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One of the extraordinary achievements of the boutique hotel movement has been to recognize the inherent theatricality of a hotel. However, Vikram Chatwal’s Dream Hotels, which are the spectacular embodiment of his Hautel Couture concept, recognize and celebrate the surreal heart of the experience, creating something uniquely hypnotic - so far from a home from home and yet so luxuriously close to perfection.

And so the Dream comes to Miami. The location chosen by Chatwal - society kingpin and heir to the Hampshire Hotels and Resorts empire built by his father Sant Singh Chatwal, one of the world’s most prominent Indian Sikh entrepreneurs - is further evidence of his impeccable instincts and the universality of his fantastic vision.

Since bursting onto the scene in 1999 at the extraordinary age of twenty eight, he has developed a staggering portfolio of first class, innovative boutique establishments, found in a dazzling array of world’s most coveted destinations; including New York’s still bohemian theatreland, Sukhumvit - Bangkok’s sultry centre of style, Cochin in Kerala, and the recently opened on the border of ultra-cool Chelsea and Meatpacking District, Dream Downtown.

Like all Dream Hotels, Dream South Beach sits perfectly at ease in the company of its neighbors - in this case, the edgy sun-kissed denizens of Miami’s most desirable districts.  South Beach, comprising the southernmost blocks of the island that stands between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, began life in the early Twentieth Century, the brainchild of developers Carl G. Fisher, the Lummus Brothers and John S. Collins, who eventually opened the town of Miami Beach in 1915.

Wealth and prestige arrived in earnest during the explosion of land prices in the 1920s, with noted contemporary millionaires such as J.C. Penney, Harvey Stutz, Rockwell LaGorce, Frank Seiberling, Harvey Firestone, and Albert Champion building lavish waterfront homes. The injection of serious wealth into the area in turn precipitated a golden age of architecture in the 1930s whose reverberations are still being felt today. Grand villas and opulent palaces sprang up, exquisitely realized in the latest radical styles of the day, Art Deco, Nautical Moderne and Streamline Moderne.

By the 1970s and 80s, South Beach had fallen on rather harder times, with the refined beauty of yesteryear’s society residences falling into neglect as the area became overrun with the “cocaine cowboys” - those made nouveau riche by Miami’s strategic importance in the drug trafficking routes north. The washed out pastels and sun-kissed degeneracy proved a motif for a generation, as typified in the adrenalized classics Scarface and Miami Vice, both filmed in the area.

As is so often with the beady eye of urban renewal, the prospect of low real estate prices and run-down but salvageable period architecture drew a vibrant community of artists, designers and other assorted “creatives” to the area in the late 1980s and ultra trendy, cutting edge SoBe was born.

It is into this thriving centre of cool that
Dream South Beach moved effortlessly this month. Leading architect and designer Michael Czysz has overseen a radical melding of two classic period Art Deco hotels, the Palmer House and the Tudor Hotel, built at the height of the neighborhood’s heyday and located just behind The Villa by Barton G., former Versace Mansion.

This breathtaking achievement perfectly unifies the classic glamour of the 1930s, the blissed-out poolside oblivion of the 1970s and raw and dynamic creativity searing through the area today, taking as its inspiration the contents of a slumbering sub-conscious.

A two and a half metre Hindu god, Ganesha, welcomes guests perched on a lotus flower at the spectacular main entrance. In the hypnotic intensity of the dream-like interiors, Czysz and his team draw upon the evocative minimalist mystique of French-Moroccan style - whose speckled lattices and elegant curves bathe the suites and guestrooms with a sense of luxuriant tranquillity. The rooms themselves are unobtrusively but lavishly appointed with every luxury, technological and otherwise, expected by discerning guests.

As always Chatwal’s choices triumph, and none more so that at Tudor House, the ground floor restaurant run by Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, whose The Lambs Club and The National are the toast of New York. The Art Deco aesthetic, not to mention original features, is melded perfectly with more modern flourishes and echoes the heady mix of Zakarian’s Mediterranean roots and classical French training, for which his cuisine has become famous.

In the sultry air of the South Florida dusk, guests and revellers alike are invited to survey the full panorama of South Beach from the enviable views found at Highbar, the chic rooftop lounge-bar - featuring an infinity-edge pool - that models itself not on the style of the 1970s, but the glamorous abandon that beat at their heart.

Haute couture literally means high sewing in French. With Hautel Couture, Vikram Chatwal has pulled off the couturier’s trick of teasing style from function, spinning it ever higher on gossamer thin flights of the imagination until a whole edifice, a fantasy made flesh, a dream come true stands below him.

While haute couture transcends of the concept of a dress, then Hautel Couture is the transcendence of the hotel. Dream South Beach is the latest step towards hotel nirvana.

     - Ben Stewart

Dream South Beach

Address:  1111 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, 33139
Tel:  305 673 4747
Website:  www.dreamsouthbeach.com

Photo Credit:  David Durbak Photography
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