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Out Of The Public Eye, Arab Women Power Haute Couture

[Editor's comment: American economist and sociologist Thorsten Veblen wrote a brilliant piece titled "The Theory of the Leisure Class" (1899) in which he expounded on "the conspicuous consumption" and waste of the Gilded Age.

The article below is a fine example of conspicuous consumption of the royal and wealthy families of the Gulf.]

Generally at weddings in Gulf countries, men and women are split into two separate groups, attendees say. Thousands of women gather together in one big ball room - all wearing haute couture - and some are not afraid to wear provocative and revealing outfits.

"Some women go for deep cleavage or even transparent fabrics," said Reem [The daughter of a wealthy construction baron], who regularly attends such weddings and buys between 30-40 designer dresses a year. At a royal wedding, the dress code calls for more restraint in terms of style, neckline and hemline.

Valued at €700m ($930m), designer clothing is by far the biggest segment of the luxury goods industry representing 42% of overall luxury goods sales in the UAE, the biggest buyer among Gulf states, with women's designer dresses and skirts leading the way, Euromonitor International said in a report published in June.

"For us, with China, the Middle East is the market that is growing the fastest," Hermes Chief Executive Patrick Thomas said at Paris Fashion Week. "These markets for a long time preferred a more ostentatious type of luxury and now want a more refined and discreet style," he added.

Thomas said the Middle East only started to pick up strongly two to three years ago and now generates 30-35% in annual sales growth a year.

For Dior, Chanel, Valentino, Stephane Rolland and other luxury labels favored by affluent Middle Eastern women, the biggest challenge is keeping a detailed track record of who buys what, to avoid selling the same dress to members of the same circles, attending the same event.

"A good retailer must know the whole family of the buyer and ask her as many questions as possible as we are not allowed to make mistakes," said a Dior sales assistant based in Western Europe, specializing in the brand's Middle Eastern clientele.

Very often, the race was on for the most expensive dress, not for the most elegant or stylish, she said, declining to be named.

With weddings lasting three, and sometimes up to seven, days, each client needs at least 5-10 different outfits - good news for fashion companies but complicated to keep track of. "Of course, we cannot centralize everything but we try," said the Dior sales assistant.

For Middle Eastern women, couture is a symbol of social status and success. At parties and weddings, they want to shine and impress potential mothers-in-law scouting for eligible brides.

Fashion experts say Middle Eastern women opt for dresses which use a lot of crystals, gems or heavily embroidered and embellished fabrics.

"I had the opportunity to see a wedding that was recently held here in Dubai. 4,000 women were invited to the reception and everybody in the room was wearing haute couture," said Simon Lock, who works as creative director for Dubai Fashion Week. "And there are lots and lots of weddings to attend. The wedding season is very expensive here.

"I have known of many occasions when a couturier will be invited to a private home for a showing. The hostess will buy maybe 20, 30 couture outfits for a season," says Lock, adding that prices start at $3,000 and can reach $75,000. A Dior wedding dress can fetch $1m.

Dior, Chanel and many other major luxury brands also stage private shows at hotels in the Middle East or in the comfort of the home of their most regular customers.

"Royal families are our buyers," said Dubai-based fashion designer Rabia Z. "They will call us for an appointment and we go as often as they ask us to come. They love the fact that we give them the option of changing the color, or making it shorter or longer."

But many prefer to fly to Paris, Milan or London than shop locally so they can have more choice and see up-to-date collections, fashion insiders say.

The shopping season usually starts in Italy in June. In July and August, it tends to concentrate around the Riviera, where many Gulf women spend holidays, and it finishes in September in Paris and London.

Qatar, the world's richest nation per capita, is one of the few economies in the world enjoying strong economic growth with a GDP growth forecast of 19% for this year, according to analysts.

Qatar is organizing its first fashion week with a target date of March 2012. One of the biggest supporters of the fashion event is Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, the glamorous wife of the emir of Qatar who regularly features in Gulf tabloids along with Queen Rania of Jordan.

Sheikha Mozah - regarded as one of the world's biggest buyers of couture, according to fashion experts - is also behind the creation of the Qatar Luxury Group in 2008. Based in Doha, it hired designer Stephane Rolland to create a fashion brand from scratch that it is aiming to unveil next spring.

The group, financially supported by the Qatar Foundation the Sheikha created, made its first acquisition this year when it snapped up Paris-listed leather goods maker Le Tanneur for €26m, and is on the lookout for more European brands.

The group is headed by Gregory Couillard, a former executive at the world's biggest luxury group LVMH, which owns Dior and Louis Vuitton. Couillard declined several requests for an interview

Source: arabianbusiness.com , October 6, 2011

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