Would Sir Like His Goat Wrapped?
Jun 8th 2013
DUBAI’S rich will soon have yet another way to flaunt their wealth, when the Burj al-Arab hotel starts selling its guests custom-made 24-carat gold iPads. The Middle East’s big spenders still do much of their shopping on foreign jaunts, as they have done since the oil money started flowing in the 1970s, but now they also have plenty of places back home to splash their cash. And the Gulf’s malls are drawing foreign shoppers from Russia, India and Africa, too. Bain & Company reckons that luxury spending in the region grew by 10% last year, to just over $8 billion, a bit less than half the amount spent in mainland China.
As elsewhere, wealthy Arabs like to wear famous brands. But they are especially keen on one-upmanship and novelty. According to Patrick Chalhoub, boss of Chalhoub Group, a luxury retailer, customers increasingly know just what they want, and want something different. Selina Dixon of the Abu Dhabi office of Quintessentially, a “lifestyle management” company, says: “It’s like: ‘You have a Maserati? OK, I ordered a Bentley four-by-four’.” For younger consumers, the more exotic the better, explains Ms Dixon: “People say: Can you get me a Bengali tiger for decoration [at a party]. Or, I need a pygmy goat as a present—and it has to be this height and colour.”
Muslim women usually wear a long coat or Abaya (cloak) over their clothes, so external accessories like handbags and sunglasses (and perfumes) are popular. In the five years to 2012 sales of accessories grew by 74%, and watches and jewellery by 65%, in the United Arab Emirates, says Euromonitor, a research firm.
The conservativeness of Arab society also drives demand for custom-made entertainment. Bain found that worldwide the rich increasingly want to spend their money on experiences rather than objects. But nowhere is that more so than in Gulf countries, where places to fraternise in the evening are limited. So wealthy Saudis will pay dearly to have a famous footballer make a guest appearance at their parties, or a chef from a renowned restaurant give a cookery demonstration. In the Arab luxury market, then, brands like Beckham can be as valuable as Cartier, Gucci or Rolls-Royce.