The Closing: Alan Faena

Alan Faena (Photo courtesy of Christopher Sturman)
Alan Faena (Photo courtesy of Christopher Sturman)

Alan Faena is known for his artsy taste, for always wearing white and for creating the Faena District in Miami Beach. Faena was born in Argentina, and his life has taken several turns, including modeling, owning a major fashion company and developing the Faena District in Buenos Aires — all before founding his namesake district in Miami Beach with partner Len Blavatnik. Like some other notable people in powerful positions, Faena appears to enjoy putting his name on buildings. He’s developed the Faena Hotel, the ultra-luxury Faena House condo tower and the new arts and cultural center Faena Forum, all part of the Faena District that runs on both sides of Collins Avenue from 32nd Street to 35th Street. He works out of a design trailer facing the beach that’s filled with drawings of his hotel, photographs and fabric and marble samples. 

What was your childhood like? It was a childhood full of love. We were in the city, in Buenos Aires, and I grew up with the love of my parents. My father used to have a big textile company and he produced wool.

Did you go to college? I went to school and I started working, creating when I was in high school, so when I finished school I already had a company, so I continued developing my company.

What kind of company did you have? A fashion company. It was called Via Vai. It was a big revolution in the city. It was a generational movement — it was more than fashion. It was when democracy was starting; the dictatorship was finished. It was a very amazing and blooming moment for the city. I was kind of the leader of all these young people that wanted to start living again and dressing up and showing attitude, and I started bringing the attitude.
I started mixing rock and roll with fashion.

How long did you have that business? Twelve or 13 years. I created a big business, with 50 stores. When I sold the company —[it was generating] around $30 million at the time — it was a lot of money in Argentina. I started with two T-shirts, and we were selling 120,000 pieces.

Then what was next for you? I sold the company in ‘95 or ‘96. After that, I became a gardener. I went to live at my home on the beach. Having all that craziness, with 50 stores and 300 stores I was selling to… I went with my girlfriend to live at my house on the beach in Uruguay. I created the most amazing rose garden.

How did you get into hotels? I started thinking, how I can use all that experience that I have from fashion, which is a great teacher. You have all kinds of aspects. You understand feeling, you understand desire, how to create it, mixing music, color, money, financials, marketing, communications. And much more.

Then I took the time that I needed. I recommend to everyone to take the time, to see what war they want to fight or what they need from themselves and to be in silence, to pay attention to silence. It looks easy, but it is big work when you look for a new way for yourself. I took the time to do it. I thought that I would never work anymore because I was so far away — no phone, no secretary, no computer… At the time, the Internet was just starting.

But I started experiencing conflict because I was very young still. And also I was not rich enough to live on my money. I think my creativity needed more space to continue evolving. So I realized that if I can create that magic that I created in fashion and I created in my place in Uruguay, that is like an alchemy place. I realized you can do that in buildings. Because a building is like a big pot of alchemy, of energy, where you can put music, dancing, shows, food, taste, emotions, flavors.

From there, the thinking to the creation was difficult, almost impossible. It was a time in Argentina, 2001, it was a big crisis.

I found an abandoned building, this place that had no street, no garden, nothing, and I turned this into the most amazing hotel and real estate in Argentina. It became the most successful real estate story in Latin America.

How did you meet Len Blavatnik? Because of Chris Burch.

How did you meet Chris Burch? He was the co-founder — with his ex-wife — of Tory Burch and other retail brands. He was coming to Argentina because of a friend in common. And I was trying to find money — it was impossible in Argentina — and Chris Burch came and I walked with him to this destroyed building and I told him my plan to make this hotel. Chris is a magic man, and unique, and he can think outside the box. He believed in me and was the first one to give me money, and he connected me with one of the most incredible groups of private money ever created, the first Faena Group of investors: Chris Burch, his brother Bob Burch, Austin Hertz, from Hertz Corp., and Len Blavatnik.

How did you decide to create the Faena District in Miami Beach? Len Blavatnik, my friend and partner, he told me, “There’s this building, here, the old Saxony. I bought it and I don’t know what to do with it. Come here and check it out.” Then I came and Len told me, “Why don’t we do the same thing we did in Buenos Aires?” We started buying the pieces of land and creating a district with architecture and design, people from around the world, art, the art center.

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What has been the hardest part of developing it? Everything, everything. I put so much passion in.

Why do you always wear white? It’s a color I feel good in. I don’t think I need anything more. Also, it’s easy. And I like that everybody dresses in black, so I dress in white.

Your wife works with you? Yes, she takes care of some parts of the company.

How long have you been together? We have been together eight years.

What is your secret to a good marriage? Being a good lover.

How did you meet your wife? She was working with me in Buenos Aires, at Faena District. We started working together as very good friends and then, over time…

What do you like to do to relax? Listen to music and go to the ocean.

What keeps you up at night? I work a lot for the things that I believe in and put all my strength and my emotions in my beliefs.

What is next for you? I have different alternatives, but I am taking my time.
I could become a gardener again or create a district again, or create shows, I love shows. I love theater. I love art. We will see. Life will say. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.