If you bought into the advance hype, the MODA in Miami Fashion Week of the Americas should have been a raging success. Here finally was a chance for South Beach to burnish its reputation as the so-called American Riviera, in the process offering a sophisticated corrective to those who would dismiss Latin fashion as nothing more than the transformation of halter tops and stripper shoes into formal evening wear. Local media certainly were willing to play along. The Herald ran a series of breathless puff pieces on the event, even maintaining a straight face as its coproducer, former Elite honcho John Casablancas, crowed that "MODA will be to fashion what Cannes is to films." Keep dreaming, mon ami.
Indeed the only compelling drama at MODA's April 3 kickoff occurred far from the catwalk, at the entrance gate to a voluminous air-conditioned tent erected on the beach off Ocean Drive. There, just before starting time, a horde of "All Access" badge-waving VIPs crushed together as the city fire marshal declared the tent at capacity -- no one else would be allowed in. Panic spread quickly. A clique unaccustomed to being stranded on the wrong side of the velvet rope imagined themselves barred from the event of the century and began elbowing past one another, desperately thrusting their badges at the doorman. Outnumbered and beginning to look a little nervous, the doorman did his best to avoid eye contact with the agitated masses just inches from his face.
One buxom Latina thrust her ample cleavage at his nose and suggestively cooed, "I have to get in. Isn't there something you can do?"
Perhaps fearing a riot of fashionistas brandishing stiletto heels, the fire marshal eventually relented. But following that tense standoff, the actual affair this carefully groomed mob beheld was downright anticlimactic. Sure there were strutting models (most of whom seemed to be unseasoned rookies), thumping house beats, and a sea of Latin television crews. But notably missing were most of the fashion industry's key buyers, as well as the European and New York fashion scribes, presumably the audience MODA was courting. Otherwise why not simply have a Latin fashion showcase in Latin America?
Even more telling was the complete absence of any Hollywood star power, the ingredient that has turned New York, Paris, and Milan's fashion-industry galas into Entertainment Tonight fodder -- or, to put it in Casablancas-speak, Cannes-worthy.
In fact the only boldface names MODA was able to drum up were Lorenzo Lamas (whose days on Falcon Crest and Renegade have been superseded of late by straight-to-video fare such as Gladiator Cop: The Swordsman II) and a second-string member of the Estefan clan. Not that the New York fashion press weren't still all atwitter over South Beach; it's just that they were engrossed with the glory of South Beach past, as embodied by the multimillion-dollar Sotheby's auction of Gianni Versace's Ocean Drive villa interiors, occurring at the same time as MODA.
Gazing down at the scene that continues to unfold here, New York Times style editor Amy Spindler sniffed, "They are still inline skating and biking and playing volleyball. People still crowd the News Café, where Versace ate his last meal and read his last newspaper. But in many ways South Beach feels like a country in a Southern clime between dictators. There is a sense that everyone with an ounce of style is waiting to be told where to go next."
All of which begs the question: Is South Beach over? Has the jet-setting Zeitgeist moved on to a new hot spot? The buzz out of clubland certainly hasn't been encouraging. With the current recession settling in, the talk is of drastically reduced high-end alcohol sales and rumored closings. (Will Rain ever open?) Little more than six months after its much ballyhooed debut, Michael Capponi's 320 had shuttered its doors on a Saturday night for a Sisqó video shoot. Considering that most Beach club owners regard Saturday as their most lucrative evening, Capponi's decision to opt for a location rental fee speaks volumes, particularly for a venue once deemed to be among the area's hottest.
Moreover the caliber of celebs hitting town of late seems to be more of the drunken-frat-boys-on-spring-break variety than Cristal-swigging high rollers. Take Puff Daddy: When he wasn't busy getting pulled over by traffic cops while putt-putting past the Clevelander, he was, according to several onlookers, peeing against the wall inside crobar. Apparently a crobar staffer failed to fetch a private bathroom key fast enough for Puff Daddy's liking. (This may help explain Puffy's newfound insistence on being referred to as P. Diddy.)
For those of us who actually live in Miami Beach year-round, however, the city's dimming luster may provide a welcome opportunity to steer it in a new direction. That much was evident from last week's Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which filled the Colony Theater. Prefacing her presentation on the past decade's Sapphic imagery, film scholar B. Ruby Rich opined that the media vogue for "lesbian chic" was long gone. According to Rich it was an early-Nineties moment best exemplified by the gal-pal antics of the Beach's Ingrid Casares. Looking back at that time, Rich quipped, "You know you've become a famous lesbian when Ingrid Casares calls you."
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Casares herself seems to have taken to heart Amy Spindler's assertion that "the party in Miami is certainly over," moving to the Gables and adopting a more aseptic, baby-toting persona. Yet as the crowd at the Colony Theater revealed, what has emerged on South Beach in the wake of lesbian chic is nothing less than a bona fide lesbian community, one that seems less concerned about appearances in glossy magazines and gossip-column spin control than with simply building contented and fulfilling lives.
Even straight people seem to be growing up. At the April 18 Miami Beach City Commission meeting, the debate turned to stricter enforcement of codes dealing with unruly residential film shoots and late-night parties in private homes. But the concerned citizens complaining about raucous bashes at a Di Lido Island manse, or naked women and gunshots going off in club magnate Shawn Lewis's North Bay Road back yard, weren't stern-faced biddies. They were leading figures from the Beach's film-production community, people like producer Greg Scheinman and Lauren Green, co-owner of the Green Agency, a modeling firm. And they appear to be part of a growing population: people who may have moved to South Beach years earlier for the unceasing debauchery but who now find themselves with spouses, children, and a burning desire to go to bed before 5:00 a.m.
"I've had clients who have threatened me," Green told the commissioners. "They're saying, We're not going to use the Green Agency because you object to the shoot.' I say to them: You're right!'" Several homes on the Venetian islands have become dedicated sets for an endless stream of visiting film crews, she explained, bringing with them ominous characters and some of the neighborhood's first burglaries. "I object first as a mother when I leave my home to go to work and leave my little ones, and there are strangers on my street.... I don't care how much money I'm losing."