Tomas Maier is giving his guests a tour of Miami's Biscayne Bay on a 60-foot Magnum yacht, cruising at 70 miles per hour. Maier points out a pile of rubble, explaining that it once was the Woolworth mansion; then he directs their attention to a construction site destined to become André Balazs's latest hotel. He admires the childhood home of art collector Mitchell Wolfson Jr., noting the proportions of the 1937 Italianate villa set back from the water's edge.
Maier is known in the fashion world as the brains behind Bottega Veneta's transformation from a family-run company known mostly for its woven leather bags to a powerhouse firm with a full-scale collection—men's and women's clothing as well as home accessories. He has been spending a bit more time down in Miami of late. Last November, without missing a beat as Bottega's creative director, he opened a store of his own, simply called Tomas Maier.
What makes the shop so pleasantly surprising is that Maier, while still designing Bottega Veneta's complete line, is also rooting for the competition. Azzedine Alaïa and Lanvin's Alber Elbaz get as much floor space as do Bottega and Maier's namesake line of swimwear and cashmere separates. (Imagine if Tom Ford, still at Gucci, opened a boutique and sold Dior.) The store is his window on what is beautiful, whether it's a $14 ceramic vase by a local artist, a $7,000 Lanvin cocktail dress, the perfect gold sandal by K. Jacques St. Tropez, or a vintage rose pin he discovered at a flea market. Who knew Bruce Weber was developing a line of T-shirts and swim trunks? Or that Philip Treacy had the license to produce a line of hats using Andy Warhol prints? Maier did. With laserlike focus he edits the worlds of fashion and design to create a universe populated by only the Maier-anointed best.
"I opened the store because people always ask me, 'Where did you get that?' " explains the German-born Maier, who came to Bottega in 2001 after stints at Hermès and Sonia Rykiel. In his two-year search for the right location, Maier rejected the city's established fashion centers. "Lincoln Road is a mall, and Bal Harbour is too brand oriented," he states. "I wanted to create a 'house' in an undiscovered neighborhood." He found the ideal spot in a thirties-style stucco cottage (next door to an auto body shop) on West Avenue, a little-known street about ten minutes from the bustling Lincoln Road strip. Across the road is the recording studio of the Bee Gees. "This is the real Miami Beach," Maier says with pride.
The low-key shop feels as if it were a very private—and very chic—bungalow. The first room you enter features a Chinese dresser stocked with gold and white Bottega bags, and there's a cabinet filled with amber beads from Dean Harris and jade-and-moonstone cuffs designed by Smithwick Dillon. Another room holds art and photography books (everything from Philip-Lorca diCorcia to Verdura: The Life and Work of a Master Jeweler) and some choice DVDs (Belle de Jour, La Dolce Vita, Taxi Driver). The back room of the boutique houses a gallery space where Maier recently exhibited prints by Slim Aarons.
Maier's place in Miami, also a thirties stucco bungalow, is a perfect little mirror to the store. Here, too, his eye for quality and respect for craftsmanship are abundantly evident. Maier calls the house, which overlooks the water on a private inlet, his secret spot (there is also an apartment in Paris). He takes particular delight in what he refers to as the Florida room, a semienclosed space outfitted with enormous potted orchids, leather Bottega pillows, and antique Chinese urns, with a view of the pool and the waterfront beyond. The library off the Florida room carries Maier's impressive collection of some of the greatest black-and-white fashion photographs ever taken, among them prints by Beaton, Penn, Arbus, Ruff, and Struth.
"This all is a big personal shift for me. I lived in Germany for nineteen years and then in France. I decided it was time to learn a new attitude, explore a new lifestyle. Europe is about heritage—heavy shoulders. The American mentality has a certain freshness." At the end of the day, Maier is now just as happy to relax at his waterfront oasis, sharing his deck with a giant iguana that emerges periodically for a sunbath, as he is to fly across the water in the emerald-green Magnum out into the open sea.