MILAN — Vowing to redefine the concept of one-stop luxury shopping, Kuwaiti retailer Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah plans to construct an 11-story emporium in his hometown of Kuwait City, offering everything from top-tier European brands to the chance to dabble in the stock market, store heirloom jewelry — or even get your teeth whitened.
Al-Sabah said he's secured $100 million in financing to realize "Metamorph," a futuristic building that will blend the Italian brands featured at his Villa Moda stores with French and other international names.
The 270,000-square-foot behemoth, slated for a soft opening in early 2007, will likely replace his existing Villa Moda flagship, a massive glass cube of a luxury mall opened with great fanfare three years ago in a remote dockside location.
However, Al-Sabah, whose retail development projects continue to multiply, said he also might convert that location to a "home and design" concept.
Al-Sabah unveiled his plans, with the retail concept and architecture all conceived in Japan, in an exclusive interview, also reiterating his bullish outlook for luxury in the region — flush with oil money and newfound political stability.
"We are proceeding at full speed," he said. "It is a very happy moment in the Middle East."
Although the retailer, attending the Milan collections this week, has delayed plans for a Mumbai, India, location for Villa Moda, he is pressing ahead with new outlets closer to home, also disclosing plans to open a 3,800-square-foot Villa Moda in the middle of the spice market in Damascus next spring.
He said sales at Villa Moda, which also operates locations in Qatar and Dubai, are above plan, currently totaling $45 million.
The new location, with substantially larger shop-in-shops for brands such as Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Etro and Marni, should bump up his Kuwait figures by about 30 to 40 percent, he said. In addition, Al-Sabah is in discussions with rival importers to bring in such brands as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermès, Cartier, Chopard and Coach, among others. He said Metamorph would be operated by his real estate development arm, not Villa Moda.The high-tech building, with a central atrium and a forest surrounded by a translucent external skin, is designed to engage visitors and keep them entertained — and spending — all day. Features in Metamorph, detailed in a glossy, coffee table book for potential partners, include a chocolate shop and restaurant, 54-lane bowling alley, a "luxury" movie theater, an Apple computer store and cafe, a gourmet deli, record shops and bookstores. The range of services promised range from cosmetic surgery and dental treatments to an array of restaurants, plus an expansive gymnasium and spa.
Al-Sabah said he also plans to develop limited-edition products on a monthly timetable, displaying them in a gallery-like space.
"Every shopping environment is so boring these days," he said. "We hope to be able to replicate the concept elsewhere in the region."
Phase two of the project, in the bustling Salmya district, calls for a new adjacent building to house an art center, museum and a retail concept based on young designers that he likened to Tokyo's mecca of young cool, La Foret.
One the Middle East's most vocal cheerleaders, Al-Sabah said Kuwait has scores of hotel projects in the works and a recent surge in foreign investment and privatization. He said women, only recently allowed to trade shares on the country's stock exchange, already generate a monthly volume of some $350 million with an estimated 28,000 active traders.
Al-Sabah also spies great potential in Syria, which only recently legalized the importation of ready-made garments, accessories and leather goods. Previously, he said, wealthy Syrians did most of their luxury shopping in neighboring Lebanon.
His Villa Moda location there, in a 17th-century stable modernized with a steel and glass atrium, is slated to sell an eclectic mix of European fashions and accessories, mixed with selections of local fabrics, antiques and home objects.
Meanwhile, Al-Sabah said he's also pressing ahead with plans to launch a fashion magazine next year to cover the Middle Eastern fashion scene.
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