Onwards & Upwards


Libby Banks | May 10, 2010

Dubai has become the battle ground for the fashion designer hotelier – but who will win

Last week Armani unveiled a striking 160-room hotel in Dubai. Set within the world’s tallest building, and with no expense was spared, it’s the first in a planned collection of hotels, resorts and residences in key cities around the world to be created in partnership with Emaar Properties.

Alabbar has agreed to build or lease properties around the world and to run up to a dozen hotels for Armani at a cost of up to £1billion.

Of course fashion design-branded hotels are nothing new, but as branding exercise, Armani’s hotel does push the concept into new territory. Each of the hotels planned acts as a live-in, real life advertisement for the Armani brand that guests will pay to experience (rooms at approximately $1200 a night and rise to $12,000. The Dubai hotel is used to showcase Armani’s homewares, cosmetics, spa products, flowers, fragrances and even chocolates. In addition there’s an Armani cafe and nightclub. Boutiques in the hotel sell his clothing and accessories.

Why Dubai? As the city emerges under the weight of £100billion of debt, it’s hardly an appealing starting point for a new business endeavour, but Armani isn’t the only fashion house with hospitality designs on the city. Donatella Versace is also to open a hotel – complete with air-conditioned beach – for Dubai’s well-heeled later this year. Meanwhile Elie Saab is working with Tiger Woods on his the luxury golf complex, due to welcome guests in 2011. The couturier is to start creating a boutique style hotel at the Tiger Woods Dubai resort. There have also been whispers of Karl Lagerfeld turning his gloved hand to hospitality in the desert city. Of course many of these deals were struck long before Dubai’s fortunes (temporarily) crumbled in the sands, but the very fact that the Armani and Versace – and their respective backers – have pressed on, suggests that this is not simply misguided optimism.

In a place where hotels are at the heart of social interaction, perhaps these ventures in Dubai are less about risky brand diversification than a brand experience that meets the needs of its locality. The next Armani hotel is expected to open in April next year in Milan, while its Marrakech resort should open soon after. Due to Dubai’s unique hotel environment, whether the Armani Hotel at Burj Dubai is an indicator of how the fashion house’s hotel chain will fair elsewhere remains to be seen, but what it does demonstrate is the potential that hospitality can offer luxury brands when it comes to creating the ultimate live brand experience.

The National – 5 May 10
The Times – 2 May 10
The Economist – 28 April 10