Villa Moda, the Kuwaiti retailer that helped put the Middle East on the international fashion radar, is gearing up to go global with a powerful partner, WWD has learned.
The Dubai International Financial Center, which is owned by the Dubai government, has taken a majority stake in Villa Moda, which operates seven multibrand emporiums in the Gulf region and some 50 designer shops for brands from Gucci and Prada to Dolce & Gabbana, as franchises or joint ventures. Villa Moda is quoted on the Kuwait Exchange.
The deal speaks to the Middle East’s rapid transformation from a robust market for foreign retail brands to an acquirer of global brands with international ambitions. It follow’s last year’s acquisition of Barneys New York by Dubai-based Istithmar.
DIFC bills itself as one of the world’s fastest growing financial centers, angling for the status of New York or Hong Kong. It is also the largest shareholder of Deutsche Bank and a strategic shareholder in Sweden’s OMX stock exchange.
The deal also represents a chance for Villa Moda founder Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, one of the region’s most high-profile retail pioneers, to leverage his vision on the world stage in tandem with the international ambitions of the DIFC.
“We’re looking at Europe, America and Asia very closely,” Al-Sabah said in an exclusive interview. “If you want to deliver your message, it has to be done in a powerful way.”
Financial terms were not disclosed, however, market sources estimate annual revenues at Villa Moda to be in excess of 60 million euros, or $86.3 million at current exchange rates.
Al-Sabah, a front-row fixture at European shows, is absent from Milan Fashion Week in observance of Ramadan. He said he would remain chairman of Villa Moda Group and its creative director, however, a chief executive officer will be appointed to help steer the company’s expansion.
Al-Sabah said international expansion would proceed in tandem with a broader push into the Middle East region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, along with a shift from what he called “two-dimensional retailing into three-dimensional retailing.”
He explained that would mean incorporating arts and culture, well-being and lifestyle services and experiences, plus real estate development, into the retail mix. Villa Moda already partners with cutting-edge architects and designers, and mixes design objects, books and luxury foods with a range of international fashions in its Villa Moda emporiums, including a new Bahrain unit by Dutch design wizard Marcel Wanders. (See story on this page.)
Asked what precipitated the sale, Al-Sabah said family-run businesses have trouble stretching beyond a regional scope, especially in today’s difficult business clients. Representatives of DIFC will replace Al-Sabah family members on the board of Villa Moda Lifestyle, he added.
While Dubai developers and entrepreneurs are famous for “the largest, tallest, biggest, widest,” the DIFC has a different orientation, Al-Sabah said. “That’s not their game. There are for luxury, for niche, for quality. We are not looking at rolling out hundreds of Villa Modas around the world.”
DIFC acquired Villa Moda via its lifestyle division and recently added a luxury boulevard called Gate Village adjacent to its iconic DIFC Gate building. Villa Moda is constructing two units in the complex, with Spanish industrial designer Jaime Hayot on board for the project. Freestanding units for Marni and Dries Van Noten operated by Villa Moda have already opened in the complex, and boutiques by Martin Margiela, Nina Ricci, Vivienne Westwood, Jil Sander, Anya Hindmarch and others are coming soon.
But the Villa Moda brand will be Al-Sabah’s global calling card, with energetic merchandising reminiscent of modern souks, innovative store designs and Middle Eastern hospitality. “Retail should focus not only on selling products. It should be more educational, artistic and generous,” he said. “It’s taking the retail environment and making it a theater where you sell dreams.”
London’s newly opened @designmuseum will look back on the life and work of Azzedine Alaïa in a show that the designer helped to curate before he died of heart failure last month. The retrospective, which Alaïa had worked on with Mark Wilson, chief curator of the @groningermuseum, will look at the impact of his work worldwide. The show, “Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier,” will run from May 10 to October 7. Read more about the exhibit on WWD.com #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @zefashioninsider)
@Pharrell and his wife Helen Lasichanh were among the stars that came out to celebrate @rimowa’s first pop-up concept shop. The space, which is located on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, draws inspiration from airport luggage carousels and lounge areas – and features the company’s luggage and accessories. If the pop-up is successful it could pave the way for addition temporary shops throughout the world. #wwdfashion (📷: Owen Kolasinski/BFA)
@carineroitfeld celebrated @crfashionbook’s first calendar last night with a dinner party at Spring Place in Manhattan. Photographed by @stevenkleinstudio, the calendar takes on a fitness theme and features @joansmalls, @gigihadid, @danielle_herrington_ – pictured here – and more. “[Carine Roitfeld] wanted me to feel sexy and she wanted me to be myself and feel it out on my own and do what I felt was right,” said Herrington, aka Miss October. #wwdeye
@saintrecords and @virgilabloh last night at @americanexpress’ “A Night With Success Makers” event. “I always bring it back to community because without that I wouldn’t have the courage,” said Knowles when asked how she has gotten where she is now. Read more highlights from their conversation on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @lizdoupnik)
This Just In: Industry sources have told WWD that Anastasia Soare is rumored to be considering selling her beauty business, @anastasiabeverlyhills. According to those sources, Soare has tapped investment bank Imperial Capital to explore sale options for her eponymous beauty brand –– and with at least $340 million in net sales, this would be a big deal. Put in context of other recent transactions for makeup companies, Soare’s price tag could be in the billions if she were to sell the whole thing. #wwdnews #wwdbeauty (📷: @clint_spaulding)
@assouline’s latest book, “The Spirit of Bentley: Be Extraordinary” captures the adventurous attitudes and opulent lifestyles of @bentleymotors’ most creative owners and enthusiasts throughout the U.K. The 292-page hardcover has a section dedicated to showing its team of skilled artisans and photos of its most colorful owners, from George Bamford to designer @alicetemperley, pictured here by Aline Coquelle. #wwdeye
@google released its report on the most popular search terms this year. For fashion brands, the list was led by @gucci, the luxury brand that stunned the market last October when it pledged to stop using fur. Runner ups were @supremenewyork and @fashionnova, along with more established brands like @louisvuitton, @chanelofficial and @ysl. #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
In yet another fashion show shuffle, @elleryland is moving its show in sync with the Paris couture calendar — though the brand is still keeping one foot on the city’s ready-to-wear schedule. Their runway show in January will coincide with the launch of a new strategy: designing two main collections each year instead of four, which will then be released in four drops. “As we all know, the system needs to change. We need to show sooner to give time back to artisans and designers to do what they do best — create,” said founder Kym Ellery. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
@maxmara’s classic 101801 coat was the cornerstone of its pre-fall 2018 collection. The design team expanded the traditional double-breasted, kimono-sleeved style into a trapeze coat, lean belted styles and a peacoat and presented them in monochromatic looks – like the camel one pictured here. #wwdfashion #prefall18 (📷: George Chinsee)