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If you miss Mad Men (2007-2015) and the chic, swinging late ’50s, sit back and let internet streaming service Showmax cast a new spell over you with Magic City (2012-2013, season 1 is available on Showmax right now!).
The series is set in 1959 Miami Beach, Florida, where slick gangsters like Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) mingle with the Cuban and American upper crust in posh hotels like Ike’s Miramar Playa resort hotel that Ike runs with his gorgeous wife Vera (Olga Kurylenko). But under the sparkling surface, Ike is running into trouble on all fronts, including from his financial backer, mob boss Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Danny Huston), and the FBI. Guns, gangs, glamour – got it?
Magic City is inspired by series creator Mitch Glazer’s memories of his childhood in the sunny, stylish Miami Beach of the ’50s and ’60s. The 1959 setting is dazzling and production and costume design are absolutely impeccable down to the tiniest detail, from views of “mermaids” from the hotel bar down to the last hotel match book or comb in the hotel’s salon.
“You just kinda walk around here and the attention to detail is such that I put on my tie and my awesome suits, I step onto my set – and I can practically hear Frank Sinatra singing in the background,” says Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
For the show’s production designer, architect Carlos Barbosa, detail is king.
“If your detail falls apart, then the whole illusion falls apart. I was fixated on creating a reality that made the actors feel like they were in a time machine,” he insists.
Building the world
Exteriors were shot on location in Miami, where entire streets of architecture have been lovingly preserved. And interiors for The Miramar Playa were constructed inside the old Bertram yacht factory, with the design paying tribute to the work of star Miami Modernist architect Morris Lapidus, designer of the famous Fontainebleau in Miami and Eden Roc in Cuba.
“Once I understood the way in which Lapidus structured his geometry to create grand scale, the necessary design rules were set for our team to create an original design that would capture the glamour and glitz and fit flawlessly into the period,” says Carlos.
Set construction took five months, during which Carlos’s team of 150 workers created a huge set including the Miramar, its landscaped driveway, the two-storey lobby and grand staircase, the Atlantis Lounge with portholes into the pool, the Sea Breeze Lingerie shop, the Riviera restaurant, the Atelier Maurice beauty salon and more.
Once the spaces were ready, set decorator Scott Jacobson (who remembers visiting some of Miami Beach’s finest hotels with his parents as a child) and his production team got busy filling them with hand-made replica mid-century modern furniture.
Scott often bought out entire estate auctions as well as browsing antique shops for those perfect pieces. And sometimes he struck it truly lucky. The crystal chandelier in the lobby of The Miramar Playa was originally made for the Eden Roc itself – Scott found it at an architectural salvage store. It immediately rang bells, since Mitch Glazer’s dad was the electrician who originally installed it at the Eden Roc.
Dressed for excess
Costume designer Carol Ramsey helped design the characters from the word go. While some of her wardrobe pieces are vintage, sourced from costume warehouses in LA, many have been made from scratch by the wardrobe team.
“Everything in costume design is driven by the script and the characters. And in this show, a lot of the characters are driven by fashion. It takes place in a grand hotel, so everything is inspired by the look of that. We dressed over 600 people head-to-toe every nine days, including period undergarments, belts to match the shoes and handbags. It was the costume Olympics,” she jokes.
Everything from the lengths of the skirt to the heights of the heels was exhaustively researched. Even Ben’s wife Lily Diamond’s (Jessica Marais) risqué white bikini was in direct reference to a photo of a Playboy Bunny on the beach at the Fontainebleau, taken in 1959 for Life magazine.
Magic City is a feast for the eye, from the chic resort wear, glamorous evening gowns and suits, to period cars and fascinating buildings. And the joy of streaming is that you can stop at any point to take in the fine detail – or turn to a friend and say, “Hey, did that just happen?!”
NB: For a in-depth look the production design and set illustrations, take a peek at Carlos’s astounding collection of construction images here: http://www.carlosbarbosa.com/magiccity/magiccity-lobbydesign.pdf
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