DUBAI — The man responsible for building The Dubai Mall, the world’s largest, is similar to the mayor of a city. He worries about services, is responsible for the employment of tens of thousands of people and feels the pressure to constantly innovate and keep up with the demands of a young and captive audience.
And at over 12 million square feet, the area he presides over is much like a mini metropolis, home to a hospital, ice skating rink, amusement park, mega grocery store and the highest concentration of luxury stores in one place. As the chairman of the $9.3 billion company responsible for building and operating the mall, Mohammed Alabbar of Emaar Properties proudly explains that visitor footfall in 2012 topped 65 million people. This year they expect to have 71 million and $4 billion in revenues.
“Dubai is an access point for 2.5 billion people, when you look at our geographic location. And for tourists from Africa and Asia, fashion and shopping are a critical part of life,” said Alabbar.
Dubai, he says, offers the perfect formula. “We have 205 nationalities coming in here to Dubai. There is an ease of travel, infrastructure is good, and it’s a safe place. I don’t want to think about how many times I’ve gone to Paris and gotten robbed,” he said with a laugh.
He likens the luxurious “fashion avenue” section of the mall to the Champs-Élysées and Fifth Avenue of the East, but quickly points out that demand is higher in Dubai Mall than either of those places. The mall will add 100 new stores by 2015, part of a 1 million square foot expansion.
With the world’s largest mall getting even bigger, will there be a saturation point? Not yet, said Alabbar. “We are hungry here for more.” To him, it boils down to math. “In our part of the world, we have four square meters of retail space per person. Asia has 11. The U.S. has 22.”
Emaar is seizing the opportunity to move beyond Dubai. The company revealed plans to build the largest mall in Istanbul, The Boulevardi Mall, which will have a range of retail and food outlets as well as leisure attractions including a discovery center, underwater zoo, family entertainment complex, ice skating rink and movie theater.
It also started construction on a megamall project in Cairo, the first phase of which will be 500,000 square feet and will contain an Ikea, Marks & Spencer and Toys ‘R’ Us. “Egypt is critical,” he said, referring to the need to revive the embattled nation’s economy. “To plan and build a mall takes five years. We just follow the Dubai strategy — revolution or not, we will keep on building.”
No matter what happens politically, he said, the middle class will grow and those people will need services.
Emaar weathered the storm during the economic downturn and is enjoying its most successful year to date. The 2012 results showed a 9.8 percent increase in net profits to $573.6 million and the company has $167 billion worth of projects in the pipeline.
What is the key to success? “Entertainment and services are key in getting people to spend a lot of time in malls,” said Alabbar. And stay they do in his malls. During the Muslim festive season of Eid, which is celebrated twice a year for several days, The Dubai Mall remains open for 24 hours, making it a mecca for the millions of visitors from across the region.
As the master developer of the entire area around the mall, known as Downtown, Emaar is also behind the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which is strategically linked to the mall. Soon it will be adding an opera house to the area.
Alabbar has an unrelenting attention to detail, getting personally involved in project conception and design, from choosing materials to managing strategic partners.
Well aware of the region’s hunger to associate with big luxury brands, in 2010 he partnered with Giorgio Armani to launch the first Armani Hotel in Dubai. Under the umbrella of Emaar Hotels, he launched the next one in Milan. As the story goes, Alabbar spent a long time courting Armani, convincing him to lend his name and vision to the brand. Similarly, when he realized there was a need for an international brand association for a retail event, he went back to Italy, this time contacting Vogue Italy editor in chief Franca Sozzani with the aim of creating a Vogue Fashion’s Night Out-style experience for Dubai.
“I didn’t know much about Dubai beyond the stereotypes,” said Sozzani. “But Mr. Alabbar was so passionate about it, I felt I needed to come see it.”
After a short scouting trip, she realized Dubai offered tremendous opportunities, signing a strategic partnership agreement for an annual Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience.
Alabbar is passionate about travel. “If I don’t travel every week, I’ll go dumb.” The U.S. in particular is a major source of inspiration. “There is no doubt the birthplace of everything from Hollywood and Starbucks to Twitter and Facebook is the land of innovation,” said the U.S.-educated chairman.
And while he is fiercely competitive, Alabbar also welcomes the competition to beat the world’s tallest and largest records set by his company. “The good news is you always hear about these projects coming up in the East,” he said. “We are all helping shift the world’s attention. We are building a new style of shopping malls, buildings, whatever it may be.”
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews