Why This Design Insider Has The Best Job In Miami
Mr Rafa Olarra in the lobby of Casa Faena
“Miami is vibrant and beautiful,” says Faena art director Mr Rafa Olarra. “But it is a bit of a quiet town.” Mr Olarra has hit on something that few outsiders realise about the Magic City, which is known for its parties, pleasures and mega-watt lifestyle. It is, at least sometimes, pretty mellow.
Argentinian-born Mr Olarra cuts a rugged figure, an athlete fit for his daily decathlon of roles. In addition to his work at the Faena, he is a freelance creative director, costume designer, set maker and more. Recently, he created an indoor beach for German Vogue and helped to stage Moschino’s new men’s fragrance campaign starring the Brazilian model Mr Jhona Burjack. The Faena jobs, however, are his biggest.
Mr Alan Faena, the man who started the empire – which includes luxury hotels, hot-spot restaurants, renowned exhibition spaces, an intimate theatre, an event venue and the much Instagrammed Mr Damien Hirst-conceived woolly mammoth – out of Buenos Aires, “thinks of his properties like movie sets”, says Mr Olarra. “So, we play with them as if they are. The work here is very eclectic and very fun. There are so many buildings, so many guests, that we really do work as a production company more than anything else.” Mr Olarra burrows right down into the minutiae of hotel and lifestyle property management. He even regularly tweaks the employees’ uniforms.
Mr Olarra’s office
Mr Olarra has lived in Miami for four years. The vastness of the Faena empire – and its ambition – keep him busy. Yet, despite the myriad requirements of his post, along with his additional freelance work, he has managed to discover Miami’s softer side.
Yes, there are busy spikes (Art Basel, Miami Music Week, established perennial holiday windows), but there are also plenty of lulls, the kind that South Floridians love because their streets are suddenly clearer and their restaurants less cacophonous. Mr Olarra keeps homes in Miami and New York City and, although he doesn’t outwardly admit it, it seems that he prefers the pace of his Floridian domicile over the grind of the Big Apple.
Here, he gives MR PORTER a little insight into this world and a Miami Beach that, despite the demands, is as much a respite as it is a roller-coaster. To match this frenetic, active, creative lifestyle, we asked him to take Girard-Perregaux’s sporty yet elegant titanium and rubber Laureato Absolute for a spin.
Mr Olarra’s Apartment
“I live in Miami Beach, just five blocks from the hotel,” says Mr Olarra. “When I first moved down here, I was living a bit more south and away from the sea. I decided that when I woke up, I wanted to see the ocean. I wake up early, when it’s still night, so I can watch the sun. It’s the only moment of the day when I don’t have a phone, email, text messages. I try to keep my apartment eclectic, but a little beachy-looking. I try, always, to adapt to the place I am in. In particular, I have a beautiful painting that I bought in an antique store in Savannah, Georgia. I have no idea who the artist is, but it’s an Art Deco-style image of a woman collecting fruits. It’s one of my favourite pieces. My biggest extravagance is travel and I like to bring a lot home. I have a ceremonial crown that I bought in Kenya, a bronze elephant from Nepal. I collect.”
“Three years ago, I started doing triathlons and marathons. I swim in the ocean, but I go to the swimming pool and the racetrack at Flamingo Park [in the heart of South Beach, a locals’ favourite for fitness]. It’s super convenient. I can go from racing to the water to racing to the water. Perfect for cross-training. I also play tennis there, but I am not very good.”
The lobby of Casa Faena
“Casa Faena is a boutique hotel that is part of the larger Faena property. It has just 30 rooms and is located across the street from the main hotel. It has a very young vibe and it is a bit more affordable, so there are generally younger people. It’s very cosy, too, and a great place to go have lunch, even if you’re not staying there. I just redesigned all of its public spaces. I love to not have a monotonous life. I love doing a million different things at the same time, and the Faena, well, it’s fantastic for that.”
Mr Olarra’s Office
“The office goes through a lot of different stages. It keeps changing based on the time of year. I actually share an office with Alan, and when it’s Art Basel time, we share it with a lot more people. I put our drafts, samples and sketches around the walls. If you walk around, you can see little pieces of different projects we’ve been working on, past and present. In one corner, I also keep a few costumes that I’ve designed over the years.”