MIAMI BEACH -- Look up, beyond the 16th story, toward the electric blue sky and you see them: wings. This building has wings -- white concrete plumes jutting off the sides, making it look like some architectural version of Pegasus.
That should come as no surprise. At the Delano, anything's possible. Hotels can be things with feathers, sofas stand 12 feet tall and music plays underwater in the Roman bath.
This is hotel as myth, mirage. It's as un-Marriott as life gets. And it's perhaps South Beach's trendiest resort.
Even in this funky, chic community by the Atlantic Ocean where Hollywood film crews, models and wealthy Europeans compete to define what's cutting edge, the Delano stands apart as a statement in style.
"We're trying to provide an escape, a separate reality so people can leave everything behind and enter this make-believe world," says owner Ian Schrager. "It's meant to touch you in a way that's entertaining -- like a Broadway show."
The show begins as you pull into the Mercedes-filled driveway. A small army of tan, handsome men dressed in spotless white clothing usher you from the car, toward the veranda and into the lobby.
It's blindingly sunny outside. But inside? All is dark, dreamy and quiet.
With one glance, you understand the descriptions you've read: surreal. An Alice in Wonderland world. Gently sanitarium-like.
Yes, you think, spying the diaphanous white curtains, silk sofa that stretches up the wall and chairs with hula skirts, the words fit. Vogue may have been right about this place. It is a "safe haven for the dangerously hip."
In the two years since it opened, celebrities including Calvin Klein, David Letterman and Cindy Crawford have flocked here, staying in the ultra-white bungalows, dining at the trendy Blue Door cafe and lounging in the water salon, a lavish swimming pool where "spiritual refuge" rather than exercise is encouraged.
The showcase of the 50-year-old hotel, originally named after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is the lobby, which is divided into eight distinct areas. There's the eat-in kitchen -- serving caviar, oysters and champagne until midnight -- the antique billiards lounge, and cozy cocktail nooks with art and furniture by artists including Man Ray, Charles Eames and Salvador Dali.
Schrager -- who owns the property with silent partners -- says he has no preconceived notions about who his guests are. They're "young at heart," he says simply. But with room rates ranging from $295 to $2,000, they also are deep of pocket.
Even the gift shop, with its eclectic assortment of exotic skin creams, Alessi kitchen appliances and $25 tortoise-shell toothbrushes, seems to attract the well-heeled.
The lobby eventually gives way to the Blue Door. The popular restaurant that Madonna originally had a hand in is now run by China Grill, which also has bistros in New York and Miami.
Here the cuisine is modern French with a tropical twist. There's pan-seared foie gras with jicama, kumquats and star fruit. Crispy red snapper with eggplant confit on tomato coulis. Tarte Tatin with apple, mango and banana.
It's all served in a darkly luxurious room or on the back veranda overlooking the orchard -- a fanciful garden with imported palm trees, a life-sized chess game and floor lamps with their shades intentionally askew arranged on the grass.
As you nibble your "edible martini" of chilled lobster, conversation from a nearby table drifts your way.
"When I last worked for European Vogue " "More Veuve Clicquot champagne? " "The couture houses in Paris "
Credit for all this ambience goes to Schrager, who has a knack for predicting the passions of the public. In the late '70s and '80s, he made a name for himself as a partner in the fashionable New York nightclubs Studio 54 and the Palladium. After an 18-month jail term for tax evasion, he has gone on to create some of New York's most glamorous hotels, including Morgans, the Royalton and the Paramount.
For Schrager, buying the Delano and pumping $25 million into the renovation was the fulfillment of a dream. He and his family spent vacations at the hotel during his childhood, so it seemed a logical place to expand.
"I have an appreciation for the spirit of the way things are in Miami Beach -- the way it breathes and moves. My customers don't wear fur coats in the lobby the way my parents did, but in a funny way, that Miami Beach is ever-present," says Schrager, 51.
To create that modern-day luxury, he relied on French superstar designer Philippe Starck, who took the rundown, 238-room hotel and turned it into an ode to the unconventional. Or as Starck prefers to describe it: "an oasis of sympathy, of love, of tenderness."
While that description may sound over the top, there is an aura of charm and good humor in the snowy white rooms.
A green apple on a stand by the door provides nearly the only color. The small sign posted below it says: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
An oversized mirror -- accented with a lone silver candelabra -- takes up one corner. An overstuffed white chair and ottoman with a potted orchid fill up another. There's a silver-edged water decanter, or Moet & Chandon in the minibar if water doesn't quench your thirst.
Even the bathroom is playful. There's no simple towel rack, but an elaborate mahogany ladder lined with plush white towels. The sink isn't a sink so much as a big bowl perched on a table.
By evening, neon from nearby hotels shines through the Venetian blinds, giving the room an iridescent glow.
The hotel strives to be all things to all guests. For exercise enthusiasts, there's a state-of-the-art gym. For sun worshipers, there's a private beach with more than a ton of imported sand. For families, there are play groups arranged by the concierge.
And for female spa enthusiasts, there's agua, a rooftop bathhouse and sun deck designed by Schrager's wife, former New York City Ballet dancer Rita Norona Schrager. Madonna and Martha Stewart are said to be regulars here, where the services include milk-and-honey body masks, hydrotherapy and hydrating body polishes.
But perhaps the most impressive of areas is the water salon. There, beyond the orchard, is the Roman-bath-like pool with separate areas for floating and meditating. Wrought-iron furniture built into the granite sides, and Verdi is piped in under the water.
First-timers do a double-take here, which is just the way Schrager wants it.
"I love it when people look around and smile," he says. "We relied on the strength of our imagination. When people react that way, it says they get the joke and that's the most gratifying thing."
When you go
What: The Delano
Where: 1685 Collins Ave., South Beach Miami
Prices: $295 to $2,000; amenities include a "water salon" swimming pool, rooftop spa for women, private beach, gym, an "orchard" and landscaped area, a restaurant and eat-in gourmet kitchen
How to get there: Miami is about a 2 1/2 -hour flight from Baltimore. Several airlines offer service there
Pub Date: 8/31/97