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STEAMY SURROUNDINGS

THE SOUTH OF FRANCE HAS ARRIVED IN SOUTH MIAMI, WITH THE OPENING OF LIFESTYLE BOUTIQUE STEAM.<P>A new boutique, Steam, has rolled into south Miami with a design sensibility shaped by the travels of its owners. Actor David Caruso, the onetime star of...

THE SOUTH OF FRANCE HAS ARRIVED IN SOUTH MIAMI, WITH THE OPENING OF LIFESTYLE BOUTIQUE STEAM.

A new boutique, Steam, has rolled into south Miami with a design sensibility shaped by the travels of its owners. Actor David Caruso, the onetime star of ABC’s “NYPD Blue,” and his wife Margaret, opened in February the 2,400-square-foot space, which sells men’s and women’s wear, footwear, home accessories, books, magazines and music. (Coincidentally, Caruso in the fall will star in CBS’s “CSI: Miami,” a spin-off of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”)

The Carusos, who moved last year to Miami from Los Angeles and bought a $1 million condominium in South Beach, partnered with husband-and-wife duo Stephen Lasker and Fadia Bechara to re-create the dream vacation the four spent together in the South of France last summer. Both couples agreed cosmopolitan Miami would be the ideal setting for their Euro-inspired shop.

“The store is inspired by the feeling of Saint-Tropez and Provence — the warm colors, funky layout and anti-fashion merchandise,” Lasker said. A Zimbabwean expatriate and former apparel manufacturer, Lasker buys product and merchandises the store. Caruso’s role in the daily store operations is minimal, but he is involved with major company decisions. Margaret handles the finances and administration.

Bechara, a commercial and residential interior designer, tended to the store’s aesthetics. Her client roster includes Carmen Electra, as well as the Carusos. Steam’s decor includes an original Tabac sign found at the famed Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue flea market in Provence and an elevator cage from the Twenties. Counteracting the antiques is a steel dressing room with a built-in video screen. Classic French films play during the week, while homegrown blockbuster movies such as “Shrek” are played on weekends to engross children while their parents shop.

The eclectic window display includes a Philippe Starck-designed shower and a steel sculpture of a female. “Oh, we just use them to hang merchandise on,” Lasker said.

Inviting shoppers to relax, a double-sided, 15-foot, red-and-gray-upholstered ottoman runs the length of the store. “We like that we cater to two types of customers: those who just want to shop and those who want to set an easy pace, read a magazine, listen to a good international CD and drink an espresso,” he said. Picturesque travel books, including the “Hip Hotels” series, as well as magazines Wallpaper and Cote Sud are stacked neatly on four white marble and dark wood coffee tables. A higher, larger version of the table occupies the front area of the store.

“It’s a great multiuse piece,” Lasker said. “We’ve used it for hors d’oeuvres and art during in-store events and for accessories and folded merchandise the rest of the time.”

Clothes also are displayed on bent steel racks surrounded with lamps and draped fabric for a warmer effect.

Modern and plush, the soft decor is balanced in other areas, as well. Red and gray rugs in a large check pattern minimize the severity of the cement-and-copper-tile floor. Track lighting is not intrusive and cold, as the eye goes immediately to the store’s rice-paper lanterns.

“We like that the decor is as eclectic as our clothes, like a Victorian-style top next to a sexy, little Argentinean dress,” said Lasker from behind the checkout counter of poured cement, steel and glass.

His description is most accurate. Representing as many corners of the globe as a Miss Universe pageant, Lasker shops New York, Los Angeles, Europe and South Africa, for apparel lines that appeal to the area’s see-and-be-seen fashionistas, including Jiwon Park, Project Alabama, Nobu Nakano, New York Industries and Alice & Olivia.

Steam also carries jeans and T-shirts from SBU, Crystal Jeans, Kee Denim, Toilette and Petra Zillia.

Steam will soon begin carrying an eponymous in-house line that will include stretch cotton T-shirts, hoodies and drawstring pants with novelty prints and appliques, as well as candles and soaps. The line is also slated to be sold to other stores in New York, Los Angeles and Europe. Over the next few years, there are hopes to open additional Steam units in Saint-Tropez and elsewhere in Florida.