L’Eden by Perrier-Jouët at Art Basel Miami Beach 2016 – Review

What does a taste of the good life go for? Well if we’re talking about champagne, specifically a bottle of Belle Epoque, 2007 from Perrier-Jouët, a 200-year old French house, that would be about $140.

Or free, if you’re one of the lucky guests or VIPs invited to L’Eden, a week-long Art Basel event held at the penthouse suite of the newly opened Faena Hotel Miami Beach, curated by Perrier-Jouët and their partners.

In particular, that includes Simon Hammerstein, the infamous nightclub owner of The Box in Manhattan and The Box Soho in London, venues notorious for their decadent, often risqué live shows. Hammerstein, the grandson of composer Oscar Hammerstein, one-half of the songwriting duo behind The Sound of Music, produced the award-winning dinner theater spectacular, Queen of the Night. He was brought to craft a similar look and feel to the love story between Pierre Nicolas Perrier and Adèle Jouët that birthed Perrier-Jouët back in 1811.

We had the opportunity to attend the official opening night of L’Eden and what the champagne producer calls an “immersive experience.” It was about as beautiful and bizarre as it sounds.

Essentially L’Eden is one giant cocktail party. With the number of champagne flutes constantly floating around, it was nearly impossible not to have one hand occupied with a drink. Additionally, a variety of hors d’oeuvres such as ceviche and steak skewers enticed the free hand, which most likely held a phone, snapping away photos of everything all the time because honestly, there was a lot to take in.

From the foyer at the entry to the rooftop terrace of Casa Claridge’s at Faena Miami Beach, there was something interesting at nearly every turn. We originally spoke to Hammerstein last week about what to expect with L’Eden. While his vision was clear for the event, the details he provided were frustratingly vague. It was better that way.

From the moment guests walk into the neon garden of L’Eden, they are confronted with a choice: model in front of the A-1 Array multi-dimension camera for the sweetest 3D photo booth ever or gaze at the giant, lumbering carnival man sporting Mardi Gras makeup, a saddle on his back, and a glossy, green-feathered woman riding him like a camel from room to room. Katie Holmes, Sarah Jessica Parker, and a parade of fashion models chose the former and the latter as did the majority of attendees.

It is an opulent affair to be sure, but it is also never boring and certainly never stuffy. Throughout the evening, sporadic, seemingly random performances spring up on the main stage without warning. Men and women in peak physical form execute extraordinary feats of balance, fearlessness, and gymnastics on surfaces that allow for the tiniest margins of error. One such performer who appeared to be made of putty and silly string the way she contorted her body into impossible shapes, fired a bow and arrow with her feet the in a manner Katniss never could. Another woman tip-toed her way across the tops of champagne bottles. They both deserved more applause than they received, but it’s safe to say many in the crowd were too stunned to react. Somewhere in between, Sarah Jessica Parker tore herself away from photo-ops to read a poem by WH Auden.

Voyeurs are happily at home with L’Eden, but for those who wish to plunge deeper into this fantastical world, there are the sensory rooms. We were led, blindfolded, by a gorgeous, mysterious stranger (one of many in this visual candy store) to a room where a man lay about dressed in an extravagant, colorful furs and robe, like a cross between a sideshow psychic and Elton John. He purported to be Émile Gallé, the artist who designed the Belle Epoque bottle for Perrier-Jouët back in 1902. In front of him lay a digital sketchbook for drawing portraits it’s safe to assume wasn’t from the same time period. Of course, a bottle of champagne sat chilling in the corner while Debussy’s “Claire de lune” twinkled in the background. It was a nice respite from the thumping of the dance music outside, but it was still all part of the “immersive experience.”

Everything here comes off as spontaneous, but there is a definite design to this circus of balcony DJs spinning and acrobats spinning from the ceiling. We caught with Hammerstein again and this time he was more forthcoming. “We’re still figuring things out,” he said. He and his production team were in the middle of fine-tuning the timing of each piece of performance art “without stopping the party.” Hammerstein said he realizes that people have many options during Art Basel and that it wouldn’t be ideal to have guests commit to a lengthy, sit-down show. This is why the intermittent nature of L’Eden works so well.

From now until Friday morning when the event closes, invitees can pop in at just about anytime L’Eden is open and catch something new. And, as ritzy and upper-class as this party sounds on the surface (and in many ways is) with all the bubbly, the Vanity Fai sponsorship, and the celebrity appearances, there’s an allure to the masquerade and to the otherworldliness that is undeniable and truth be told, perfectly suited for Art Basel.