Exclusive Luxury JULY
here’s a crisis of conscience in the luxury world today. Muted colors, utilitarian footwear such as clogs and canvas trainers and a casual yet at times military feel dominated the runways of Paris and New York this spring. In short, the war on glamour is in full force. To say that the financial crisis only affected luxury fashion sales is now a proven falsehood: it has bled into the designs as well. The ripped jeans and ‘griege’ palettes presented by even the most elite designers allowed the big spenders of fashion to hide their opulence in the guise of grungy chic. But not Beirut. The city is refreshingly honest about its love of style, superior quality and flash, choosing not to paint the world of high fashion with a scarlet letter, as it is now so en vogue to do. Instead, Lebanon quietly sings a taunting song behind the backs of countries tortured by the crisis it managed to avoid, while earnestly anticipating the arrival of brands like Louis Vuitton and Hermes as if they were prized national holidays. It celebrated Beirut Boat 2010 as a comeback moment for the entire country. Beirut does not subscribe to the chiding mood of the Western world, which is, after all, almost certainly a momentary aberration. Lebanon may lack the luxury of functioning civic institutions, but luxury is itself an institution that transcends mere income. Whether it’s a top-shelf bottle of vodka at SkyBar or an off-brand version on a formica table in Marjayoun, the summer is the time for extravagance – in any of its relative forms. And Lebanon will not apologize for loving an extravagant night out with friends, primped and preened to perfection and spending like there’s no tomorrow. In EXECUTIVE’S Exclusive Luxury special supplement, we show you how culture and business combine; what Lebanon’s big spenders are wearing, driving and drinking, and even why. And perhaps, when the world remembers its love of fast cars and French couture, Beirut will have finally become the luxury destination it was always meant to be.
EMMA COSGROVE Luxuxry Editor EXECUTIVE MAGAZINE
CONTENTS M AN A GI N G D I REC TO R & E DIT OR- IN-C HIE F Yasser Akkaoui ED I TO R Spencer Osberg
R ES P O NS I B L E DIR E CT O R Antoine Chidiac A SS O C I A T E EDIT OR-IN- CHIEF Michael Karam LUXUR Y E DITOR Emma Cosgrove DEP UTY E DITOR Sami Halabi PH OTO EDITOR Rola Chamas
CO NTRIB UTING E DITOR Caroline Anning A RT DIR ECTIO N Smart Box sarl CO NTRIB UTOR S Paul Cochrane Nathaneal Massey Rayya Salem Peter Speetjens
PH OTOG RA PH ER Sam Tarling
PR OJ EC T CO ORD I N AT OR Maya Samaha M AR K ET I N G MA NA G ER Graziella Nassar Aouad
M A R K E T I N G R E P R E SE N T A T I V E Karine Ayoub Mattar O N LI N E A D V E R T I S I N G Michele Hobeika
P U B L I C RE L A T I O N S M A N A G E R Maguy Ghorayeb S U B S CRI P T I ONS MA NA G ER Roula Emanuel DISTRIB UTION Katia Massoud
J U LY 2010
04 M a d e m e n The struggle for the perfect suit 08 G o o d b y e P a r i s , H e l l o B e i r u t The city’s fashion scene comes of age 13 M a r i a n n a W e h b e takes us shopping in style 14 S o m u c h m o r e t h a n M r . S a a b Exciting times for Lebanese designers 22 H e a d t o t o e , f l o o r t o c e i l i n g The evolving concept of luxury branding
26 T o p p r i c e d t i p p l e s The fierce fight to get into your glass
WATCHES & JEWELRY
30 A v i n t a g e t w i s t Lebanon’s age old jewelers remain at the industry’s vanguard
34 A n e y e o n A r a b a r t Beirut edges back into the frame 37 L a u r e D ’ h a u t e v i l l e reveals Lebanon’s upcoming art extravaganza
38 V i l l a s o n t h e s e a Today’s most luxurious vessels 43 A l a i n M a a r a o u i plots the course of Lebanon’s yachting industry
44 S u p e r c a r s h o w d o w n The summer’s automotive trends 48
Fa sh io n con sc i ous Luxury should lead the way for reform
THE STRUGGLE FOR THE PERFECT SUIT Zegna
Belts on display in Berluti’s Beirut bou
Wallet from Louis Vuitton’s fall / winter collection EXECUTIVE MAGAZINE
How does one choose the cut, the lining, the thickness of a pinstripe? When is a suit depasse and what makes it so? And how, when a wardrobe seems so uniform, can there be so many details to attend to?
Tom Ford became a tuxedo talking point when he dressed Daniel Craig for his second appearance as Bond in Quantum of Solace
he particulars that make one suit superior to another confound most of us women. How does one choose the cut, the lining, the thickness of a pinstripe? When is a suit depasse and what makes it so? And how, when a wardrobe seems so uniform, can there be so many details to attend to? The truth is that a good suit is a thing of beauty and power: the right fit, fabric and style can make a man exude confidence and command attention. We may not be able to tell you what it is about that stitch, that cut that makes us go weak in the knees, but we know it when we see it. And in Beirut, men jump though hoops, wait in lines and empty their wallets to make sure that we see ‘it’ every time. There is no argument that the finest suits are those that are custom made, even causing some men to not-so-subtly neglect to fasten their top wrist button to show they are dressed in cloth of pedigree, rather than a cheaper off-rack version with faux fastenings. And though year-round tailoring for designer suits is thin on the ground in Beirut, the times they are a changin’. Right now, serious suit-makers like Ermenegildo Zegna and Brioni work on a “semi-couture” system. The stores fly in a master tailor from their flagships in Europe twice a year, in April and October, and a time-honored ritual begins. Loyal customers get calls and clear their schedules for appointments at the brand’s boutique. They arrive at the store to a grand welcome from the manager and are whisked upstairs to an exclusive lounge, where they enjoy a drink and wait for their name to be called. When their turn comes, they step up to the plate as the alterations to their registered size are marked by an expert, peppered with some Italian-inflected small talk. Four weeks later a new suit is delivered from Europe – steamed and packaged to perfection. Of course, there is always a tailor at the shop for minor fixes and adjustments, but stores and customers alike confirm that waiting for the master is worth the wait. Networking aside, if a fashionably minded Lebanese man has a mid-season suit emergency, he only has two options: buy one off the rack, or hop on a plane to Europe. But according to Alistair Mulhall, style editor at Esquire Middle East, the tradition of Savile row tailoring is making a quiet entrance to the regional market, starting with Dubai’s Tom Ford store. Ford, the legendary American designer who held the wheel at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent for much of the 1990s and early 2000s, didn’t launch his own line of menswear until 2007. But he quickly became a celebrity staple for his impeccable taste and tailoring, dressing Daniel Craig for his role as James Bond. And what’s good enough for Bond …
Above: Ermenegildo Zegna knows a thing or ten about suits Right: Paul Smith supplies the essentials for a stylish 18 holes
Designer Tom Ford’s Beirut boutique opened late last month
The Tom Ford boutique in Dubai now has what Mulhall calls a “secret tailor” behind a sliding door in the back of the store, catering to the needs of its clients year-round with the expertise of a Savile Row tailor or the masters of Milan and Paris. “I think what’s starting to happen is these boutiques are being set up like Savile Row stores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and I imagine it would probably translate up to Beirut as well,” he said. “If you’re going to have these menswear brands its kind of part and parcel – you have to have the tailor as well.” And translate it has. Beirut’s Tom Ford boutique, owned by Luxury Clothing Company, is set to have its own full-time master tailor in the near future.
C AR EF R E E LI F EST YL E , C A RE F UL DRE SSIN G Though the suit is not optional, deviations from tradition are a hallmark of young Lebanese men’s aesthetic, according to the Esquire editor. Mulhall said that the financial crisis has been partly responsible for a change in menswear trends, with men focusing on separates both for their smaller price tag and the opportunities for flexibility and in-
dividualism that they afford. The menswear industry was hit harder by the financial crisis than women’s, with sales in Italy alone falling 11.3 percent in 2009, according to clothing and textiles association Sistema Moda Italia. But when life gives you limes, the Lebanese make mojitos, and a focus on separates has led to more creativity than is usually found in the region’s dressers. “[In Dubai] you get local guys who will buy a brand and wear it head to toe which is what that whole ‘bling bling’ thing is about,” said Mulhall, “In Lebanon it is interesting to see how the guys, and especially the younger guys out on the town, put things together. It kind of reminded me of Paris or London.”
“In Lebanon it is interesting to see how the guys… put things together. It kind of reminded me of Paris or London”
But no matter if Lebanon’s gentlemen are going for the classic cool of a suit or the cavalier confidence of mix and match, they are notorious for giving every inch of their appearance its due attention. “The Lebanese in general, both the men and the women, tend to take care of all of their appearance. I think they pretty much pay attention to everything,” says Antoine Eid, chairman and chief executive officer of Joseph Eid & Co. and manager of the Lanvin boutique in downtown. And because they take care of every inch, everything from head to toe has to communicate the individuality and style of the wearer. Pierre Bouissou, general director of Berluti, the luxury shoemaker who entered the Beirut market in October, said the typical Beirut client was interested in the more creative versions of the classic shoe. “With Berluti you can express your personality; you can show your personal touch with the color and with the product itself. Its not only a shoe, it is a piece of art,” he explains. Bouissou adds that the shoes with inscribed writing and stamp-like images are uncommonly good sellers in the region.
W HE R E FASH IO N SIT S The svelte mannequins in the front window of Lanvin’s new Ralph boutique on Fakhri Bey Street are Lauren dressed like dapper gentlemen, casually prancing along in bowties and slim-cut suits with small (stuffed) dogs on leashes. It’s a bold display but it exemplifies the fact that Lebanese men are not afraid to be fashion forward and make brave wardrobe choices without compromising their masculinity; a feat not yet mastered by many of their western counterparts. Of course, a well-dressed man cannot live on suits alone. The whole equation of suit, shirt, watch, shoe and, naturally, the right shades for summer, comes together in a symphony of manly cool. But the suit is the cornerstone: the ice cream of the sundae. Not as flashy as the cherry or the chocolate sauce, but fundamentally, more important. So important, in fact, that Lebanese men are willing to wait months for a perfectly cut suit. But with the expected arrival of the full custom-made experience on their home turf, they will no longer have to wait in line for the tailor who’s flown in from Paris, or stop for a fitting on their business trips to London. And maybe, just maybe, they will stop leaving the first button on their jacket sleeve undone.
Goodbye, THE CITY’S FASHION SCENE COMES OF AGE
ifty years ago, when a Lebanese fashionista wanted to purchase a designer frock, it warranted an entire vacation. Like a scene from a 1960s Italian movie, a woman would fly to a romantic destination in search of the most elegant couture of the day, eliciting the now cliché movie montages of fitting room changes and swirling taffeta. The finest millinery and couture in Paris or London would then be brought back to Lebanon in leather trunks, ready to be displayed at Beirut’s society parties. Well, for better or worse, those days are long gone. The leisure class of yesterday is the executive class of today and thrice-yearly trips to Europe with the sole purpose of getting that dream dress are simply not realistic — even Ivanka Trump has a day job. “It’s the daughters [of that generation] that are now, of course, our customers. And the daughters today do not have the time to spend weeks in Paris or Rome going to fittings. They want to buy in stores. They want to buy ready to wear,” says Michael Burke, chief executive officer of Italian bag and shoe institution Fendi. Though it may have taken a few years, those daughters are just recently starting to get what they want. For with designers moving into downtown Beirut like college students to a dorm in September, Beirut is getting the vote of confidence its fashionable inhabitants have always known it deserved. “Customers in the Middle East are on average the most sophisticated customers in the world. They are more sophisticated that the average American customers,” says Burke. And a myriad of brands agree: Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Adolfo Dominguez, Carolina Herrera… the list goes on and on. The nameplates of each brand appear on the marquees of downtown Beirut as if they had been there all along.
TO UGH C USTO ME RS It is not just the Lebanese customer that has been breathlessly waiting for a chance to buy from their favorite couturier in their home town — the brands themselves that have been poised to pounce on a market which, until recently, has only been accessible
CH Carolina Herrera, a newly opened boutique in Beirut Souks, is part of the city’s rapidly evolving luxury fashion scene
through European and Gulf locations. As such, Lebanese shoppers are already familiar with most of the luxury products and brands available and have a reputation among fashion moguls for being discerning and difficult to please. “I think the biggest mistake you could make in coming to Beirut is thinking that you have to somehow water down the brand experience or the collection,” said Joshua Schulman, CEO of British bag and shoe staple, Jimmy Choo. In fact, Ziad Matta, CEO of Boutique 1 Group, which owns the Missoni and Blumarine outlets as well as the Boutique 1 multibrand store in downtown, says that sometimes even the biggest names in fashion do not have the corporate structure to maintain a monobrand boutique. “For the standalone you really need to make sure that the brands are reliable and consistent. They must have a big enough range and consistent performance rather than just being of the moment for one season,” says Matta. And after a monobrand store is settled, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure the store is a success; a job that Boutique 1 buyer Nicole Robertson says is more difficult in Beirut that in her other jurisdiction of Dubai.
The Lady Dior Blue Patent bag is the brand’s best seller in Beirut and retails for over $2,000
The subtle, classic look popular in Europe does not always mesh with the exuberance of Lebanese style. Thanks to the expertise of local designers, a certain synthesis has been achieved between the two
“They really know what’s going on [in Beirut] and they have great style. They’re very hungry for it I think,” she says. Today, the selection in Beirut’s boutiques is largely determined by buyers — and they have quite a job to do. For some brands, the need for a buyer who is truly in tune with the intricacies of Beirut’s sharp shoppers leads them to lean on a local partner; and one name leads the pack: Aishti. Step into the boutiques of Burberry, Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Celine, Dior, Chloe, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana or Gucci in downtown Beirut and you might be forgiven for feeling a touch of déjá vu; the names on the storefronts may differ, but all belong to what is arguably the key player in downtown’s luxury retail sector and accordingly all follow the ‘vision’ of Aishti founder, chief executive officer and chairman Tony Salameh. With each store designed to homogenously fit in with the Aishti brand identity, critics have called the stores monotonous and unrepresentative of each brand’s individual flavor. Nevertheless, Salameh’s partners in fashion do rave about his outfit’s intimate knowledge of the Lebanese customer. But Aishti is not the only fish in the sea. Grace Sehnaoui, brand manager at E and E group — which runs TOD’s and Hogan boutiques and multibrand outlet Kamichibai — has her work cut out for her. A steel money chain from Louis Vuitton’s new 2010 fall / winter collection
Tod’s Gomminos range from $750 to $1,200 and have been their most popular item this year
Her personal taste has led her to bring more streamlined, classic brands to Beirut; a look that does not always fit with the exuberant Lebanese style. Nevertheless, Sehnaoui uses her know-how to match the brands that she loves to the tastes of her home town. “The way I order TOD’s is very different from the German taste, let’s say. I can take more color, I can take heels, I can take more open and trendy shoes and in a city like Dusseldorf, they will take the more traditional styles. They will balance their order a bit differently,” she explained.
KN OW Y OUR AUDI E NCE But even if Beirut is the insatiable and open-to-anything market that its mavens declare it to be, at least one brand is adjusting its image to Beirut’s unique sensibility. Vivienne Westwood, a fashion institution in her home of London and rock-star favorite due to her irreverent and punk-inspired style, is a relatively new arrival to Beirut. And though store manager Rami Shaman says it’s too early to tell if sales goals for the Beirut boutique will be met, the response to Westwood’s central ad campaign has shifted the game plan at the local branch. The original ad, featuring Westwood herself, a 60-something woman with ghostly pale skin and fiery red hair alongside American sexpot Pamela Anderson, was not well-received on this side of the Mediterranean. Perhaps, Westwood’s image is not recognizable to a league of fashionistas with their eyes affixed on Paris and Milan, or perhaps Anderson’s kitsch-factor has not yet reached the Lebanese market. Either way, the campaign has been reworked with a Lebanese twist and slim, sable-haired 20-something models have been placed into the ads, along with a subtle nod toward Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square. The girls — assuming the classic couture hunch with jutting shoulders and razor sharp collarbones and lurking amid a lurid, postapocalyptic city-scape, complete with a poster of the famous landmark — will soon appear on billboards all over the city. “We’re looking forward to it,” said Shaman, “We’re not in a hurry.” LOCAT IO N, LO CATI ON , LOCA TIO N With the influx of luxury brands in downtown and even along
This Dolce & Gabbana boho handbag has been flying off the shelves in Beirut Souks
This draughty evening gown from Gucci is a best seller in Lebanon, and a testament to the country’s gyms
Lanvin is bringing back the visor, beware...
Hermes’ black enamel bangle. The French fashionistas opened in Beirut late last month
This Burberry Prorsum jacket has proved to be the store’s most popular item this season
the Corniche, prime luxury retail real estate is becoming less and less and available and more and more prized. “The only issue we are facing now is since the demand is a little high, the prices are tending to go high also. Today [rental] takes a very big part of the turnover, which is not normal,” says Antoine Eid, chairman and CEO of Joseph Eid and company, which owns the Alberta Ferretti, Beirut’s central Façonnable and Lanvin Men’s boutiques downtown. district accounts He added that today, rent for a boutique in Beirut’s for 7 to 10 percent central district already represents some 7 to 10 perof revenue for the cent of revenue, which in itself is a touch too high for And with rents increasing, Eid is worried. fashion industry, comfort. “This is dangerous because some of the compabut rising rent nies may not be able to sustain these rents for a long period of time, and it would be a pity to see some of could cut into them closing,” he said. those margins With most of Beirut’s fashion moguls singing in unison a battle cry for the future of big spenders in the city, a careful eye on operating costs is going to be seasonal musthave if they want to maintain their run of success. For the time being however, the titans of retail in Lebanon are doing what the Lebanese do best: living in the moment.
PERSONAL SHOPPER A FRIEND IN THE FASHION BUSINESS
hen Marianna Wehbe sits casually on the blue velvet couches that serve as her office in slim jeans and a tshirt, her casual appearance belies a passionate drive. “I believe that ideas start everything. So, do your idea. Try it. If it works it might lead you to something. If it doesn’t work, then at least you’ve tried and you wont regret it,” she says. And try is exactly what she did. Wehbe is the self-proclaimed first personal shopper in Lebanon. The 30-something mother with a corporate background has been the fashion tour guide of many a visitor to Lebanon since her husband encouraged her to start charging for a service she had already been providing for years.
B U SI NE SS AN D P L E ASU R E C O L LI D E “It started as a joke. Then I said you know what, this could be a really good idea as a business,” she says of the now two-yearold venture. After helping countless friends discover exactly the right item for an occasion, or finding a way to get “ungettable” products or labels not yet available in Lebanon, Wehbe decided to translate her seemingly infinite knowledge of fashion into a lucrative and exclusive service, called Jayde. For a fee of $1,700 per day, Wehbe creates tailor-made shopping excursions catering to the taste and budget of shoppers who might other wise have a hard time navigating some of Beirut’s harder to find fashion destinations. At this price, the clients are provided a car and driver for the day, lunch, calls ahead to boutiques and designers, and a 10 percent discount at most of the day’s destinations, a generous substitute for the commission some personal shoppers take from the stores they frequent.
Right now, her clients Marianna Wehbe’s come purely from word of personal shopping service mouth and are generally started out as a joke. Now chosen by Wehbe herself, it’s a profitable and but she also has a relationship with the Four sustainable business, Seasons Hotel. earning the fashionista With an average of $1,700 a day just two customers per month, she has little interest in expanding the business, preferring instead to preserve the strong relationships she has with her current clients. But with the string of seemingly constant boutique openings downtown, Wehbe’s client list is sure to grow as the pains of obtaining high-fashion brands become a thing of the past. “I used to have to contact everybody online to get Jimmy Choos and have them sent to the United States and brought to Lebanon, or wait to go to Paris, but now everything is here. And that’s what Beirut should have been. What it was and should be again,” she says. EXECUTIVE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAM TARLING. STYLED BY EMMA COSGROVE. MAKE UP BY RALPH LTEIF. MODELING AGENCY NIDAL BCHERRAWI SPECIAL THANKS TO THE ROBERT MOUAWAD MUSEUM.
So much more than
FRESH TALENT TUGS THE HEM OF LEBANON’S SARTORIAL SUPERSTAR
Armani Hotel Young designer Krikor Jabotian created this whimsical dress out of layers of lace and organza, to look as if the wearer is "sinking in clouds"
n red carpets from Cannes to Los Angeles, a Levantine invasion is quietly taking shape. Ever since Elie Saab dressed Halle Berry for her 2002 Oscar triumph, Beirut’s haute couture doyens have been in high demand. Saab, Zuhair Murad, Georges Chakra et al. now regularly show their collections at major international fashion weeks, while celebrities clamor at their doors for a fitting of one of their flattering and unashamedly feminine dresses. Saab still leads the pack; as his managing director Chucri Calvacanti says: “Whether you are from the Middle East or elsewhere, you immediately think of Elie Saab whenever you think of Lebanese fashion.” But Beirut’s fashion industry is buzzing and plenty of other Lebanese designers, both new and established, are carving their names on the international and domestic scene. Abed Mahfouz, a Beirut-based designer who has been showing at the Alta Roma fashion week in Italy since 2003, says things really started to take off for him after a show with several other Lebanese designers in 2001. “I started in fashion 28 years ago in Lebanon, but it’s only in the last eight years or so that we really started to get international exposure,” he says. “Now, I can source materials from all over the world and show collections in Rome twice a year.”
RE G ION AL L Y R EN OWN ED Still, much of Mahfouz’s business — about 70 percent — comes from the Middle East, predominantly the Gulf. While it may have only recently come to the attention of the rest of the world, Lebanon has long been the region’s chic older sister. “Lebanon is a link between East and West — lots of people come here from Arab countries to see what’s happening in fashion, to find out what’s new and popular,” says Krikor Jabotian, a young Lebanese designer. The style of Mahfouz’s dresses, and those of the
“Lebanon is a link between East and West — lots of people come here from Arab countries to see what’s happening in fashion” Zuhair Murad EXECUTIVE MAGAZINE
other established Lebanese couture designers, epitomizes the look that the wealthy ladies of the Middle Eastern elite tend to favor. Reams of material, pearls, diamonds, detailed embroidery and flowing hemlines are the order of the day. Standing next to a rack of ornate jewel-colored gowns in his new downtown Beirut store, Mahfouz reveals that women from the oil-rich Gulf states are his ideal customers. “People from the Gulf don’t think about money; I even made a $1 million dollar wedding dress for a woman using real diamonds. The Lebanese, on the other hand, don’t always like to spend a lot, especially not if the designer isn’t from Europe or the United States,” he says, adding that his new ready-to-wear range may appeal more to Lebanese tastes. Certainly, Mahfouz’s couture creations do not come cheap; prices start from $15,000 for a short dress to $65,000 for an intricately embroidered wedding gown. “The cost is in the fabrics and the attention to detail,” he explains. “I have a team of 75 people working with me now, and I need 20 of them just to check that every last real pearl and paillette is exactly where is should be.”
signers. In addition to the fabrics and the workmanship, clients are paying for the design idea itself, explains Jabotian. “I start with a concept, a vision, and elaborate it into a dress… people are paying for that idea, as you would with a piece of art.” It’s not only the prices that are different, but also the look itself: “There is a Lebanese aesthetic, but the new generation also has an aesthetic of their own,” says Zakhem. “Younger designers are more influenced by Europe; they have simpler pieces for their ready-towear. The older ones have a more couture-orientated style.”
F ASH IO N L ED BY F UN C TIO N Partly in response to the developing demands of the Lebanese market, the new generation of designers is embracing a less fussy, more accessible style than their predecessors. Unlike women from Qatar or Saudi Arabia, who usually buy haute couture dresses for a major family occasion rather than everyday wear, Lebanon’s high society women need to be constantly looking their best. “My ladies tell me that it’s a full-time job being the wife of a successful businessman,” says Rani Zakhem, a new designer who, in another break with tradition, specializes in plus-size luxury clothing. “I’ve had a lot of demand for separates this season, because with so many functions to attend, a wealthy Lebanese woman often needs to change her clothes several times a day,” he says. “In a small country like this, everyone knows everyone, and they don’t want to be seen in the same thing twice.” Sandra Mansour, another young designer whose clothes were recently spotted on Darina alJoundi at Cannes and musician Yasmine "In a small country like Hamdan, agrees. this, everyone knows “Ready-to-wear is very important at the moment,” she says. “Lebanese everyone, and they don’t women now have very busy lives, bewant to be seen in the tween working and socializing, and same thing twice” they need a dress that can work for both day and night.” Prices are still firmly within the luxury range — Jabotian’s pieces, for example, go for between $3,000 and $10,000 — but are more affordable than the bejeweled creations of the more established de-
Abed Mahfouz's haute couture atelier invented an entirely new material for this delicately embroidered evening gown. Necklace: Selim Mouzannar Shoes: Abed Mahfouz
This Krikor Jabotian dress has an embellished collar and is made of organza and muslin to gather at its base like a perfectly puffed soufflĂŠ
“Beirut is a very interesting place; it’s full of fascinating secrets. You see a rush of colors, emotions and people here, which creates a very inspirational creative environment.” Elie Saab
Karen Karam, a London-based Lebanese designer, is a good example of this. According to Hoda el-Lozi, retail manager for Boutique 1, which stocks Karam’s flirty little dresses, her look is European but “with a feminine Lebanese touch.” It’s a style that sells well with the internationalized Beiruti elite, who are used to combining Lebanese and Western influences in everything from fashion to language. Mansour, who spent her formative years between Geneva and Beirut, understands this only too well. “The two cities had a real influence on my design,” she says. “They are totally opposite; Geneva is calm and monochrome, while Beirut is frenetic and colorful. I wanted to combine the simplicity of Switzerland and the funky, out-there style of Lebanon.” Although the younger generation may be evolving the style of the grand old men of the Beirut fashion scene, they are maintaining a recognizable Lebanese aesthetic. “What Lebanese designers have in common is that they love to beautify the female form, to bring out the best in women and make them feel attractive and elegant,” explains Zakhem.
TH E LEB A N O N LO O K A common theme echoed equally among the new and established designers EXECUTIVE spoke to, was the influence of Beirut — and its women — on their dresses. “Beirut is a very interesting place; it’s full of fascinating secrets,” says Jabotian. “You see a rush of colors, emotions and people here, which creates a very inspirational creative environment.” “Lebanese women are also very stylish; they love to show off their beauty and take care of themselves, which is great for a designer,” he adds. The proliferation of salons, boutiques and plastic surgeons is a testament to the fact that beauty is a serious business here, which translates into ringing cash registers for Beirut’s couture designers and upmarket stores. “Everything sells in the Lebanese market,” says Lozi of Boutique 1. “The Lebanese consumer is very easy [to cater to]; she will always follow the fashion, and will buy designer [labels] if she can afford it.”
Elizabeth Hurley in Elie Saab
Lebanon’s father of fashion When people think about Lebanese fashion, there is one name that inevitably comes up time and again: Elie Saab. In the last month alone Sarah Jessica Parker, Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansson have all worn his dresses. “We now have flagship stores in Beirut, Paris, London and Dubai, and our products are also sold at about 50 points of sale internationally,” says Chucri Calvacanti, Saab’s managing director. In other words, the boy from Dammour has gone global. The 45-year-old has come a long way from designing dresses for his sister in their sleepy Chouf town. After moving back to Beirut from Paris in 1982, at the height of the civil war, Saab began his career making jewel-encrusted gowns for the wealthy princesses of the Arabian Gulf, before breaking into the Hollywood royalty when Halle Berry wore one of his creations for her 2002 Oscar win. Now his couture dresses fetch the same astronomical prices as the top international haute couture houses, starting at $15,000 for a short cocktail dress, and reaching up to around $100,000 for a finely detailed wedding gown. Despite his recent international success, the Middle East continues to be Saab’s top market for both couture and ready-to-wear, according to Calvacanti, followed by Europe, the US, Russia and Asia. Saab’s style — elegant, feminine dresses with generous helpings of sequins and embroidery — plays well in the Middle Eastern market but also appeals to women everywhere who want a picture-perfect, fairytale dress for a big occasion. “His passion is to make women look very elegant and glamorous and yet simple at the same time,” explains Calvacanti. It’s an approach that has served Saab well over the last three decades, and one that Scarlett Johansson wears Elie Saab at has put Lebanon firmly on the the 2010 Tony fashion map. Awards
DR ES SE S F O R TH E BI G DA Y Such dedication to fashion and grooming goes hand in hand with that other national obsession: weddings. Society weddings and engagement parties provide the ideal opportunity for women to show off their most fabulous dresses, and keep Lebanese designers busy throughout the summer. “I personally don’t want to do long dresses as it’s not my style, but there’s so much demand for them,” says Mansour.
Sandra Mansour's cheeky little skirt is made of ruched organza, and is teamed with a Selim Mouzzanar necklace.
“Women want them for weddings, and they want something classic that they can wear again the next year.” And of course, the sartorial centerpiece of every wedding is the bride, on whom no expense is spared. A $65,000 hand-embroidered lace, pearl and Swarovski crystal covered ivory wedding gown takes pride of place in Mahfouz’s showroom, while Jabotian’s Ashrafieh atelier looks like every little girl’s fantasy: a sea of creamy silk and chiffon, with numerous bridal dresses in various stages of completion vying for space with vintage jewelry, gold-wrapped chocolates and black cocktail dresses.
“Everyone wants to get married in the summer,” Jabotian says. “I have to somehow get to two weddings to dress the brides this Saturday.” As the demand for wedding wear demonstrates, whatever influences designers may be taking from Europe and America, they are still catering to a local market. The recent international success of Elie Saab and other Lebanese designers suggests that this may no longer be the Middle East’s best kept secret. Word is out that when it comes to luxury design, the fashion-savvy may be wise to look a little east of Paris and Milan for their inspiration.
HEAD TO TOE
FLOOR TO CEILING BRAND EVERYTHING – THE EVOLVING CONCEPT OF STYLE
Boutique bedrooms at Dubai’s Armani Hotel
atching: it’s not just about your belt and your shoes anymore. It’s not just about your shirt and your tie. The question you have to ask yourself at the next big meeting is: does your suit match your hotel? Because for Europe’s fashion elite, it’s become démodé to focus only on ready to wear and haute couture collections, as top-tier designers increasingly extend their fanciful touch to everything from yachts to hotels to vodka bottles. One of the newest and most ostentatious examples of the trend is Elie Saab’s ES117 yacht, the first of three vessels he will design in collaboration with Weyves Couture International and the model of which was displayed at the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show in February. Weyves Couture founder, Captain Ezechiel Kauffmann, said the alliance with the Lebanese designer was a question of opportunity, as the proposal came up while the two met at a dinner in mid-2009. Kauffmann says Weyves is still shopping around for the highest bidder for the sleek 384.7-foot craft. “For sure [the ES117] will be addressed mainly to Middle Eastern clientele,” he said. “It could be a Chinese client or a Russian client, [but] we are in the process of [providing] private presentations to high net worth individuals, mainly in the Gulf region.” Kauffmann insists that the collaboration with Saab is not a mere marketing strategy. “What we have created is not branding, it is beyond this,” he said. “The fashion designer is highly
Designer dining at the Armani Hotel
“It’s not just putting a name [on a yacht], it’s like designing a masterpiece” EXECUTIVE MAGAZINE
24 Hermes’ $6 million haute helicopter
involved, we ask them to bring their heart, their soul, into the project… it’s not just putting a name [on a yacht], it’s like designing a masterpiece.” Kauffmann confirmed that the designer’s touch is apparent even in the external shape of the yacht, and that the finest details will have his full attention, even down to the silverware and linens involved, including the crew’s uniforms. At present, the company is in discussions with Saab to design private jets, helicopters and submarines. Chucri Cavalcanti, managing director at the Elie Saab Group, says that the designer believes in spreading his “universal language,” and that diffusion lines can be a welcome opportunity if presented at the right time. Lebanon’s Elie Saab brought style to the seas with his nautical debut, the ES117
STA Y IN S TYLE Perhaps the most famous example of brand diffusion is the Armani Hotel Dubai. Inhabiting the first eight floors of Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, the hotel opened its minimalist doors in April to reveal an array of eight restaurants, the Armani Privé nightclub, Armani boutique, Armani flower shop and Armani sweet shop; in short, Armani-inspired just about everything. The sleek wood interiors and simple color palatte of cream, brown and black exude the confidence and chic of the masculine brand, miraculously without giving off the feeling of living in an Armani boutique — but this kind of style don’t come cheap. Suites can run up to $11,000 a night, presumably of little matter to the traveler when his body is resting on what could be the most prestigious square footage in the world. The quiet palette, lack of chandeliers or paintings and spa-like essence of the entire hotel is a total escape from the Vegas-style atmosphere that Emaar, the United Arab Emirates developer, assumes has over-stayed its welcome in Dubai lodgings. Five years and one credit crisis after risking that assumption, the real test has started. Oliver Key, Armani Hotel Dubai’s general manager, says that the customer response has been “overwhelming” and that the first owners of the Armani Residences have already moved in. He claims that staying at Armani is like staying with fashion deity Georgio Armani himself, “beginning with the warm Italian-style hospitality and moving to each element of the design from the Eramosa stone floors to the zebrawood panels, bespoke furnishings and personally designed hotel amenities.” Armani joins the ranks of other Italian fashion houses that have stepped up to the challenge of setting up high fashion hotels in recent years, such as the Missoni Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland,
25 Versace Palazzo in Queensland, Australia, and the Bulgari and Moschino hotels in Milan. But Dubai is the executive choice for forthcoming boutique hotels in this niche market; Versace Palazzo, developed by Emirates Sunland Group, is set to open in 2011 in Culture Village, and Elisabetta Gucci Hotel has secured financing with Abu Dhabibased Baitek International Real Estate Development to open a Gucci branded hotel in Dubai Media City, the first in a series which will expand across the Gulf region. Beyond the hype, can these hotels really play with the big boys of the hospitality industry, or will the fleeting nature of fashion prove to be both their impetus and undoing as fickle customers move onto the next fad? Sales will tell. SY NE RG Y I N THE SK IE S In May of 2009, Falcon Aviation Services in Abu Dhabi received the first $6 million Hermes-designed EC135 helicopter made in partnership with Eurocopter, the world’s largest helicopter manufacturer when the project was commissioned in 2006. Versace also teamed up with TAG Aircraft to adorn the interiors of the Bombardier Global XRS, Boeing BBJ, Gulfstream 550 and Airbus ACJ private jets with customized Versace couture home furnishings.
From left to right: Saab with Wevyes partner Donald Potard; ‘M’ Angelopulous, former owner of ship builder Oceanco and Weyves founder Captain Ezechiel Kauffmann
For a slightly more modest slice of the fashion-fusion cake, you can always order a bottle of ultra-premium Roberto Cavalli vodka to flex your luxury muscle. The 750 millilitre snake-embossed bottle, selling at around $300 in club lounges, contains the vodka recipe that Cavalli had created for himself. Until 2006 the 100 percent Italian-made spirit, filtered four times through crushed Carrara marble, was enjoyed only by the designer and his close friends, but four years ago it was made publically available for sale. Vodka aficionados describe the tipple as having “sweet pudding, mineral, peppery spice flavors” with absolutely no aftertaste. Southern Wines and Spirits was chosen to distribute the luxury vodka in VIP clubs in Los Angeles, Miami and New York in early 2007. Cavalli’s was one of the 60 new vodka labels introduced that year to the thirsty American market, when the growth rate of highend vodka market was around 40 percent. This, however, proved to be less popular than rapper-tycoon P. Diddy’s Ciroq, which sold 247,000 cases in 2008 in the United States and was the 11th most-imported vodka, according to Liquor Handbook. Donald Trump’s quadruple-distilled vodka, encased in a gold bottle meant to resemble Trump Towers, sold 30,000 that year. And while $300 bottles of luxury vodka are intended for very public consumption, some of the designer diffusion ranges are of a more private nature. France’s Ed Hardy designer Christian Audigier, for instance, offers condoms, lubricants and sex toys that match the brand’s rock and roll image. The company website thanks fans for being “furiously sexy,” and sells what must be the world’s first designer condoms, made from Malaysian tree bark which, supposedly, enhances the sensation. The brand’s logo, “love kills” is thankfully not printed on the condoms, which are listed as one of Condomjungle.com’s most popular brands. That may be because, with a box of three sold for $3.99 over the website, compared to $5.99 in US stores for a comparable box of “America’s most trusted condom” Trojan Magnums, this is one designer item everybody can afford. It is still to be determined if executives will be resting their heads so comfortably on Versace’s black rabbit fur pillows (perhaps while sipping Cavalli vodka) while visions of the ongoing credit crisis twirl in their heads. With the financial downturn continuing to make formerly deep pockets considerably shallower, the market for designer yachts and luxury lube could well be shrinking. Cavalli’s luxury liquor But hell, if Tom Ford is a movie disells at clubs for rector, and Roberto Cavalli is responsiaround $300 a bottle ble for my cocktail, then maybe we can learn a thing or two about conquering new challenges from our opportunistic fashion friends.
THE FIERCE FIGHT TO GET INTO YOUR GLASS
Single malts are on the up as whiskey drinkers refine their pallettes
etting a premium brand into the Lebanese market is similar to getting into a packed club at 2 a.m. on a Friday night — it’s going to cost you. To get a table at a club, you may be shelling it out $600 for the night. To be the exclusive alcohol dealer to a bar or club, it can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $800,000 a year. The most infamous case is at Beirut’s Sky Bar, which was paid $450,000
last year by alcohol brands, according to a distributor. This year, Sky Bar was paid $800,000 in cash by a drinks distributor and was given the product at half price, although the bar would neither confirm nor deny these figures. “Three years ago it was $50,000 at Sky Bar for non-exclusive rights, then competitors came to offer more,” said Nagi Hmouda, business manager at Fattal, distributor of Dewar’s, Bollinger, Grey Goose and Patrón. “We corrupted the market by over-bidding. Today, anyone opening a bar thinks companies will come to pour money on them. And for some bars, if they don’t get that endorsement money, they don’t survive.” Hmouda estimates that $3.5 to $4 million is spent every year on on-trade marketing in Lebanon’s $105 million wine and spirits market. “Beirut is one of the most expensive cities in the world for on-trade marketing,” said Khalil Mansour, senior brand manager
27 at Gabriel Bocti, distributor for Stolichnaya, William Grant brands and Laurent-Perrier. “It’s a war for customers, and it has become very expensive to sustain and keep a brand.” One bar owner gave the example of a distributor offering him $60,000 to $70,000 worth of free alcohol if $250,000 was purchased — on condition of being the sole distributor. “The industry is not giving consumers choice when only a few brands are on offer,” said Hmouda. “Exclusivity is down to being insecure about selling certain brands that are not popular.” The exclusivity and incentive strategy has had mixed success. Distributor and brand owner Diageo, which along with Fattal handles 60 percent of the alcohol trade, owns the biggest brand in the market, Johnny Walker Scotch whisky. But it has not had the same success in distributing Smirnoff vodka, despite having one of the largest marketing budgets for a brand. “Diageo tried to push Smirnoff at Sky Bar and they paid a [huge] load, but it didn’t work as people weren’t into it,” said Haytham Nasser, a former marketing manager and founder of MyBar in downtown Beirut. “The thing about Beirut is demand is driven by word of mouth and trend-setters. The key to marketing is how to get these connectors to drink your drink and make it a buzz thing. It takes maybe just 15 people to order a new vodka for it to spread and you’ve reached the tipping point. “Until people feel the trend, it won’t fly. So many marketing campaigns have died a thousand deaths because they couldn’t get those connectors,” he added. The brand war is particularly intense over vodka, which accounts for 80 percent of ontrade sales at bars and clubs, while in off-trade — bought from stores — whisky accounts for 70 percent of sales, versus 30 percent vodka. Some five brands hold 65 percent of the vodka market, led by Stolichnaya at 29 percent and Absolut at 23 percent. “Lebanese are into Stolichnaya and Absolut,” said Mansour. “Grey Goose is a premium brand but the price has been lowered at clubs to $160 [a bottle] to compete with Stolichnaya Elit, which goes for $140.” In addition to Smirnoff, Diageo is now pushing the Russian Standard brand, which has been making steady inroads into the premium segment, with around 4 percent market share. The vodka market has doubled in the past
Stolichnaya leads as Lebanon’s vodka of choice
three years to 120,000 cases (of 12 bottles each) imported every year, while 450,000 cases of whisky are imported. “Scotch dominates with two-thirds of the market and it is very difficult to change that. Over the past 50 years in hard liquor, arak has declined in favor of Scotch, sales then stabilized, and now vodka is up,” said Hmouda. “People take vodka home now, which was not the case three or four years ago.”
SIN GL E MAL TS, ICE AL L OWE D The whisky market has entered a mature phase, but the sector is struggling to wean Lebanese tipplers off dominant premium brands Black Label and Chivas, which are blended whiskies, to push sales of single malts. “If people understood whisky, there would be more single malts on the market,” said Nasser. With just a few hundred cases of single malts imported each year demand is growing slowly, encouraged by tastings and the bringing in of brand ambassadors to inform consumers about the culture of whisky.
This 1975 Chateau Petrus sells at around $9,500 a bottle
“We used to stock just three or four malts, but now we sell 15,” said Wadih Riachi, cellar manager at Vintage in downtown Beirut. “Before, people didn’t ask for a certain label, but now are much more specific. Maybe 30 percent is driven by the label — on 18 or 25-year-old whiskies — and 70 percent is pleasure.” While whisky enthusiasts can be as pretentious as wine connoisseurs — how to store a bottle, pour a glass, the correct temperature and so on — allowances have to be made for the less initiated to start getting into single malts, such as adding ice, which is considered by aficionados as an act verging on the sacrilegious.
“When the master blender at Glenfiddich came here, he told me that if he wanted to forbid people from putting ice in their whisky, he’d lose 50 percent of his clients,” said Riachi. With sales of single malts expected to spike in coming years, distributors are paying to get brands and deals with suppliers. “You can feel the buzz, because big distributors are competing to get better brands and better cuts of the market,” said Mansour. The distilleries are certainly viewing Lebanon as a potentially lucrative market for single malt sales, with prices starting at $40 a bottle. Grant’s, which is the fourth best-selling whisky brand in the world, is to launch its 12-year old malt this year. Out of six countries selected worldwide as launch venues, Lebanon is one of them, “because of the high ratio of leisure and upscale sales,” added Mansour. Indeed, super premium and reserve brand alcohol sales are slated to rise over the next year. “It is a growing niche that is estimated at 8 percent [of the market] and the projection for next year is to be higher than 10 percent,” said Sylva Yazerly Bayram, trade marketing manager at Diageo.
A LL TH AT G L ITT ER S While super premium whiskies are relatively pricey — an 18-year old Glenfiddich single malt retails for $95 — it pales in comparison to champagne. Real champagne that is, which is only from the Champagne region of France; any other is just sparkling white wine. In 2008, sales of champagne doubled, and demand has remained strong ever since. But the days of 12-liter bottles and 3-liter Jeroboams being ordered for the show-off value are not what they once were. “At a club a few years ago I saw 18 Salmanazar (9-liter) bottles of champagne opened in less than an hour to impress [singer] Haifa Wehbe. And a Libyan once
Monster-sized bottles may be passé these days but champagne still flows freely in Beirut’s bars, for those with wallets deep enough to pick up the tab
Luxor champagne contains flakes of 24-carat gold
bought 120 bottles of champagne to cover the floor,” said Hmouda. “But while the extravagant days are not over, the novelty of it is.” Nonetheless, while the club that started the mega-bottle trend, Crystal, has shut its doors, clubs like Cassino still sell Balthasar (12-liter) bottles, which go for $3,000 to $5,000 “depending on where you’re from; wealthy Gulf Arabs are charged more,” said one bar owner. And while bottles of champagne will always be popped at clubs, 4.5 liter bottles of premium vodka are increasingly seen on tables. Away from the strobe lights a new craze has come to town: a champagne with 24-carat gold flakes inside that, once poured, swim in the bubbles for nearly half an hour. The only copyrighted champagne from Champagne in the world with 24-carat gold pieces, the $1,100 to $7,000 bottles of Luxor Brut, rose and vintage, are stored in a bank vault until ordered and then hand delivered by a bodyguard handcuffed to a Samsonite briefcase. Indicative of how the super premium alcohol market works, MK Holding, the exclusive distributor of Luxor in Lebanon, did not have to do any marketing to generate sales. “We’ve not launched and not spoken [publicly] about it, but sold 11 bottles in less than two weeks,” said Michel Khoury, managing partner of MK Holding. The first buyer was Haifa Wehbe. With only 1,300 bottles of Luxor available a year for sale worldwide, MK Holding has allocated 140 bottles to Lebanon. Of the vintage bottles, only 111 are produced a year, with only two to be available in Lebanon. To ensure the brand’s high profile is maintained, clients are profiled before delivery. “We don’t want it getting in the wrong hands and ending up as a spraying champagne,” said Khoury. Luxor is to officially launch in late September at an exclusive invitation only event. “I hope I’ll have some left for Christmas,” said Khoury.
JEWELRY & WATCHES
LEBANON’S AGE OLD JEWELERS REMAIN AT THE INDUSTRY’S VANGUARD here’s something dangerously compelling about the gems, set into earrings, hanging on a simple felt stand at the back of the Antoine Hakim jewelry shop. Perhaps it’s the sharp bend the light takes passing through them, or the subtle cut of their stones. They stand out among the other items on display not because of their ostentation, but rather the opposite: amongst gold-latticed ornaments, bracelets the size and weight of shackles and broaches inlaid with carapaces of precious stones, they are remarkable for the sparseness of their design. A white and a green stone, both almost two centimeters in diameter, hang suspended in each — no other ornamentation has been added. To the untrained eye, it’s an appearance that belies their real monetary and artistic value. “They’re priced at $50,000,” breathes Carol Hakim, owner of the shop — her voice lowered almost to a whisper, as if sharing a dangerous secret.
T EXECUTIVE MAGAZINE
A V INT AG E I ND UST RY The manufacture and design of high and ultra high-end jewelry is one of Lebanon’s oldest and most respected trades, a hereditary practice that the owners of stores like Tufenkjian, Wadih Mrad and Antoine Hakim can trace down through two, three or even four generations. Indeed, the businesses themselves are quintessentially clan-based, identifiable first by their family name. This, they say, is the key to their stability. “Our model of business is different in Lebanon,” says Roger Mrad, owner of Wadih Mrad and current scion of the family line. “Here, you are a name but also a face, and you have human contact. This isn’t the city mall where you come to browse, and maybe you buy, maybe not. Here you are a person. We know you, and you know us.” “We age, and the trust of the Lebanese people ages with us,” agrees Gerard Tufenkjian, owner of Tufenkjian Jewelers. For local jewelers, Lebanese make up the vast majority of the customer base — around 80 percent, according to Carole Hakim. “We do have a mix of clients, from Europe, the United States and more from the Gulf,” she says. “But for the most part, our customers are Lebanese. There’s a bond of trust.”
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time
AAAA-grade black Tahitian pearl necklace with diamond clasp
TH E SE A SON ’S I NS AN D OUTS Among other things, the Lebanese trust their jewelers to keep them at the forefront of global fashion trends. “The Lebanese consumer wants to be kept up to date with everything that’s going on abroad,” says Maher Atamian, owner of ETS Hagop Atamian. “As representative of major brands we are happy to be the vanguard for fashion, and help our clients make informed decisions.” Fashion evolves through an interplay between consumer taste, designer creativity and the context of the historical moment. However, for Lebanese designers, their fashion-savvy neighbors to the northwest also serve as a source of regular inspiration. “We keep up with the latest trends by following the lead of Europe, especially Italy,” Tufenkjian notes. “Traditionally Italy leads the globe for women’s jewelry trends, while in regards to watches you would follow the Swiss.”
At a time when sports and high-end digital watches are foraying into the upper echelons of the watch making industry, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time is a reversion to the fundamental principles of the industry: elegant aesthetic, flawless mechanical precision and a princely ransom in diamonds. Equipped with an automatic movement powered by a rotary winding system, cased in 18-carat rose gold and backed by scratchless sapphire, it embodies all the qualities that define luxury watch making. Much like the distinguished great uncle whose regal portrait hangs in your living room, it exudes an ethos of gentlemanly poise.
This season, a few trends to stand out for jewelry. Last year’s obsession with geometric asymmetry, though still visible in places, is giving way to the more natural forms. Gem-studded ferrets curving into bracelets and ornate golden leaves covered in diamond dewdrops complete the symmetry of animal, vegetable and mineral. No matter what trends define “modern” jewelry, there is always a niche for vintage, usually purchased as a gift for a special moment in time, and most retailers carry at least two collections, one vintage and one modern, says Hakim. In terms of materials, rose gold is currently one of the favored mediums for women’s jewelry, along with colored diamonds and precious stones, she adds. Most models available in rose gold, however, can still be found in yellow gold or platinum. As has been the trend for some years now, large watches are in style for men, according to Roger Mrad, whose outlet carries select brands like Cartier, Swatch and Ferrari.
JEWELRY & WATCHES
Cartier is shaping up to be one of the top sellers for 2010
According to Zeina Annan of AS Chronora, purchasing patterns in the upper strata connote social shifts as well. She says that the ongoing propensity of women to opt for large watches over the delicate timepieces of the past reflects women’s increasing ability to assert themselves in the workplace and at home. “Women are establishing their place and demanding respect,” says Anan. “They want a watch that says, ‘I’m here,’ with class and presence.”
T HE B IG GE R T HE Y AR E , T HE H AR DE R T HE Y FALL “Luxury jewelry is never a There isn’t much in the world purchase you make lightly, of luxury that can keep pace with the jewelry market when it comes no matter who you are” to cost. For even the best-heeled buyers, top-end jewelry represents a significant capital investment and is a choice to be made only after careful deliberation. This helps explain why ultra-high end jewelry makers took a hit during 2009, while luxury brand names specializing in clothes and accessories skated above the world economy’s turmoil. “The ultra rich could afford to keep up with fashion during the recession because even if you have $20 million and you lose two, it’s still a manageable expense to buy a handbag from Louis Vuitton or shoes from Gucci,” explains Roger Mrad. “Luxury jewThe Breguet elry is never a purchase you make lightly, no matter who you are.” Tradition line is a As Annan put it, “A $40,000 watch or necklace is the investtestament to both ment of a lifetime.” industrial innovaA fashionable woman can never let the latest styles and trends tion and mechanical pass her by — you have to keep up every year, whereas somefinesse. A return to funthing like a diamond necklace or a Cartier watch, you buy for life, damental principles, it says Mrad, adding that consumers can afford to hold off on a bad showcases the essentials of year, and bide their time until things on the ground improve. watch making with a twist of For luxury jewelers, that bad year hit markets in 2009. Offi21st century flair. The 7057 cial statistics for the Richemont Group — which owns several of model is a cross-section of the scithe world most important luxury brands, including Van Cleef & ence of horology, with sand-blasted Arpels, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, gears meshing in plain view through Panerai Montblanc, and 2010’s top seller, Cartier — showed a the watch’s innovative open-face dedecrease of 15 percent, or $2.9 billion in sales, from March to sign. A hand-wound movement nestles September 2009. Operating profit dropped by a staggering 39 beneath the main plate, complimented by percent. Thereafter the company’s losses tapered off, ending the its pare-chute shock absorption mechanism and March 2010 financial year with a net loss of 4 percent in sales, polished bridge. Like the prince masquerading as allowing Johan Rupert, Richemont’s executive chairman and chief a pauper, its 18K gold is finished silver, and subexecutive officer, to claim that the group had “weathered the critlety cashes away 34 precious stones. sis to date and [returned] to its strong financial position.”
Breguet Tradition 7057
Golden Pearl Necklace from Mikimoto
A twist on the classic grandmother’s pearls, Mikimoto’s golden choker has baubles as big as your eyeball; fitting, for a necklace so eye-poppingly grand. A string of flawless, AA quality South Sea golden pearls, the necklace is created from the very best of thousands upon thousands of Mikimoto’s carefully cultivated crop. To find a flawless pearl is rare. To find a flawless, 14 mm pearl happens, well, once in a very blue moon. And this necklace boasts a whole bunch of them. Contrary to Genesis, this bit of nature’s bounty is not up for everybody’s taking. Whoever wants to boast these pearls will have to pay for it, and dearly: while the store declines to cite an exact price for the necklace, rest assured it’s more than enough to put an American student through graduate school, launch a start-up private equity firm or start a revolution in a small autocratic state.
During the maelstrom of economic crisis, Asia represented something of a high ground. While sales in the Americas declined by 20 percent and those in Europe by 11 during the March 2010 financial year, Asia, bolstered by continued economic growth in the Middle East, India and China, grew by 18 percent over the same period. Lebanon was right there with them. “At a time when most of the market was in decline, our sales rose by 17.2 percent last year,” says Roger Mrad. “The manufacturers saw that
Finding beauty in simplicity, these Antoine Hakim earrings cost $50,000
Asian countries carried them through the recession, and they’ve stepped up their campaigns in the region as a result.” Tufenkjian declined to cite specific figures, but said that his company’s profits over the last year had similarly been “very good.”
MON OBR AN D MON OLIT HS With profit margins heading steadily upward, Lebanon’s retailers say that after a long history of operating as multi-brand outlets, the country is finally ready to run major jewelry lines as monobrands. Antoine Hakim, which is the exclusive outlet for Tiffany & Co. in Lebanon, says they plan to open a dedicated outlet for Tiffany’s by the end of the year. “Some 1.7 million people came to Lebanon last summer from abroad,” says Mrad. “Most were Lebanese, others were tourists. But they’ve seen what’s available outside and they will want to buy it here.” He stressed that monobrands are not necessarily profitable outlets for retailers, and are meant primarily to promote the brand. But establishing a monobrand outlet means that you become the brand’s center of operations — one step closer to Lebanon’s goal of being the regional leader for high-end luxury jewelry.
AN EYE ON
BEIRUT EDGES BACK INTO THE FRAME
35 en years ago, 38-year-old Syrian painter Sabham Adam’s paintings sold for a few thousand dollars a piece. Today, they command prices of up to $100,000. The art markets of Beirut and Abu Dhabi may not be able to match the pricetags or prestige of their counterparts in London, Paris and New York, but if price hikes are any indicator, they are on their way. The regional trend of upward prices was confirmed by Christie’s April auction in Dubai, which earned a healthy $15.2 million. The auction’s top price of $2.4 million was paid for “Les Chadoufs,” a 1934 painting by Egyptian modernist Mahmoud Said, more than 10 times Christie’s original estimate. Two other Said paintings fetched twice the estimate. They were all part of a set of 25 works from the collection of Mohammed Said Farsi, a well-known patron of the arts and the former major of Jeddah. “It is a tribute to his [Farsi’s] taste and the strength of the market that these works achieved such spectacular prices,” said William Lawrie, Christie’s director of contemporary Middle Eastern art. The second-highest price paid on the day was for “Poet and Cage,” a 2008 sculpture by Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli. Originally estimated at a price of $400,000, it fetched $1.02 million. Tanavoli is a popular man these days: In 2008, Christie's sold one of his sculptures for $2.8 million, which is still the highest price ever paid for a work by a Middle Eastern artist. According to Christie’s, its client registrations in the Middle East increased 30 percent in 2009 and, since opening the Dubai office in 2007, the global spend of its Middle Eastern clients has increased by more than 400 percent. In addition, the auction house notes increased involvement of international clients from the United States, Europe and Asia in the regional market.
R E C LA IMI NG T HE RE G IO NAL C R OWN While cities such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha write global headlines with such big auctions and the opening of (satellite) museums of the Louvre, Guggenheim and Islamic Art Museum, Beirut has gradually regained its pre-civil war status as a regional artistic hub known for its pioneering role. It is most likely here that tomorrow’s art emerges first. In that sense, the work of high-brow non-profit art spaces such as Sfeir Zemler and the Beirut Art Center cannot be underestimated. The same is true for the biannual contemporary art festival “Ashkal Alwan,” which attracts artists and curators from around the world. In addition, the city’s growing number of galleries has a role to play. For example, founded in 1967, Galerie Janine Rubeiz is one of the oldest galleries around, but is still known for the quality of the work it shows.
Founded in 1990, Hamra’s Agial Art Gallery is specialized in modern Arab art and has gained a reputation for recognizing and promoting young and upcoming artists. And the downtown area of Beirut, which was completely destroyed during the civil war, is regaining its status as a regional hotspot for arts and crafts; most recently, the Mark Hachem Gallery opened its doors there. Born in Lebanon, Mark Hachem grew up in Paris where he opened his first gallery in 1985. He later moved to New York, where he opened a second branch in 2007. Today, he divides his time between the Paris, the Big Apple and now Beirut. Why Beirut? “I guess it is a matter of being at the right place at the right time,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to one day return to Beirut. Today, the economy is good, there is a lot of liquidity, a sense of security, and the art market is maturing – there is a growing number of collectors, including some big ones. More importantly, I feel there is a growing general awareness and appreciation of the arts.” His gallery represents a core of international artists, including Vasarely, Botero, Christo and Mauro Corda. At a retrospective of the latter’s work that accompanied the gallery’s opening, close to 75 percent of the collection was sold.
“There is a growing number of collectors, including some big ones. More importantly, I feel there is a growing general awareness and appreciation of the arts” A gigantic sculpture of a hand dominates Mark Hachem’s new gallery in downtown Beirut
What’s it Worth?
Saleh Barakat, founding-owner of Beirut’s Agial Art Gallery, was not shocked to hear that an unknown bidder paid $2.4 million for Mahmoud Said’s 1934 painting “Les Chadoufs” (right). “I expected at least a million,” he said. “Said is a leading name in Arab modern art. The work stems from a well-known collector. And it is somehow a unique piece as most of Said’s work is on display in museums. It is an almost perfect marketing mix.” The general price hike for Middle Eastern art, according to Barakat, is part of a global trend and the result of an increase in demand. “There have always been Lebanese and Arab collectors,” he said. “In the last five years, however, there has been more demand from abroad. Also, there is a general re-appreciation of art among a wider public. Having an art work is seen as a sign of good taste.” Although it may seem so to a layman, the price for a particular art work does not come completely out of the blue. In addition to demand, all kinds of factors play a role, such as the experience and reputation of the artist, the uniqueness of the work and its concept and the artist’s presence (or not) in international museums. “At times, even the personality of the artist may play a role,” said Barakat, giving the example of Damien Hirst, the hugely successful British installation artist and painter who’s controversial work has earned him comparisons to Andy Warhol, but also brought claims that his success is due to his avant garde reputation more than inherent talent. Barakat warned, however, that people should not be blinded by the dollar sign. “Art is a passion; you should enjoy it,” he said. “Financial considerations always come second.”
“I’ve always loved, collected and represented ‘op-art’ and ‘synthetic art’,” Hachem said. “But four years ago, I also started following and collecting Middle Eastern artists. At some point, I hope to represent some of them, not only in Beirut, but also in Paris and New York.” In 2009, Hachem and the Ayyam Gallery co-organized a
“Art is a passion; you should enjoy it. Financial considerations always come second.”
retrospective of young and contemporary Syrian artists in his New York gallery. “The exhibition generated a lot of interest,” said Hachem. “But New York is a tough market, especially for Middle Eastern art, which is partly a result of the political situation. The European art market, in that sense, is more open-minded.” Founded in Damascus in 2006, the Ayyam Gallery has rapidly become a major player in the regional market and has since opened branches in both Beirut and Dubai. The brainchild of the collector and former private banker Khaled Samawi, the gallery today represents some 20 artists and has played a key role in putting contemporary Syrian and Middle Eastern art on the map. “I would say prices have appreciated 300 to 400 percent from ridiculously low levels [five years ago],” Samawi told The Wall Street Journal in May. “I think Syrian art is still 50 percent undervalued.” On July 1, the Ayyam Gallery inaugurated its second annual ‘Beirut Sale,’ offering a wide selection of paintings, sculptures and photographs by a mix of the region’s more established and upcoming artists, including: Jordanian sculptor Mona Saudi, Lebanese-American painter Paul Guiragossian, Palestinian painter Samia Halaby, Syrian painter Assad Arabi, Lebanese painter Walid el-Masri, Lebanese painter, sculptor and architect Nadim Karam and Lebanese painter Jean Marc Nahas. In a press release accompanying the auction, the gallery commented on the Christie’s auction in Dubai. “Christie’s Dubai surprised the world with three times preestimate sales and 23 new international auction records for Arab artists,” the statement read. “The astonishing rise in prices has meant an increased interest from the global art community (not to mention the financial sector) and the rapid ascent of places like Beirut and Abu Dhabi as leading international hubs.”
D’HAUTEVILLE OLD MASTERS TO MIX WITH EMERGING EXCELLENCE AT BEIRUT’S MENASART-FAIR “The art fairs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can recognize and sell “brands,” but the Lebanese can recognize a 'brand' before it becomes one”
world, as long as they represent artists from the region. For the zero edition we have 30 participating galleries from as far as England, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, which each will present one artwork. In addition, a series of conferences will be held. We’ll organize special tours for art collectors, while art galleries in Beirut will open their doors to the public and host special events. The event serves to announce the fair’s upcoming first edition in 2011, when some 40 galleries will participate with a full selection of the artists they represent.
he preliminary ‘zero edition’ of the MENASART-FAIR will take place in Beirut from July 13 to 16, while the full first edition is set to take place next year. EXECUTIVE spoke with director Laure d’Hauteville about the upcoming event and its main objectives.
WH AT’S TH E RE ASO NI NG B E HIN D LA U NC H IN G A “ Z ER O E DIT IO N” I N MID -JULY AN D WH AT CAN WE E X P EC T ? The main reason is the urge to exist and the necessity to make ourselves known. The idea has been around for quite a while and it is about time it became a reality. The fair is solely dedicated to artists from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia (MENASA) region. Galleries can come from anywhere in the
YO U PR E VI OUSL Y H EL P E D E ST ABL ISH TH E AR TP AR I S — A BU DHA BI AR T FAI R . WH AT IS TH E D I F FE R E NC E W ITH THE ME NAS AR T F AI R? The contemporary art fair of Abu Dhabi was a success, yet I felt that the international collectors were looking for something new, something different. Abu Dhabi positioned itself in the tradition of the big international art fairs, which generally have an emphasis on occidental art and represent established artists who have proven their name and worth in the market. I believe that international collectors want something other than Picasso, Matisse and Miro. Meanwhile, there is an enormous emerging art scene within the MENASA region, which until now did not have its own specialized fair. Combining the two, I thought it the right time to organize such a manifestation, which I hope will serve as a springboard for young artists and galleries from the region.
WH Y BEI R UT? Well, first of all, if you look at the map of the MENASA region Beirut is more or less situated in the middle. In addition, Beirut lies at the crossroads of east and west and has always been a city open to foreign influences. Lebanon has 6,000 years of history and is the result of a constant dialogue of cultures. Also, the Lebanese can be found around the world and often occupy key posts, not only in the world of business and finance, but also in the arts. The art fairs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can recognize and sell “brands,” but the Lebanese can recognize a ‘brand’ before it becomes one.
Luxury motor yachts line up for the camera at the Beirut Boat 2010 exhibition
FROM HELIPADS TO HOT-TUBS ON BOARD TODAY’S MOST LUXURIOUS MOTOR YACHTS
f you’re spending millions of dollars on a luxury yacht, shelling out a couple hundred bucks for an extra pair of Sebago Docksides is hardly a financial concern. Leather slip-on deck shoes are the preferred form of footwear among the yachting crowd. Yet when it comes to luxury yachts, you need two pairs: one for on deck, the other for dockside. The reasoning is straightforward. The fine grain, smoothly sanded wooden decks that are scrubbed down on a daily basis show even the slightest specks of non-maritime dirt. Owners who want their pricey investments kept pristine have two choices: go barefoot, or it’s shoe-changing time.
AN O C EA N OF C HO IC E But, if you don't want to change shoes more often than a model on a photo shoot when going from ship to shore, you can always opt for marble instead of wood. In fact, in the world of luxury yachts, any whim can be catered to. One client of Italian yacht company Benetti spent a further $4.2 million to have his $7.8 million, 93-foot yacht kitted out in marble and stone – though not so he could wander the decks of his yacht in a pair of soiled moccasins, but just because he liked marble. “A yacht is like a floating villa, so each customer has their own demands, like aquariums, jacuzzis, helium beds, even submarines and heli-pads, and everything in-between,” said Marcello Maggi, president of sales and marketing of Italy’s International Shipyards Ancona, during the Beirut Boat Show 2010. And those options add up: as Mustafa Chehab of Chehab Marine, representative of British-made Princess yachts put it, “boats go from $160,000 to whatever figure you can think of.”
BLUE BAY Benetti's 118-foot Blue Bay yacht (formerly Benetti Classic 120), on loan from a client in Greece to appear at the Beirut boat show, requires seven crewmembers to keep her ship-shape. Constructed at the Viareggio shipyard, one of Benetti's three yards in Italy, she has a top speed of 15 knots via twin 1,500 horsepower engines. The Blue Bay's master stateroom, located on the main deck, has wraparound windows, a king size bed and en-suite bathroom replete with marble surfaces. Forgiving the slanted wall at the hull of the boat and the recessed lighting, this looks and feels like an upscale resort hotel. On the other decks are five luxurious staterooms which can accommodate 10 guests. The open-air sky lounge has a card table, couch and two chairs along with a coffee table and a bar area. On the sun deck is a jacuzzi while under the stern is storage space for jet skis and a rubber skiff. Benetti would not disclose the value of the Blue Bay, but Boatinternational.com reported a sale in 2009 valued at around $13.2 million.
The demand for such highly specialized, and exceedingly expensive, yachts is not as high among Lebanese as it is in the Gulf countries, with the average price of a yacht sold in Lebanon a modest $1 million to $2 million, according to Maggi. Ancona's yachts start at $19 million, while Benetti's starting prices are in the high single millions. The disparity in the yachting markets between Lebanon and the Gulf was exemplified at the Abu Dhabi Boat Show this year, where several “concept yachts” were launched, including the 383foot ES117 mega yacht designed by Lebanon's high-fashion fixture, Elie Saab. One of three Saab designed yachts, the ES117 is the height of decadence. Two private suites on two decks are for the yacht’s owner, along with 10 guest suites, a swimming pool, whirlpool, theater, spa and gym. Topping it all off is a heli-pad, submarine port, storage space for a car and a water sports area. Sales of such concept yachts are few and far between; big name brand Sunseeker Middle East’s largest seller is an 88-foot yacht. Lebanon accounts for some 30 percent of the brand’s regional sales, according to general manager Francesco Pitea. BO ATI NG B ACK T O BE IRUT The Gulf may boast the clientele to pay tens of millions of dollars for mega yachts, but Lebanon is still a port of call for international yacht builders. “Beirut is a center of gravity in the region, so it’s a good selling spot, and Lebanon is the Cote d'Azur of the Middle East,” said Ancona’s Maggi, just one of an armada of major names to visit Dbayeh marina for May’s boat show, Lebanon’s first in three years. “In Dubai, you sell yachts to the people of Dubai, in Qatar to Qataris, but here it’s for the whole Middle East,” he added. Lebanon’s growing tourism sector and geographical positioning make the country a perfect base to moor a yacht and cruise around the Mediterranean. Still, despite the country having dozens of small and medium-sized marinas, there is a lack of infrastructure and facilities to cater to luxury yachters. “Lebanon needs more and bigger marinas, more prestige,” said Maggi.
The Benetti Blue Bay would be a resort hotel if a hotel could travel at 15 knots
“Beirut is a center of gravity in the region, so it’s a good selling spot, and Lebanon is the Cote d'Azur of the Middle East”
A strict no shoes policy keeps the Benetti Blue Bay in pristine condition at Beirut Boat 2010
This is set to change with the opening of the Beirut marina development and pledges from the tourism ministry to back the development of new marinas, the first of which is set to be in Jounieh. “Everyone's looking forward to the opening of the Beirut marina as many marinas are semi-full,” said Chehab. With the Lebanese economy going through a boom period and the country expecting record numbers of tourists this year, sales of yachts have been on the up, growing by 14.5 percent in 2009 and 40 percent in the first quarter of 2010 year on year. Sales are projected to grow a further 20 percent in 2010, according to government figures. Further driving growth is the strength of the dollar over the euro, making it a good time to place an order. “People are rushing to buy bigger boats to receive next year, so the situation is pretty good,” said Chehab. To get a luxury yacht designed to your specifications and interior design desires, patience is required. In the case of Benetti yachts, it is a one-year wait for a 90-foot yacht, and up to three years for anything bigger, said the brand's sales manager Tomasso Bilotta. According to Chehab, yachts are then often exchanged after a year or two for a brand new model.
SAI L ING TO G R EE NE R WAT ER S The high price tag for luxury yachts has as much to do with the materials used and highly skilled labor as the technology on board, from chart plotters to sensory lighting and entertainment systems. Benetti, for instance, has invested $540 million over the past 12 years to retain its classic design while keeping an eye on innovation. The biggest trend in recent years is for vessels with deeper ‘displacement’ hulls, intended for cruising, over flatter hulled yachts designed for speed. “Maybe people are more environmentally friendly, or sensitive to fuel consumption, or don’t want to go fast but have comfort instead,” said Bilotta. In line with growing environmental awareness globally, greener yachts are likely to be the boats of the future. “Customers are asking for cleaner boats and we can't ignore the state of the world,” said Maggi. “We are using hybrid engines and attempting to develop a [motor] boat with zero emissions, which is impossible, but we’re trying to get close to that. We’re also trying to pollute less when we build,” he added. Green indeed: Benetti's Blue Bay yacht, which was on display at the Beirut show, has fuel tanks that hold 38,000-liters, while Saab's ES117 mega-yacht has a fuel capacity of a staggering 762,000 liters. For now at least, it seems that Spend $13 million on a the traditional focus on speed, boat and the word comfort and glamour is destined to ‘cabin’ becomes an prevail over environmental concerns ironic misnomer in the world of luxury yachting.
Alain Maaraoui AT THE
LEBANON’S YACHTING INDUSTRY CATCHES A SECOND WIND lain Maaraoui, founder and chief executive officer of Sea Pros Yachts, is plotting a course for Lebanon’s onceglorious yachting industry, steering it back from stormy water to calmer seas. In addition to his private business, which holds the exclusive rights to distribute Riva, Ferretti, Bertram and other power yachts in the Middle East, he also takes part in the Arab Marine Industries Association, backing construction of new marinas in Lebanon and enthusiastically supporting the return of the country’s yacht manufacturers. Maaraoui beamed with excitement when asked about the recent 2010 Beirut Boat show, which took regional shipyards by surprise with unprecedented demand for yachts from both Lebanese and non-Lebanese buyers. “In the 13 years since we started, I can say that this was the most successful boat show we’ve ever had, in terms of sales, visitors – everything,” he said. With the fall of the euro in recent months, Maaraoui urged sealovers to come aboard and make an investment in yachts, saying: “Normally, you don’t invest in a boat, but now I say invest because in a year or two you can still sell it for the same price. You
will be using the boat and it will not depreciate. That’s why a lot of people are buying boats and I believe it’s a good step.” He added that the economic downturn is actually helping business, as shipyards are overstocked with yachts that they couldn’t sell to their usual buyers after the financial crisis hit and now need to sell off their excess inventory. The Riva brand, which Maaraoui refers to as the “Rolls Royce of the Sea,” is back with a roar and was one of the most highly coveted models at the Beirut Boat Show 2010. Sea Pros Yachts has branches in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Lebanon and recently Egypt and Saudi Arabia, selling a mix of yachts according to varied preferences across the region. “In Kuwait, It’s an area where people don’t have much to do. They enjoy boating, they are [real] boaters. It’s not [because of] the fashion,” the Lebanese yacht maestro explains. “When they use their boat, they like to mix fishing and family uses at the same time. And this is where we sold quite a few Bertrams. It’s a fishing and luxury brand. It’s famous in Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.” Perhaps the newest star yacht on wish lists across the region is the model designed by elite Lebanese designer Elie Saab, the ES117. “I was there when he presented his new boat design in Abu Dhabi [in February]... I’m sure that with the [customer] base that Elie Saab has, he won’t have a problem launching his new style of products,” Maaraoui says.
CONSCIOUSNESS must be more than cosmetic LUXURY FASHION CAN LEAD THE WAY FOR REFORM
hen we buy things in one place, it has repercussions elsewhere… When we put our credit card down we endorse a corporation and their practices… and how it affects hundreds, if not thousands of lives.” Those were the words of director Edward Zwick, whose seminal film “Blood Diamond” and its portrayal of the conflict diamond trade in East Africa sent shockwaves through the world of fashion. The film came at a crucial moment in the fashion industry, at a time when environmental and social awareness had begun to infiltrate the highest echelons of the retail market. A few months later, model and fashion designer Kate Moss came under scrutiny when the British Sunday Times revealed that certain aspects of her range for British brand Topshop were produced in dehumanizing,
sweat-shop like conditions, spurring many brands to increase transparency in order to assure consumers that they were not doing the same. Amidst a rising clamor surrounding global warming, consumers of luxury goods showed surprising sensitivity to such product details as energy costs and sustainability of materials. Three years later, “green” luxury appears to be in style. The accomplishments? Tiffany & Co. has taken a stand against using endangered coral in jewelry. Saks Fifth Avenue pats itself on the back for replacing the lights in its Christmas display with energy efficient LEDs. Lacoste is saving the crocodiles. This may look good on the outside, but like a fake designer handbag the cosmetic steps taken by the retail industry have done little more than polish the rough spots in its image by glossing over embarrassments. If you go below the surface, problems abound. Here’s one example: Back in 2007, the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain released it’s “I’m not a plastic bag line,” intent on stressing the virtues of quality, durable luxury goods over their cheaper disposable counterparts. And, true to its claim, the bag was not, in fact, made of plastic. It was, however, made in a Chinese sweatshop, using unsustainable and unrecyclable materials. Luxury retail as a market segment offers incredible potential for environmental consciousness. First, luxury goods are meant to last, as opposed to so much of what is generated and rejected by our hyper-consumptive society. Second, luxury brands build their reputations on trust and transparency, making them naturally responsive to shifts in the public’s mood. And finally, luxury sets trends for larger markets — if there is to be a flagship for the world of retail, let it be the best of the best. But these changes are far more than simply cosmetic. They require a sea change. And the tide cannot turn until the buyers demand it.