As the founder of the Opium Group, Eric Milon is not only South Beach’s nightlife kingpin, he’s also its unofficial face. Having grown from a modeling career that splashed his handsome mug on the cover of GQ to running Miami’s hottest nightclubs, Milon (right, with DJ Avicii) is now throwing his energy at the newly remodeled SET, which reopens Friday, April 5. We caught up with him amidst the dust and rubble of construction as he filled us in on zipline champagne delivery, celebrity DJ’s, and what it’s like to work with Anna Wintour.
How does a good boy from an upstanding Parisian family become a club king in South Beach?
I was an average student, but my mom wanted me to become an attorney. I went along with it for a while to please the family, but I knew it wasn’t for me. Then something incredible happened to me. I became a model, and a successful one at that. It’s no secret that clubs like pretty people, so I eventually made the switch.
Did you get some slack from friends for pulling a Zoolander?
Are you kidding? I was the envy of everyone. But there was my mom, who kept my career a secret for two years despite the fact that I was on the covers of a lot of the magazines her friends were reading. I modeled for 15 years and made a good living at it. My first job was a 20-page spread in Mexico for Vogue Hommes. It just took off and I started to enjoy the life of a model.
Any modeling horror stories to share?
I remember shooting something in Tortola for a magazine. I went there with another model, the photographer, and a stylist/art director who was a total pain in the ass. The shoot was mostly unremarkable, but the reason why I remember it is because of that miserable woman. Today she is the editor-in-chief of Vogue, and I understand people still don’t like her.
Why did you retire from modeling?
Eventually I realized that I was powerless over my career. Once I came to that conclusion, I understood that I had to do something else. A friend suggested I fly down to Miami, which was becoming a fashion capital, and I was able to parley my modeling connections into a new career. My brothers and I opened The Strand, which did very well. From there we just kept growing. Today we have four clubs in Miami (Mansion, Cameo, Mokai, and SET), we are opening Snatch at the Shelborne South Beach this summer, and we’re planning a project in Wynwood sometime next year.
Snatch? What a name!
I like it. We are aiming for a Fourth of July opening, but we want to keep the concept a secret. For Opium Group this is another notch on our belt, with the difference that this venue will be inside a hotel. But I can assure you that we wouldn’t take on another project if we felt that we couldn’t deliver the kind of experience we are known for.
Any nightlife pet peeves?
Honestly, I’m kind of over the "Top DJ" thing. Because of how much they are charging today, it would be a financial suicide for any club to entertain them on regular basis. Of course, we do book top guys, but I wish the industry went back to feeling confident in discovering the next thing – taking a chance on artists whose egos have not set in just yet, and who are actually more interested in doing something new and exciting as opposed to what is going to play on the radio.
Have you become bored?
Not at all. Since we have different demographics in all of our places, it’s like a new show a couple of times a night, and you’re the master of ceremonies. And I really like the service I provide. I make people happy. What can be boring about that?
Your patrons drop crazy paper just to be part of your show. Are you surprised?
Yeah, that’s crazy. Some of my top customers will pay upwards of $70,000 a night just to do their thing. But I get it. If you are a regular guy, you can be happy with a bottle of Heineken at the bar. But there are people who like to show off. Is that something I would do personally? I don’t need to. I’m blingy enough already. But I’m happy to service those who are looking for that spotlight.
Speaking of limelight, the new SET is one tricked-out place. What’s your favorite part?
We decided to do a facelift at SET because it was time to give it some TLC, and this was an opportunity to meet the needs of our clients. We took out some of the VIP tables, making the club even more exclusive, because the people who come to SET look for that cachet. Quality over quantity. I can tell you that whoever will spend serious money on a table is going to get the service of a lifetime. We have a zipline by which one of our hostesses is going to slide down from the mezzanine level to deliver a bottle of Dom. Talk about all eyes on you.
Indeed. Are these stunts part of your magic formula to success?
Nightlife hasn’t changed one bit in the past forty years. The girls do what they do and the guys pay the bills and everyone leaves with a smile. There are no secrets to this business. Maybe that’s why so many try to do it. You open the door and get the right people in. But most importantly you’ve got to have the will to reinvent yourself as an operator. Staying relevant in this industry is probably our biggest success as the Opium Group. That requires taking the ego out of the equation. So many in this industry feel on top of the world, because today they are the hottest thing going. That’s the biggest challenge. With age comes wisdom.
[For the intel to party properly in Miami, check out the BlackBook Miami Guide and subscribe to BlackBook’s free Miami Happenings newsletter. Read A Spirited Rundown of Opium Group Nightclubs in Miami; More by Anetta Nowosielska. Follow Anetta on Twitter.]