Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann and his costume-and-set-designer wife, Catherine Martin, are taking a short break from films to take on a commercial real estate project for the first time. The two will design interiors, uniforms, and cultural programming for the historic Saxony Hotel in the growing Faena District of Miami Beach.
Earlier this year, Luhrmann was brought on as a creative advisor to a massive development and rejuvenation effort in the central stretch of Collins Avenue. The massive project is being spearheaded by Argentinian developer Alan Faena, who has similarly transformed a district of Buenos Aires into a cultural and luxury hub. Already, architectural firms Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas are at work on the new Miami district. Faena has tasked Luhrmann and his wife with transforming the five-star, 168-suite Saxony in keeping with its long history and with an eye to Miami’s contemporary scene.
“We dealt with it just like we would deal with a film,” Luhrmann told Vanity Fair. “We went back to the very roots of the Saxony.” He and Martin started by doing in-depth research, and even interviewed the sons of George Sax. (Sax was a prominent banker and founder of the Saxony, which was completed in 1948 as one of the first luxury hotels on Miami Beach.) “And then we also looked at Alan Faena and his DNA, if you like, his romantic persona, his world of Faena in Buenos Aires.”
“So many of the really iconic things about the Saxony we’ve taken and just relooked at,” he added. “Much in the same way that we do when I’m addressing a kind of text that was written either in the twenties or in the Elizabethan period.”
Luhrmann said he was lured to the project by Len Blavatnik, the billionaire owner of Warner Music who is also a partner in the Miami project. Blavatnik introduced him to Alan Faena and his wife, Ximena, at a cocktail party in Cannes celebrating Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby. “It was such a CM-and-I story,” he said, referring to his wife and work partner, Martin. “In that moment in the middle of opening Gatsby, I was thinking we needed to—as CM and I always tend to do after a big film—a creative adventure . . . going into a territory that we’ve never been in before.”
While hotel design is new to the pair, Miami is a familiar milieu. The pair lived there as they were crafting Luhrmann’s American breakout film, Romeo + Juliet.
“We lived there during the time when Gianni Versace was alive. And we were living on Collins Avenue, right in the center of the area that is now Faena Miami,” Luhrmann explained. Miami then was “both gritty and glamorous,” with a European charge brought on by Versace. “It was the first full-time residence we had in the United States. So we’ve always had this profound connection to Miami. It was our creative palette from which we drew Romeo + Juliet.”
The pair will be feted in Miami this week by the Faenas in honor of Design Miami and Art Basel.