Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Fifty years ago, the United States was in the middle of the Vietnam War; Bob Dylan released Blonde on Blonde; Star Trek aired its first episode, "The Man Trap"; and the Bal Harbour Shops celebrated its first anniversary. A lot has changed since the 450,000-square-foot mall — which was built on the site of a demolished World War II barracks — first opened its doors in 1965, including the construction of a second level of stores inside the white-painted open-air center. But the shopping mecca has maintained its rep as the Magic City's go-to destination for all things designer and luxury. Whether you're looking to pamper yourself with a Michael Kors handbag or some Tory Burch flats, Bal Harbour still stocks more high-end fashion than anyone else in town to make you feel and look like a million bucks. But that doesn't mean your net worth has to be in the seven-figure range to enjoy a trip here. There's a comfortable outpost of Books & Books with thousands of titles to peruse and fresh Italian fare on the menu at Carpaccio. And there's no law against spending an hour or two window shopping at Chanel, Tiffany & Co., or the dozens of other Milan-approved boutiques that are well out of most Miamians' price range.
Readers' choice: Aventura Mall
Do you need a T-shirt with an image of Tom Ford wearing Mickey Mouse ears? Probably not, but it's incredibly soft and a total conversation starter. At Expat, a small boutique tucked inside South Beach's recently revamped Nautilus Hotel in the heart of Collins Avenue's art deco district, that gloriously ridiculous top is available for $75 and is designed by Spanish-Italian fashion brand South Parade. The matching gray sweatshirt costs $140, in case you're really into Ford's Disney look. Spend a few more minutes poking around Expat and you'll stumble upon countless other absurd but delightful treasures in this pintsize shop, including $700 limited-edition titanium and acetate Dita sunglasses made in Japan; clothing and accessories for men, women, and kids; as well as candles, coffee table books, perfumes, and scores of other items you buy only when you're feeling extra-indulgent. But you're in South Beach, dammit. Pull on that Tom Ford shirt, fork over the 75 bucks, and enjoy the ride.
Miami is to high-end shopping what Punxsutawney is to groundhogs. Between Bal Harbour Shops and the Design District, the Magic City houses more luxury brands on display than the average Richard Branson TV appearance. So it's a real feat that En Avance stocks high-end clothing and accessories that are pretty much impossible to find anywhere else in Miami. The store concentrates on discovering up-and-coming talent like Ellery, Urban Zen, Paskal, Vilshenko, and Marques Almeida, along with more recognizable labels such as Tibi, Kiki de Montparnasse, Fornasetti, and MSGM. The least expensive item in the store is a pair of Hanky Panky underwear for a reasonable $20, but many of the dresses will hit your wallet in the $1,400 range. You can purchase a stylin' hat for $56 or a pair of Tkee flip-flops for $50, but it's probably best to check your credit card limit before wandering too far into En Avance. That doesn't mean everyone shouldn't check it out, though: Much of the clothing here resembles works of art, and there's no reason not to browse like you would a museum. This is fashion as art, and some clothes are meant to be viewed as much as worn.
Every day, Lincoln Road grows more and more like your average American mall, with international brands such as Zara, Forever 21, Lululemon, and H&M moving in to replace quirky longtime establishments. However, a local beacon of South Beach style remains amid this chain-driven commercialism. Since 1989, Base has been the go-to place for Miami men looking to stay fashion-forward. Founded by Steven Giles, the store isn't just a spot to buy clothing; it's a lifestyle emporium offering vinyl, magazines, and collectibles. But at the core is still threads that buck the yuppie trend permeating the rest of Lincoln Road. Base stocks up on brands such as Stampd, Knomadik, Nanamica, and Heathen — collections that add an avant-garde twist to street wear. No, they aren't cheap, but they aren't out of reach either. Average prices are $100 to $200, but the pieces make a statement, and a good wardrobe is an investment. (A fashionable man also knows how to mix and match expensive pieces with perhaps cheaper finds.) Base has consistently remained Miami's bellwether of men's fashion, and for good reason — it challenges men to look beyond clothing as a necessity and instead as a way of self-expression.
"I make just about everything I can think of," says Aja Butler-Burns, the mastermind behind ABA Jewels. It may sound like bragging, but she's just being honest. An Art Institute grad who found Miami's bauble selections dismal, Butler-Burns opened ABA Jewels to fill a need to create something for herself. Drawing on inspiration from every corner of the Earth and various iconic periods in history — from ancient Egypt to 1940s Americana to '90s S&M — ABA Jewels is a secret to most locals, but the fashion set has long coveted her minimalist, galactic designs. Selling mostly on Etsy and at pop-up shops around the Magic City, ABA Jewels frequently collaborates with Miami artists, such as when Butler-Burns designed bondage-style chokers and thigh jewelry for ALMA Dance Theater's production of Cask. And at ultra-affordable prices — like $32 for a racy '90s choker necklace in gold and $22 for a brass-and-amethyst bindi — ABA Jewels' designs are totally worth coveting.
You know how magazines are always telling you to make the most of your small apartment by maximizing the vertical space? That's sort of how Beatnix operates. Located inside a narrow storefront on the corner of Washington and 12th Street, this Miami Beach costume shop is packed floor-to-ceiling with a myriad of wacky accessories, from top hats to tutus. Most packaged costumes run $50 to $60, while smaller accessories are sold à la carte. Feel like letting it all hang out with some nipple tassels ($16) and gold booty shorts ($30)? Beatnix has 'em. Prefer to cover your face with a rubber gas mask? That's here too, for just 15 bucks. The staff is friendly without hovering, and Thursday through Sunday, the store is open until midnight, meaning you can grab something last-minute for that festival or costume party and still look like the baddest one there.