Palm Beach – A World Apart
by Marilyn DeMartini for Women’s Wear Daily, April 2000
Check in at The Breakers, and the Addison Mizner architecture invites you to step back to the elegance of South Florida’s yesteryear. After scouting the well-groomed grounds to investigate a round of golf, energetic bike ride, tennis game, or relaxing spa service, it is time to step forward, and visit Worth Avenue, and the opulence of South Florida’s European-influenced present.

Winding along South County Road toward the Worth-y shopping Mecca, take note of local favorites Amici, Galaxy Grill and Chuck & Harold’s for a return dinner trip or bite of lunch on the way. The former two feature Maruizio Cimenella’s and Glen Manfra’s classic Italian and continental cuisine—and repeatedly satisfied customers, while the later is a popular restaurant, as well as an upbeat cocktail stop on the way to, or from dinner.

Passing the Memorial Fountain then rounding the corner to see all the recognized names like Chanel, Emanuel Ungaro, Escada, Gucci, Hermes, St. John and Cartier, one might ask, is this New York, Palm Beach—or Paris?! Though the designers are world-renown, the atmosphere is most definitively Palm Beach. While Mizner’s buildings of pastel stucco, barrel tile, and weathered cypress, and tucked-away patios feel Mediterranean, blooming and bright bougainvillea, stately royal palms and leisurely clad shoppers definitely portray tropical South Florida’s most prestigious retail address.

Worth Avenune is a melange of luxury and world of contrasts, as traditional Letitia Lundee Antique Porcelain and Ceramics, is juxtaposed to Walker Lansing’s Asian-fusion decor concept, combining tribal, modern and vintage themes. Lily Pulitzer and Steven Stolman bright Palm Beach prints reside alongside fashion-forward MIF (Made in France), and Touche, or Far-eastern silks from Kapsiki.

Small, independent boutiques adjoin The Esplanade, an esthetically designed shopping center, with Spanish tile and fountains, home of renovated and expanded Saks Fifth Avenue and stores like Charles Jourdan, Kieselstein-Cord and Sonia Rykiel. A Mediterranean-styled Neiman Marcus is under construction for a November opening, likewise modifying its size and style to acquire the coveted Worth Avenue address.

Galleries like Wally Findlay proudly display traditional and contemporary American and European artists, while the Ambassador shows more whimsical sculpture, and Gallery 5 mounts a show of rising artists and glass sculpture that beckon one to explore new artistic territories.

Fashion and jewelry call from every direction, and along with traditional stalwarts like Maus & Hoffman, Tiffany & Co., Laura Ashley and Brooks Brothers, stand the more unusual and European influenced Holland & Holland country clothiers of London, Bottega Veneto, A. Di Mille Italian Menswear, and En Soie, Swiss silks. Even more unusual specialties are found down tiny Via’s which lead off the main street, to charming courtyards. Along Via De Mario, Otten Von Emmerich displays antique Luis Vitton, in a cruise and sailing-themed travel gallery. Leather trunks dating back to 1854 double as furniture, and mix with modern sailing sculpture, original paintings on authentic sailing charts and miscellaneous boating memorabilia.

Stroll Via Mizner, to visit Spring Flowers children’s store, Zara’s antiques and Renato’s picturesque Italian restaurant, that features a romantic piano to entertain indoor and patio diners. Further along the Gucci Courtyard, Grande Armee Military Antiques peers between the arches and caters to history buffs fascinated with rare helmets, armor, uniforms and miniature toy soldiers—memorabilia which tells stories of past battles and wars. Ambling through the walkway, enjoy Prince Monyo’s playful bronze sculptures of children frolicking in the courtyard of Gallery Via Veneto.

Jewels range from the proper pearls and diamonds of VanCleef & Arpels, Maison Maurice and East Coast Estate Jewelry, to the custom Creations of Mariano from Buenos Aires, the signature pearl shells of Seaman Shepps by Trianon, or Blue Caribe Gems where natural stones, gold and silver become works of art. Tracy Dara Kamenstein’s handmade creations, inspired by Italian sculpture, are showcased in recessed shadow boxes like the museum pieces they resemble. Her most recent collections include platinum motorcycle-like chains and a colorful palette of rare, exotic stones like brilliant hauynite, paraiba, and rose-cut diamonds, all encrusted in 22 karat gold, resembling tiny stain glass windows to wear.

But whether you crave cashmere from Trillon or hot-to-trot Parisian fashions from Franceska, no trip to Worth Avenue is complete without a visit to the new Giorgio’s Couture. A compliment to his two boutiques in the Breakers and a compilation of his Esplanade and Worth Avenue stores, the new salon is set in the heart of the Avenue, with a neutral awning and exterior that belie the richness within. The windows showcase a rainbow of women’s alligator sandals, ballet slippers, and bags, as well as classic men’s alligator loafers, briefcases, and blazers. But step through the door and the interior literally shines with at least a dozen Swarovski crystal chandeliers, some recessed in hand-painted domes, strategically creating display areas for clothing, bags, shoes and his newest passion, alligator in-laid furniture.

To say that owner, designer and creative master, George Sharoubim, is attentive to minute details is total understatement. Every piece of hardware on every bag is like a piece of gold, working jewelry, hand-tooled to perfectly compliment a woman’s hand or shoulder. Travel bags that feature a hidden jewelry compartment, portable make up vanity or umbrella pocket, tucked under multiple compartments for credit cards, papers or keys, are totally alligator-lined to preserve the integrity of the bag while opened or closed. “I worry about practicality, safety and timelessness,” says Sharoubim, who guarantees his bags, “not just for a year, but as long as they are owned,” he emphasizes, “My leather goods are investments—a woman can be proud to show this bag.” Recognizing that his $39 million inventory is “about luxury, not need,” where the lowest priced items are a $1,000 handmade belt or a $2,000 wallet, he routinely sells out of many of the 30 colors of bags that sell for over $14,500. While he does not brandish the names of the rich and famous who frequent his store, Sharoubim did note that he just shipped a $145,000 alligator and burl wood, hand-crafted travel desk to the King of Malaysia. The versatile piece of furniture converts into a travel trunk, complete with a seat that opens into a storage cabinet—leather lined of course, with gold fixtures, and sliding doors and compartments that take utility and imagination to new dimensions.

The store’s display fixtures, as well as the furnishings offered for sale, are wooden works of art, upholstered with matching alligator skins, intricately detailed and hand stitched. Sharoubim designs each piece himself and personally inspects its perfection. His craftsmen must have nerves of steel to meet his impeccable standards. From the hand-carved, alligator upholstered chaise, to the Duomo of Milano replica birdcage, to a table with legs laced into tiny shoes, you must tour the gallery-like display of Italian mahogany and leather to believe and absorb it.

And while in the mood to continue this exotic and ethnic tour, find your way to The Breaker’s newest addition to its off-site managed establishments, Echo, for “Resounding Asian Cuisine.” “Palm Beach has not had an Asian restaurant and residents and visitors have been thrilled with what we created,” says manager Heidi Pfeiffer. The senses are pleasantly wooed by the Feng-Shui influenced decor, which plays brushed stainless menu covers, glass holders and chop sticks, against deep-stained wood and upholstered banquets. Modern artwork, creative halogen lighting, a winding Dragon Fly cocktail and sushi bar provide a visual array of appealing scenarios, which break the large restaurant into cozy sections, affording more intimate conversation and ambiance. And ah! The menu! An array of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, influenced by the elements of fire, earth and water, is artfully prepared and presented by Sushi Chef Ha Khong and Restaurant Chef Dieu Ho. Pastry Chef Lisa Damiano out-does herself on soufflés garnished with edible flowers, spices and spoons of rich heavy cream. Don’t forget the signature “Firecracker” cocktail or assorted sake. After a long day of browsing the finest shops, galleries and fashion houses, a bit of decadent dining fully satiates the senses.

If a cultural experience would better suit your mood, the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum provides insights into the turn-of-the-century barons and opulence that shaped South Florida’s history. The Norton Museum of Art, across the bridge in nearby West Palm Beach, also features a modern installation, “Shimmering Madness” by Sandy Skoglund and a photography exhibit, “Shooting Legends” by Philippe Halsman and George Hurrell. Docent-lead tours take place at 12:30 and 2 PM daily. And while in West Palm, a stroll down hip and happening Clematis Street opens doors to a new spectrum of galleries, shops, restaurants and bars. On Thursday evening, Clematis by Night is a social scene, as the street becomes a pedestrian walkway with live music staged in the city plaza.

Once off-island, a short jaunt north on I-95, leads to the Gardens of the Palm Beaches, the upscale tropical mall with Bloomies, Macy’s et al, and an assortment of boutiques that make it far from ordinary.

Now about that massage at the hotel…and oh yes, the NACDS conference!