An early Miami Beach fashion and style pioneer, Debbie Ohanian opened her own store called ‘Meet Me in Miami’ on Washington Avenue in the early 1990s. The store sold her clothing brand which she designed and made – all in Miami. The bright color block tees, skirts and dresses were an instant hit, a throwback 50s glamour paired with a contemporary edge.
Ohanian went on to open Starfish, a restaurant that turned into a late night salsa hotspot and then expanded with Private Residence, a lounge upstairs that had leopard walls and a breezy terrace. Debbie bought the historic 1923 property in 1993, then she renovated and opened it as a stellar spot that boasted the best salsa parties this side of Havana.
Now she has relaunched the label as an online retailer and selling in over 90 stores nationwide, while also managing makeup artist to the stars, Laura Sanchez.
So how did she get her stellar start?
“I was always very aware of South Beach – my grandmother had a home in the Gables when I was a kid so we would go to Miami every winter to visit,” Debbie says. “Having left Boston after the blizzard of ‘78 I headed south to Miami never looking back. Since I already had learned to speak Spanish in Boston working as a patternmaker it was easy to get a job in Miami. My first job was a stint as a children’s wear designer. I then went into junior wear and shortly thereafter started ‘Meet Me in Miami’. I rediscovered South Beach in the late 80’s and saw the potential and magic immediately! By this time my factory was in full swing in Hialeah – a factory I actually lived in. As soon as I could afford to buy I headed to South Beach and bought a condo in the only new building which was south of Fifth Street. I loved the area as it consisted of risk takers and visionaries – something new was always happening. I also loved that it was rough around the edges – perfection bores me.”
From there she had her base and was ready to open a store.
“Every business that opened was an important step for me,” she says. “When I was finally ready to open a retail location the stars were aligned for me – the streets were flooded with gorgeous models and my store was just what they needed (and could afford!). My team at the store headed by Arel Ramos understood our place in South Beach society. We were more than a retail spot. We had theater and live shows in our windows every Saturday. A makeup station and hair salon and wig department made us stand out – we could complete a look from head to toe. Besides models, South Beach was a center for Hair and Makeup artists working on various fashion and catalog shoots – they were also very loyal customers. When I eventually opened my restaurant, Starfish, I had customers coming in for clothing they would wear to dinner that night. It was the ultimate cross marketing opportunity!”
Debbie took full advantage of the South Beach renaissance, attracting all the models, celebrities, musicians and even drag queens to her store and restaurant. She dated actor Steve Bauer for a time who was coming off the hit movie Scarface.
“Debbie Ohanian and ‘Meet Me in Miami’ defined the fun and possibility of South Beach in the 1980s and 1990s, and she was part of the city on every level, from politics —she presented the Cuban band Los Van Van and raised a much-needed firestorm in Miami— to glamour. No South Beach restaurant has ever been as chic as Debbie’s Starfish, with a nightly cast that included everyone from Madonna to Mike Nichols. The relaunch of Meet Me in Miami is the best thing that’s happened here since, well, the halcyon 1990s,” says Tom Austin, winner of a 2015 Knight Arts Challenge grant for “South Beach Century,” a cultural history of South Beach which will be released next year.
But as time went on, the gentrification and popularity of Miami made Debbie change with it.
“My wholesale business started to change as many of the mom-and-pop stores I sold to began to close. I realized the competition from discounters and clothing made in China had really changed the way business was being done. The one saving grace was I discovered a whole new source for fabric and that involved monthly trips to LA. I kept my business going for 5 more years like that and then decided I needed a break. I got involved with various music projects and still continued working with Cuban bands when they were touring in the states.”
On a chance trip to Bogotá 5 years ago is where she met Laura Sanchez. She was so impressed with her skills and ambition as a makeup artist and blogger, and convinced her to move to L.A.
“I pulled from my fashion connections and we have built a fabulous working relationship together,” says Ohanian. “Also from having been in Miami so long I knew that being bilingual was something so many brands were looking for. Actually what brought back Meet Me In Miami was the fact that Laura got so many invites to events that I would make her clothing and she would post photos her fans would ask where they could buy the pieces. I have honestly learned so much from her —how she engages with fans— it is something I try to implement now on my brand’s social media. We are currently selling to about 90 stores across the US with new ones ordering all the time. I am really focusing on vacation wear and it’s doing really well!”
Just 26 years old, the well-known Colombian star of make-up, Laura Sánchez, has achieved a highly successful career in the United States. Working with Debbie, she has introduced her eponymous line of beauty and skin care products, Laura Sánchez Beauty. The line right now consists of a Martini Prep serum to be applied to the face before applying make-up like pre-base, and Moods, a palette of shimmery combinations of matte and metallic eyeshadow and highlighters that can create an infinite number of natural or wild looks.
In recent months, Laura Sánchez has been invited to some of the most important beauty events and has collaborated with actress Meghan Trainor and singer Thalia. Laura is a regular contributor to Popsugar, Univision, and People En Español. She was Beauty Vlogger of the Year at the 2016 USA NYX FACE Awards. With over 1M subscribers on YouTube, Laura has become a global fashion and beauty icon for millennial Latinas.
“I always liked fashion and makeup and how to help women look better,” Sanchez says by phone from Los Angeles. “It amazes me how you can change your image and have fun with makeup but it’s not permanent, you can change it up every day. When I studied beauty and fashion in school I thought about becoming a publicist or fashion editor but someone said to me why don’t you look into being a makeup artist. I got some work with magazines TV shoots in Colombia. I decided to do my own line of a primer and eyeshadow palette called Moods and have had big success with it on social media. Singer Thalia saw me on YouTube and hired me, I did a music video for her which was fun to be on the production side. I have more products coming soon in the next year.”
The flagship boutique and original clothing line “Meet Me in Miami,” once inspired by an unparalleled tropical vibe, ocean breezes and booming nightlife, fused with a sexy urban street aesthetic, now continues its epic journey outfitting the newest generation of insta hip “it” girls and guys.
Designer Debbie O Relaunches ‘Meet Me in Miami’ Label