Dubai emerges as new fashion classic

The fashion branded hotel, Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast will soon open doors in Dubai

Already regarded as the playground for architectural world, Dubai is also fast turning into the top spot for designer hotels.

Even as news broke last month that top designer Roberto Cavalli is to open a Dh60 million superclub at the Fairmont Hotel Dubai, the designer himself told media that he is looking ahead to the possible launch of a Cavalli Hotel.

In doing so, he will be joining a host of other fashion designers who have already collaborated on hotel projects in Dubai and around the world. The most notable of these is perhaps Giorgio Armani. The first Armani hotel – part of a series the designer is developing with the UAE’s Emaar Properties – is set to open in the as yet incomplete Burj Dubai, now officially the tallest building in the world.

Along with 160 guest rooms and suites, the hotel will include 145 luxury furnished apartments, two restaurants, a nightclub and a spa. Guests staying at the property will truly be able to live the designer life: the rooms are being furnished with a specially designed line of Armani Casa products, and with grey floors of Italian marble and navy silk furnishings, the rooms will reflect the designer’s signature understatement. While the hotel was initially expected to open in early 2009, a shortage of building materials in the UAE is likely to see this date pushed back.

Also under construction in Dubai is a Palazzo Versace hotel. The world’s first fashion branded hotel, Palazzo Versace opened in Australia’s Gold Coast in 2005, and is a favourite with regional royals and celebrities. With 200 plus suites and 70 condominiums, the creekfront Dubai property, being built by the Emirates Sunland Group, is expected to stay true to the lavish design lines favoured by Donatella Versace, including blue marble floors, and, as in Australia, gold-plated China, satin sheets and baroque furniture. Construction has reportedly started on the project, but a final opening date is not available.

And this summer, designer Karl Lagerfeld inked a deal with Dubai Infinity Holdings to design a hotel (tentatively called Hotel Moda) and 80 residential villas as a part of the Isla Moda development. Billed the world’s first fashion island, Isla Moda is to be sited on The World archipelago and will feature design studios, retail spaces and restaurants. No design details of the reported $50 million project are available yet.

All are part of a trend that has seen designers branch out into the experience business. And hotel companies have rushed to take advantage of this trend, signing deals with top fashion houses to offer a new level of product in an increasingly differentiated market.

Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts was one of the first movers, for instance, tying up with luxury jewellers and fashion goods manufacturer Bulgari to launch the first Bulgari hotel in Milan in 2005.

The Rezidor hospitality group partnered with Missoni to launch Missoni hotels in Edinburgh and Kuwait. Byblos, Ferragamo and Bulgari are other fashion brands that already run hotels in Italy.

Other designers jumping onto the bandwagon include Christian Lacroix and Azzedine Alaïa, both of whom have designed boutique spaces in Paris.

Dubai has already attracted some of the world’s top architects, who are building iconic commercial developments and leisure attractions. Among them are Iraqi-British diva Zaha Hadid, Dutch legend Rem Koolhaas as well as other celebrity architects such as Adrian Smith, who has designed the Burj Dubai, Sir Norman Foster and Gordon Gill.

Dubai enjoys the second highest hotel occupancy rates in the world, after London, with gross operating profits per room pegged at 33 per cent. With room rates at these hotels ringing up bills of $500++ per night, developers are only too keen to cash in. And as the Gulf continues to boom in the face of a worldwide slowdown, more designers – and architects – are finding buyers for their work here in Dubai.

Like Gordon McKinnon, executive vice president of brands at Rezidor Hotel Group, told Forbes magazine, it’s easier to bring in investors and guests when they are already familiar with the brand. “It takes you to market so much quicker. Because they know what the Missoni label looks like, it’s easier to envision what the hotel will look like.” And to estimate profit margins. 


By Clark Kelly