BEIRUT: Luxury is on the Rise


Rony Zeidan | July 21, 2011

According to Rony Zeidan, founder and chief creative officer of communications agency RO New York

According to Rony Zeidan, founder and chief creative officer of communications agency RO New York

On a recent trip to Beirut, I got to witness the formation of the latest Lebanese government, and watch the country move forward with it’s main concerns revolving around whether or not they could get Wireless internet for their new Apple laptops, and what couture show they will be attending in Paris this week. In a way, it is refreshing to see that the overall mentality is much more lifestyle focused than war focused.

In recent years, a lot of luxury brands have opened shop in glitzy downtown Beirut, as an alternative Middle Eastern hub to infamous Dubai. Newcomers include: Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Dior, Hermes, Bottega Veneta, Tom Ford, Carolina Herrera, Bvlgari, Girard-Perregaux, Piaget, The Four Seasons Hotel, Le Gray Hotel… to name a few.

This welcomed international invasion sits alongside some of the strong local luxury brands and retailers like Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Abed Mahfouz, Zoughaib jewelers, Aishti, and more….

For a country whose economy relies predominantly on tourism, it is no surprise that luxury brands have been setting up shop in Beirut for the past 2 years, while at the same time expanding their much larger endeavors in China.

And that’s just retail. If you’ve been to Beirut lately, you might find that it is a visual hybrid of 3 cities: Part Istanbul in the center, part Athens in the suburbs, and part downtown Miami by the seafront with the tall glittering glass high towers.

“ Istanbul + Miami + Athens = Beirut ”

Luxury is spreading at a speedy record and raising the real estate value 1000 folds. If you are thinking of investing in a luxury pied-a-terre on the Beirut sea front, expect to fork out up to $16,000 a square meter. If you’re thinking a smaller apartment more inland, plan on a few million dollars for a nice flat. With prices so high, it seems the economy is doing just fine. For a country whose average salary barely breaks the $1500/month ceiling, one can understand who is investing in real estate and couture gowns.

As the west is trickling into Beirut, a reverse effect is taking place with the infiltration of Lebanese fashion labels to the west. The known red carpet designers showcased couture collections, in Paris in Jul,y with celebrity packed front rows. From the offical “federation francaise de la couture” members:

To the additional guests:

Alongside Georges Chakra & Basil Soda.

This exchange of luxury dialogue per se, is a healthy one, and it provides a genuine touch for both sides when it comes to their main target audience: the wealthy Gulf residents who see Beirut as a luxury playground. It is still a risky ground to play in, and in the recent months, the Arab Spring revolutions, and the lack of a government have not been favorable to businesses. That’s nothing new to the Lebanese brands who revert back to their old ways of business: packing up a few trunks, and setting up temporary satellite shops in the Gulf region, to cater to the wealthy Arab clients… Now that’s luxury.

Maybe western brands, should look into some of these business habits in order to navigate properly through the current complex Middle Eastern market. If they persist, success will surely follow.