstand the warmth and the laid-back attitude to mean that flip-flops and tank tops are OK to wear out,'' Menkes says. ''And they're not -- not if chic is what you're going for.''
When all else fails, Menkes says, people seeking Miami chic should start with a blank palate of ''dress like you're going to a nice dinner.''
''It works everywhere,'' she says. 'We put 'Dress Miami chic' on our invitations. And 'Dress like you're going to a nice dinner' is what I always tell people who ask what it means. No jeans, no sneakers, no flip-flops, no tanks, no hats.''
Exceptions? Those high-end tennis shoes with well-fitting jeans.
''If I don't know a guy, I tell him no tennis shoes,'' Menkes says. ''But if I know a guy, and know that he understands limited-edition sneakers and he's going to wear them with the right stuff, I'll make an exception. . . . But except for that scenario, there's nothing more chic on a guy down here than a nice, fitted suit and shirt. The fitted part is what makes it special, the difference between a good suit and a great suit.''
In the end, says Pepi Bertini, men's clothier and proprietor of an eponymous shop in Coral Gables, the mystery of Miami chic is solved in South Florida's ethnic and cultural diversity.
Indeed, Miami Fashion Week's Sobol points out that this year's shows will feature designers and designs from Europe, including hot spots like Ibiza and the South of France, the Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Dubai and Latin America.
''I am amazed always at the inspiration that someone who appreciates fashion can get from just looking around them in Miami,'' says Bertini, who recently spent time at men's fashion shows in Florence, Italy and New York City. ''You have people from dozens, hundreds of countries who come to our town to live, and they bring with them the unique styles of their country of origin. Those who understand that are more likely to understand Miami chic. Those who don't are, well, not so fortunate, and not so fashionable.''
Bertini, who specializes in Italian suits and custom shirts, agreed that men in search of Miami chic should start with a great suit and "decorate it from there."
''Women must take advantage of light fabrics, fabulous jewelry, and European styles in their dresses,'' Bertini says. ''You don't hear people talking about the chic of other great cities. They talk about Miami's because we don't just wear good clothes, we wear them well.''
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