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Steven Giles May Be The Most Interesting Man on Lincoln Road

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Images Via Raquel Zaldivar

BASE Superstore is probably one of the first shops in Miami to fully embrace the whole "lifestyle" concept. The brand has survived 20 tumultuous years moving around Lincoln Road, undergoing a complete switch from womenswear boutique carrying its own designs to gallery-like menswear store filled with carefully curated music, art, toys, reading materials, cold-pressed juices and more. In a city where store fronts change as quickly as the tides, it's hard to find one that's survived this long, but one look at Steven Giles, Co-Founder and Creative Director of BASE, and you start to reconsider your doubt.

Giles is more than just a store owner. He's a silent pioneer in retail, having introduced hotels like the Delano and Mondrian in L.A. into the idea of thoughtful amenity stores; more memories, less aspirin. Hell, the Mondrian South Beach has a BASE vending machine in place of a giftshop, so you're more likely to score a condominium than you are tube of toothpaste. With his eloquent British accent (he's originally from London), quirky, round-rimmed glasses and small mutt, Cooper, trailing behind him, it's hard not to think of him as the distant, more intellectual cousin of "The Most Interesting Man in the World."

BASE is basically a mixture of art and men's fashion, right?
It's kind of like art meets commerce. I think BASE, fairly put, was one of the very first stores to really embrace, and it's become a bit of an overused term, lifestyle retailing. Because we started so many years ago it has, over time, become more and more refined; everything within the store is very carefully curated. It has a kind of gallery-like mentality, but it's not like a gallery. You want these specialized kinds of stores to have a certain social aspect to them. We can get everything we want online these days so you have to have very very specific reasons for creating brick and mortar stores, especially of this kind. In life, most of us tend to coalesce towards a certain tribe and BASE appeals to a certain tribe.

And what is that tribe?
That's a hard one to answer specifically, but obviously it's people like you and I who are, perhaps, interested, curious, a little savvy about things and who come into BASE not because they specifically need something. You tend not to go to BASE because you want a pint of milk or something, but rather that you're seduced by something. It's a very thoughtful type of retailing.

What do you look for when you're selecting lines and items for the store?
We do specialize in menswear at the flagship store, but even with menswear we try to find somewhat emergent lines or relatively recently established lines that have a real authenticity.

And what would that be?
Something that interests me.

So what interests you right now?
Everything in the store [laughs].

What was the last item that you were drawn to, that you said 'I have to have this at BASE?'
The raw juices, but it doesn't come down to one thing really. I could leap a little ahead and say that I think we'd like to do more collaborations, perhaps. The journey for BASE is to, in a sense, become more specialized, to answer more specialized needs. Not that they're necessarily stated needs, but when you see it, you're going to go, 'oh! I've been thinking about something like that.'

I know exactly what you mean! After walking by your music bar I realized how much I actually need a portable speaker system.
There you go! I think there are elements of BASE that are somewhat aspirational. We see things and we aspire to own them or we know there's something that we possibly couldn't own, but still appreciate them because they bring some kind of intangible value to our lives. And again, I don't want to over intellectualize. At the end of the day it's a retail store. But I don't want to demean it either because an enormous amount of thought goes into it.

You started this store here in Miami in 1989. How did the BASE concept come about?
We started as a manufacturing company with our own retail because, by trade, I'm actually a clothes designer. We started with our own line of clothing specifically for women, which is interesting, and we did that very successfully in the West Indies and Caribbean area. We had about 11 stores there and one of our franchisees actually suggested that we take it to South Beach, so I started coming here in the very early 90s. Lincoln Road was completely void of anything at that time, but I felt very drawn to it. All retail is pure instinct at the end of the day and so we did eventually get a store on Lincoln Road. I think it was September 1994, so we've been on Lincoln Road longer than I thought. 20 years! We were one of the first of the new wave of entrepreneurs that came to Lincoln Road but there weren't that many of us. In those days I used to say in the summer months you could run a bowling ball down Lincoln Road and you wouldn't hit anyone.

Tell me a little bit about this location.
A couple of months ago we decided to take over this space which was formerly Design Within Reach. It's actually a big gallery-like space, 5,500 square feet, and we decided we wanted to put everything in it as if we were occupying the space in a guerrilla style setup, meaning that you run in, put your things down, and open the doors, and that's exactly what we did. We closed up the one store [at 939 Lincoln Road] where we'd been for 13 years and opened this four days later. If you look around, everything is on wheels. That's a very deliberate decision, with the exception of our wonderful changing rooms, and I'm very proud of these two big shapes. Hector Perez, who's our e-commerce manager and works with me on all creative projects like this, came up with the idea of this sort of triangular shape, which is a spruce tree rethought, so we decided that the theme of the store is an illustrated forest. That's why you've got these green shapes, the camouflage chairs, the sandy forest floor, and the raw wood. Whatever projects we're doing we create a story. We outline the story and we add the chapters, I guess.

You've done a lot of work with major hotel chains here like The Delano and Mondrian Miami. Tell me a little bit about that.
I'll tell you what I can. Ian Schrager is the person who is the mastermind behind the Delano, which is the first iconic hotel of its kind. It's the concept of a boutique hotel, a lifestyle driven hotel. These days he is in partnership with the Marriott Hotels and they wanted to develop a new brand that would appeal to some demographic, so they came up with a brand called Edition. It has several hotels already in existence and many in development. The next one is going to be Edition Miami and my team and I are responsible for all the retail elements of that hotel, from what you actually find in the room to its two retail stores.

You have multiple locations in Miami. Do they each have a different concept?
We only have two other locations. The other location we have the longest, I guess, is the store at The Delano. It's a very very small space but we've had it for almost eight years now. One thing lead to another and I sort of became the retail consultant. Under that umbrella we opened up a store for [Ian Schrager] at Mondrian L.A. and then we took over this glass vending machine at the Mondrian here. I seem to have developed some kind of a reputation for hotels and working in the hotel industry, but at a very particular level, for people who don't want a conventional hotel store full of Swarovski crystal souvenirs and t-shirts. Retail used to be at the bottom of the ladder on a hotel. It was just somewhere where you went for some aspirins. What we realize now, what I hope I helped develop, is that the store was part of the conversation of the hotel. As people have become much more savvy on where they spend their money, and the choices they have, the need to guide the conversation they're having about you is more imperative than ever. My interest, as narrow as it is now days, when working with hotels is to try and create and find things that might be conversation starters or memory evokers.

Tell me a little bit about your design background.
There's not a lot to tell, really. I was a designer and still I am, really. I would happily design a car if somebody asked me to, but it just so happens that I fell into clothing. I'm not desperately interested in fashion, funnily enough. I admire it, and I admire many people who are captivated by it, but I like things to be fairly practical.

You mentioned you began BASE with womenswear in mind. Do you plan on ever expanding that category in the store?
I don't know actually... I guess overtime we started to gravitate more and more towards men, and then it became slightly more difficult to manufacture for the one store. When we opened here on Lincoln Road, funnily enough, a huge hurricane devastated many parts of the Caribbean. One of the things it devastated were four of our stores and our manufacturing facility, so we took that as a cosmic sign that maybe it was time to leave the Caribbean. Because we'd lost our manufacturing company, we started working with other people but it became very difficult to create real diversity out of one resource. When you've only got one store there's really no point to it. We began to stop manufacturing womenswear. When we moved into the space prior this one, that's where I thought I really wanted move BASE in a different direction, and that's where I really, funnily enough, became more interested in retailing and less interested in making the stuff that was sold within the store.

In the past 20 years that BASE has been open, what is the single most important business lesson that you've learned?
There's always a creative solution to something.

You mentioned chapters. What do you see is the next chapter for BASE?
I would like to continue to refine the concept we currently have. I would like that to enshrine all collaborations, in a sense, to be more special. I'm still captivated by brick and mortar. It's probably not the soundest decision one could ever make, but still I'm in love with it. I love the process of it, I love the dynamics of it.

Alright sir, it's time for the fire round.

Cold-pressed juice or hot tea?
Cold pressed juice.

Color tattoos or black and white?
Black and white.

Aviators or wayfarers?
Wayfarers.

South Beach or Wynwood?
Unfair question. Wynwood.

Rainy days or sunny?
Rainy.

Big dog or little dog?
Little. I've got a little rescue dog walking around here.

And finally, London or Miami?
[long pause] I have to be politically correct... That's a hard question… Both!
· BASE Superstore [Official Site]
· All Better Know a Storeowner Posts [Racked Miami]