Designing Women

In the City Beautiful, it is the Job of Fashion Designers to Keep it That Way

By J.P. Faber

September 2018

Coral Gables has from its outset been a city with a sense of style. Its iconic architectural beauty, its designer shops, its gourmet culture, its well-dressed citizens – Coral Gables has always added an upscale sparkle to Miami’s fashion landscape. “Coral Gables was the original fashion hub of Miami,” says Beth Sobol, the former fashion model who launched Miami Fashion Week. 

The city is nothing if not fashion conscious, a home to multiple mavens of couture. “There is a huge demand for evening dresses [here], because we’re a party town,” says Gables designer Mayda Cisneros. “Women here have events for everything and they dress for any event. It doesn’t matter how small the event is, they dress up and they think about how they dress… I find that Miami women are very feminine, especially Coral Gables women. They are classic and they are feminine.” 

While Coral Gables may not be the runway capital of American fashion – that accolade goes more naturally to major metropolises like New York or Los Angeles – within its boundaries are some extraordinary designers. The city, as world-renowned Gables-based Silvia Tcherassi puts it, “has been very inspiring for me…a unique destination for locals and visitors from around the world.” 

Tcherassi, like the other fashion designers we profile here, decided to locate in Coral Gables rather than elsewhere in South Florida. “I love this place. When I came to Miami for the first time, I looked around and decided this had to be my location,” says Nuvia Quintana, who brought her wedding and evening gown business here from Venezuela just under two years ago. “I love it because of its multitude of cultures. People come from all over to buy dresses here.” 

And for the fashionistas who live here, that addition of panache and pulchritude is just one more reason to make Coral Gables home. 

Inside the cutting room at Mayda Cisneros on Palmero Avenue


Mayda Cisneros began designing blouses in New York City in the 1980s, where she lived in a loft studio in Soho. As an artist, she made her own fabrics and used tie dyes. One day in an art gallery she met Geraldine Stutz, president of the original Henri Bendel store on Fifth Avenue, who admired Cisneros’ shirt. “I must have been 20 years old. I said, ‘I made it,’ and she said, ‘Why don’t you come and see me?’” 

The next day Stutz ordered 12 of the blouses. Cisneros had no idea how to produce them, so she hired a seamstress and enrolled in fashion school. “I kept on making my blouses and graduated to other things after I went to fashion school.” She also picked up clients like Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s, and by the time she decided to move to Miami had a portfolio of high-end buyers. 

“That is when I thought, New York is just taking me over. So I said, ‘I am going to Miami, to be near Latin people, and close to my parents [in Venezuela],’” says Cisneros. “At first I didn’t do anything. But one day I was driving in the Gables and saw this little space on Giralda and the light bulb went off. I started a mini collection of evening sportswear separates, and I started getting clients. One client brought another, and that store was a huge success.” 

Since that first launch two decades ago, the Mayda Cisneros shop has relocated to Ponce de Leon, and now, as of six years ago, finds itself on Palermo, about a block in from Ponce. It is a bright and airy space, with high ceilings and works of art made from glass by her artist husband, including a large green-glass head of the Buddha. An attached workshop has a half dozen seamstresses, working away. 

Cisneros has given up the retail market, and prefers instead to design individual dresses for her clients. She calls herself a “clothes therapist” because of the understanding she must develop for each client. For evening gowns worn to a formal event, she says, “I want to know where it is, what time of year, who the person is, how they feel about themselves…It’s really like therapy.” 

As for style, “I don’t like clothes that are too gimmicky or with too much stuff. I like simplicity and quality. And I find that that is what Coral Gables is about.” 

“I don’t like clothes that are too gimmicky or with too much stuff. I like simplicity and I like quality…”


305 Palermo Ave. 


Born: Camaguey, Cuba 

In Coral Gables: Since 1996 

Price Range: $1,600 to $12,000 

Known For: Evening gowns, couture 

Education/Mentorship: French Fashion Academy, New York City 


For the first two decades of her career, Maritza Fernandez worked as a designer for Japan’s Kyoko Higa brand, which she brought to the United States. Seven years ago, the long-time Gables resident decided to found her own shop and brand – Filomena Fernandez – named after her grandmother. 

At first, Fernandez continued designing blouses, dresses, skirts and jackets for retailers. But two years ago, she decided to forgo the mass market. “I realized I wanted to do less quantity and more designing,” she says. She also embarked on a quest to create affordable fashions. 

“My philosophy is that people have to spend a crazy amount of money to look properly, elegantly dressed,” she says. “My idea is that I want a lady to look incredible all the time without having to spend $5,000 on a jacket and a pair of slacks.” 

When she herself went shopping for fashions she wanted, Fernandez was unable to find stylish yet affordable clothing. “I’m a fashion designer by profession, so finally I decided, “Let me do this, because I want to be able to find a blouse that costs $200 but looks like a thousand-dollar blouse.” 

Today her smart, elegant shop carries an array of blouses and dresses that cost $170 to $300 and $300 to $500 respectively, pieces from her seasonal collections. She will also design a one-of-a-kind dress for $800 to $1,800. “I do two collections a year. My clients come here and see what we have decided to make,” she says. “[My designs] are very sharp and modern. I always think the cleaner the better… If I am working with patterns or with bold colors, then I try to respect the color or the boldness of the print and then keep very clean lines.” 

In the balance between fabric and design, Fernandez says fabric comes first. She attends the bi-annual Première Vision Paris event, where next year’s fabrics are showcased. “That is where you get the first idea of what is going to happen in colors and textures and prints.” 

The goal is to stay true to both design excellence and to dressing women well for less, for all occasions. “It’s not like you are going to the supermarket like this, but you can go to lunch, you can go to a hotel, you can go to a nice dinner, you can go to a party. But it’s not couture, that’s not what we specialize in. It’s called ready-to-wear.” 

“I want a lady to look incredible all the time without having to spend $5,000 on a jacket and a pair of slacks”


4217 Ponce de Leon Blvd. 2nd Floor 


Born: Caracas, Venezuela 

In Coral Gables: Since 2011 

Price Range: $170 to $1,800 

Known For: Ready to wear daily fashion 

Education: International Fashion School, Caracas 


“I want a lady to look incredible all the time without having to spend $5,000 on a jacket and a pair of slacks…” 


Silvia Tcherassi began her career as an interior designer, but for 25 years has been creating fashions that now appear on runways in Milan and Paris. From her headquarters in Coral Gables, she has become a global fashion brand, with 14 name-brand stores in the Americas and Europe. Some 40 stores carry her brand, including Harrods and Selfridges. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Elle, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), Marie Claire and others. She has received France’s highest arts award, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. 

Tcherassi is also the author of “Elegancia sin Esfuerzo” (Effortless Elegance), the book that defines her style. More recently, she has expanded into luxury hotels, opening her first namesake property in Cartagena, Colombia – a boutique colonial mansion – with another larger hotel that followed. 

Tcherassi’s budding empire is now a family affair, with her 23-year-old son as the company’s director of innovation, and her 19-year-old daughter guiding social media. In addition to a retail store at the Shops at Merrick Park, she keeps her atelier workshop nearby on San Lorenzo Ave. “Creatively speaking, Coral Gables has been very inspiring for me. Its majestic trees inspired even the first collection I presented in Milano Fashion Week,” says Tcherassi. “You can have a sense of tradition, a scenic landscape, and cool experiences at the same time… My brand was born in Barranquilla but blossomed in Coral Gables.” 

Tcherassi says she gets her inspiration from eclectic sources – “books, photos, art pieces, cities or emotions such as happiness” – but says the process begins with the materials. “I start creating samples and then I find a kind of link between them… I have a creative lab in my atelier where I try to reinvent and explore materials.” That sense of play with materials developed both from her career as an interior designer and from early life experiences. 

“From a very young age, I loved to mix things, to transform my dad’s shirts using shoulder pads and big belts… After I graduated in interior design, I started experimenting with shirts with appliques made from exotic materials and then I wanted to create pieces to complement them… When I saw how popular what I was doing had become, I decided to focus entirely on fashion.” As for the definition of her style, she says, “My approach to design is casual luxury oriented. I believe in calm and relaxed luxury, without pretensions.” 

“Coral Gables has been very inspiring for me. Its majestic trees inspired even the first collection I presented in Milano Fashion Week”


Shops at Merrick Park 

207 San Lorenzo Ave. 


Born: Baranquilla, Colombia 

In Coral Gables: Since 2003 

Price Range: $700 to $6,500 

Known For: Dresses, shirts, skirts, pants, jackets 

Education: Universidad Antónoma del Caribe, Baranquilla, Colombia 


Nuvia Quintana is literally the new kid on the block in the Gables couture scene, having moved into her stunning shop on Miracle Mile at the end of 2016. She previously had a shop in the exclusive San Ignacio shopping mall in Caracas, but closed it. A similar shop in the Dominican Republic also closed, but still serves as a place to make dresses and serve long-time clientele. 

Her current store and atelier is inside a three-story space, with vaulted ceilings and a chandelier. It is full of light, and exudes her sense of vibrancy. 

Quintana’s specialty is wedding dresses; she started her career as a pattern maker for Venezuelan wedding dress designers 30 years ago. Since then she has branched out, but still uses the wedding gown – as well as discounted prêt-à-porter outfits on the racks – as her lure for first-time customers who become regulars for evening and cocktail dresses. Right now, about two thirds of her work is still gowns for brides and their entourage. 

“At this point, 80 percent of my clients are new, from the U.S., Argentina and Brazil… Miracle Mile is world famous for wedding gowns, and people come from all over to buy their dresses here. The experience [as a dress maker] is unique, interacting with different cultures, different weddings, different customs, and different ways to think,” says Quintana. 

Quintana still serves a loyal clientele in Venezuela and the DR. “I have customers and I have their metrics and I have employees [there], specialists who can take a measurement. I design here, and I send the designs,” says Quintana. “I have many customers who call me and say, ‘Nuvia, I need a dress for this event.’ I’ve known them for a long time, so I know what they want.” 

While Quintana is designing more evening gowns and cocktail dresses, she says that weddings offer a special reward. “The important thing for me, which is common for every bride, is the love, the dream. I make every dress with love, and every dress is my child. And every dress is for one bride only. It’s wonderful to see her wear that dress and say, ‘Oh my god, this is my dress.’ I love a job with dreams about love, and really, there is no difference 

between the brides from Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, or Colombia. The dream that every bride brings is the same, regardless of where they come from.” 

“The important thing for me, which is common for every bride, is the love, the dream. I make every dress with love, and every dress is my child.”


77 Miracle Mile 


Born: Caracas, Venezuela 

In Coral Gables: Since 2016 

Price Range: $600 to $5,000 

Known For: Wedding gowns, cocktail dresses 

Education/Mentorship: International School of Fashion, Caracas