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Socialites, A-listers Jetting in to Help Miami Beach's Iconic Fontainebleau Hotel
 Celebrate Its Renovation in Decadent Style
By Madeleine Marr, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 13, 2008 --Recession? What recession? Sssshhh, the R-word isn't uttered 'round these parts. There's nothing fabulous about being low on cash, my dear.

This weekend it's time to party like it's 1989. The Fontainebleau Hotel -- 2008 version -- will host two soirees lavish enough to make the resort's late, great architect, Morris Lapidus, groove in his grave.

Jetting in: socialites (the serious kind from Manhattan), A-listers (Lindsay Lohan, Martha Stewart, A-Rod, Sean Combs, Usher) and Victoria's Secret models (Heidi Klum and her ilk).

Too bad Morris -- whose autobiography was titled Too Much is Never Enough -- didn't live to see the day. His baby, the 54-year-old grand dame that catapulted our little hamlet to the world stage, has returned to her glory days with a glitzy $1 billion makeover. The Fontainebleau now boasts 1,504 rooms, an infinity pool elegantly lined with SoBe-style teak cabanas, and a 40,000 square-foot spa in a blue-glass structure that looks like something conceived by I.M. Pei.

This weekend's festivities probably make this the most high-stakes hotel opening in South Florida's history. Wednesday afternoon saw scores of pink-badge-wearing production staffers filming models throughout the hotel's grounds, as fire marshals conducted final tests for an occupancy permit the hotel had hoped to have months ago. The elusive permit forced the Fontainebleau to cancel dozens of events scheduled in recent months, including the Republican Governors conference that drew Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to Miami this week.

Klum was whisked through the hotel's makeshift lobby in an adjoining condo-hotel tower Wednesday afternoon while more than a dozen staffers crowded behind the main front desk awaiting clearance to check in their first guests.

Howard Karawan, the Fontainebleau Resorts executive charged with reopening the Miami Beach hotel, ducked into a conference room to cull VIPs from wannabe VIPs.

"How many more guests do we have for our sold-out party?" he asked staffers fielding last-minute add-ons to the invite list for the weekend.


By the end of business Wednesday, Fontainebleau posted a worker at the city's building department to obtain the permit Karawan expected to come by sundown. He was in the lobby when word came the hotel had passed its final fire inspection -- a milestone that prompted high-fives from fellow executives.

All the stops are out for this weekend's $5 million festivities, celebrating the rebirth of Lapidus' bodacious icon by the sea. It took three years to give the sagging duchess her facelift, and she deserves a decadent blowout.

How decadent? Let's start with the stunning invitations, which reportedly cost $200 a pop. You know you've arrived when you receive the satin-lined gift box in the mail. Inside, wrapped in felt, is an acrylic block encasing a black and white photograph of a woman's legs on a beach; the etched-in date "11 14 08" runs across the bottom. Hang onto the thing; you may do well with it on eBay someday.

Friday night's affair will be the first test of the Fontainebleau's famed ballrooms -- home to many proms, weddings and bar mitzvahs past. For the ribbon cutting, featuring performances by Robin Thicke, actor-jazz singer Terrence Howard and a "mystery" A-lister, 1,500 guests can expect a feast for the senses. The night's event planner is New York's David Monn, creative force behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala, among other extravagant soirees.

"You're going to be blown away," said Monn, nursing laryngitis from his various plane trips south. 'I did my homework on Morris' vision -- he believed in refinement and formality, but in a fun way. For him, more was always more."

On Wednesday, dozens of workers stapled boxwood sprigs onto plywood for the landscaped decor designed to resemble the Fontainebleau's original French gardens. Out of sight: the 15,000 orchids and 20,000 white roses shipped in for the parties.

Monn -- who won't disclose his fee but reportedly made about $300,000 for his museum gig -- developed his own soundtrack (a pop blend with Rat Pack classics) as well as a custom jasmine-orchid fragrance. The theme is Hollywood '50s glamour -- gobs of white on white.

"You're in a 35,000-square-foot room, and when we're finished it will feel very intimate," Monn said. "I think in this economy, it will be a very special party."


A living sculpture -- "phenomenal in scale," Monn said -- camps out in the lobby, where oldtimers will recognize the famed marble floor tiles shaped like bowties (Lapidus' signature accessory); the so-called Swiss cheese wall; tiered crystal chandeliers; and the famed Stairway to Nowhere, which once led to a coat check room, now executive office space.

"I hope women will take their Scarlett O'Hara moment there," Karawan said.

No one will leave hungry, says executive chef Sean O'Connell, formerly with the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Among the offerings: stations of rotisserie meats, carpaccios, ceviches and pastas; white truffles; freshly baked cakes; and tastings from the property's four signature restaurants, Vida (Med-Latin), Hakkasan (Britain's only Michelin-rated Chinese), Alfred Portale's Gotham Steak; and Scarpetta (Scott Conant's glam Italian).

Saturday's bash, organizers say, will be a bit more low key -- if you consider the world's hottest lingerie models convening in one place low key, that is.


A pink carpet will be rolled out for 2,000 guests who will be treated to a spectacle by Victoria's Secret's finest. Adriana Lima, Marisa Miller and Miranda Kerr, to name a few, won't actually skimp around at the resort, but at two lingerie fashion shows. A hulking five-story tent with a 150-foot runway and seats for 1,000 gawkers was specially built for the occasion. It comes down Sunday.

"It's taken 200 workers a month to erect a structure for an 88-minute show," said Karawan, with an ironic laugh. (The fashion show airs at 10 p.m. Dec. 3 on CBS).

Saturday's party continues until the wee hours at the hotel's new state-of-the-art, 30,000 square-foot nightclub, LIV, where the poison's a mix of today's cucumber mojitos and the shaken-not-stirred martinis of the Goldfinger era (the Bond movie was shot there in 1964).

It goes without saying that no expense was spared. But in this economy, what are they thinking?

"It's not about '80s style excess," says the resort's PR manager Mabel De Beunza. "It's about the place, the people, the see-and-be-seen element. That's what Morris wanted -- to create a stage. I think we accomplished that."

Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.


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