Ace Props: Miami’s Visual Storytellers

August 3, 2017Pola Bunster

There are many people we admire in this city, the collaborators and innovators that make us excited to get out of bed and keep pushing through even the darkest of times. People who inspire us and who we’re grateful, every single day, to learn from. Steve and Liesel Harivel are two of those people. You might not know the names but every single one of you has, whether you know it or not, experienced their work and the caliber of their impeccable taste at some point.

It might be a prop in a commercial, an extravagant set for a couture photo shoot, or even a favorite local restaurant; with the Harivels, there’s no industry they can’t sprinkle their magic over. Their prop house, Ace Props, is one of the largest in the country. Through their design and consulting collective, Harivel Studios, they’ve built sets for everyone from Ralph Lauren and Gucci, to the more recent week-long shoot for Versace’s 17 campaign featuring Gigi Hadid. When they’re not outfitting sets for Vogue or television shows like “Magic City”, they’re working in the shadows, creating some of Miami’s most conceptualized spots all entirely with our city in mind. Places like Sherwoods Bistro & Bar, The Annex, and even Miami’s Soho House are memorable because of their creative touch.

To me, this is one of the greatest Miami stories that has never been told.

Before they followed the fashion industry to Miami, the two lived extraordinary lives. It makes sense that they work in such entertaining industries, because their stories really only belong in front of the camera–tales that come to life on the sets for which they’ve outfitted. Just as their props house is a den of treasures picked, preserved, and built upon over the years, so is their story. In the case of Steve and Liesel, they prove that ‘Story Time’ isn’t just for the kids and that experiences, whether remarkable or heartbreaking, are tunnels for inspiration. The perfect dinner party guests (or brunch or lunch or just plain coffee), fall under their spell with the following tale: we know we have!

(On several occasions, and usually over a glass of wine, I’ve gushed my unending desire to write their memoir…so hopefully this makes the cut.)

Steve came to the U.S. on a wrestling scholarship after winning the European Championships. After college and a short crabbing gig in Maryland, he became the most badass bike messenger in DC and NYC. For some, he still goes by the name of “Track Bike Steve” being one of the first to use the speed cycle to make record-breaking deliveries–even to The White House in the snow. So notable in fact, he scored a cameo in True Lies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger– you might have heard of him? Finally off the bike and after taking a series of odd jobs in The Big Apple, Steve became a motor home driver before landing his first gig as a producer with the internationally-acclaimed photographer and director, Ellen von Unwerth.

Liesel’s story is a little different, although just as jealousy-inducing. In her usual cool, self-deprecating manner she calls it “the typical foreign girl “au pair” story.” Even though we know those are never typical and always told with a flair for romance. Traveling from her home country of South Africa, one of her first jobs was taking care of the child of a movie/commercial producer and her photographer husband on Miami Beach. When they left for the summer, she snagged a job at Miami’s first big prop and wardrobe house, Prop Central Stylehaus where she started honing her skills as a stylist. This would eventually lead her to…you guessed it: DC Steve.

Now a fashion and advertising producer for media agencies like Leo Burnet France and Condé Nast, Steve met Liesel among the props. How fitting. He hired her for a modeling job and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the years, their life would become a carny caravan of extravagant photo shoots and Bohemian living with their children and dog, moving from cooler city to quaint town. They traveled across the country with a slew of assistants, producers, and artisans in tow producing big campaigns for brands like Levi’s, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Nordstrom, Wrangler, the list of dropped names goes on.

So why, with such a fantastic whirlwind of a story, would these two end up in Miami? The answer always boils down to Fashion. While it might not currently be the case, our city was once a metropolis for couture and high-fashion houses where the world’s most notable names produced, designed, or came here for frequent ingenuity. And although both Ace Props and Harivel Studios deal heavily in that world of pleasure, their roles are entirely different. Ace is the source for inspiration. It houses the textures and history, the unusual pieces that make any environment, set or a venue, come alive. Harivel Studios is how it gets done. The creative process, the attention to detail, and the design that makes a concept entirely its own.

Ace has played a hand in essentially every big editorial and advertising job that has come through Miami, building sets for everyone from J Crew to Bruce Weber and beyond. Years ago they partnered with Vicky Charles, the Creative Director at Soho House, to design the NYC rooftop which led to designing after parties for The Oscars and Cannes, and being an early addition to Miami Beach’s design team and now a procurement source for their new houses like Istanbul and Barcelona.

Harivel Studios is where they can truly be the alchemists that they are. This is where they find the root of a concept’s energy and make it come to life seemingly out of nothing, using their powers at hand and a little bit of magic. You can witness this phenomenon for yourself at their newest creation, Sherwoods Bistro & Bar in Little River. It’s an ode to the Old Florida we all know and love yet rarely get to experience on a daily basis. This is what it looks like to create something solely from the heart, with only the costumer’s encounter in mind. A model many creatives, developers, and investors can learn from.

But aside from the epic of a tale, at the end of the day it’s about the people who weave it. Endearing as the two of them are, their most inspiring trait is how communal they work. They share their story, their space, and even their success with all those worth bringing in. Over the decades, they’ve created their own army of set-builders, carpenters, artisans, and even upholsters who they never budge to work on a project without. To Steve and Liesel, the act of creating magic is about building a family and an environment that everyone involved can be proud of. (In fact, they both winced at the idea of taking a photo alone for this piece.)

Their story, and the projects they’ve built, is a love affair with essence, creative process, and bringing into being. We can only hope their honeymoon period with Miami doesn’t wear off.

Photos by: FujiFilm Girl.