Fashion Project 04: The Anniversary

Bal Harbour, Miami Florida.

Creating a new kind of landscape

“Symbolic landscape” is a term commonly employed in discussions of shopping spaces. With its lush landscaping and koi ponds, Bal Harbour Shops, an open-air retail center situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, transforms this symbolism into an actual landscape. The contemporary American shopping mall has been hailed as the “formal garden of twentieth century culture.”1 Bal Harbour Shops is no metaphoric garden; it is alandscape of flora and fashion.

In 1965, Stanley Whitman, the developer and owner of Bal Harbour Shops,
opened the nation’s first all-luxury fashionshopping center. At the time, it was typical to blend essential services such as food markets, cobblers, and hardware stores with retail shops. Industry experts were skeptical of Bal Harbour Shops’ upscale retailers, unconventional architecture, and paid parking. At the time, air-conditioning was sweeping the nation, and enormous enclosed malls surrounded by vast parking lots dominated mid-century American shopping culture. In this context, BalHarbour Shops offered a unique experienceand has since continued to do so.

“I always had a very clear vision of exactly what I wanted … it couldn’t look like every other mall out there. I wanted people to feel as though they were shopping in a garden,” Whitman said. Orange trees— symbolic of Florida—were planted throughout the center, helping to create

the inviting atmosphere Whitman envisioned. A 1983 expansion to a
second level reduced the necessary sunlight, and the orange trees were replaced with Alexander Palms. Today,
the landscape of vegetation, garden areas, fountains, and koi ponds features manyvarieties of plants that flourish in thesubtropics, including bromeliads, orchids, and Rhapis Palms, with Coconut Palms thriving in the parking area. “Our goal is always to make the space as pretty as possible—it really is as simple as that,” noted Whitman’s son, Randy, managing partner of Bal Harbour Shops.

The center opened with thirty tenants,
all New York–based, including FAO Schwarz and Abercrombie & Fitch, but—again, counter to shopping center conventions—with no anchor department stores. Despite this unorthodox approach, Bal Harbour Shops was a “howling success” from the start, according to Whitman. The early success paved the way for Whitman to convince NeimanMarcus, in 1971, to open its first locationoutside its native Texas, which in turn lured designer boutiques that were previously exclusive to the famed shopping avenues of Paris and New

York City. In 1976, Saks Fifth Avenue became the second anchor, making BalHarbour Shops the first shopping centerin the country to have Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.