DOHA, Qatar — Los Angeles-based designer Tadashi Shoji opened his first boutique in the Middle East in Doha. To celebrate the occasion the designer hosted a small group of the country’s royals and fashion elite for a private dinner this week. Guests included Desert Mannequin blogger, Anum Bashir, as well as members of the Qatari royal family.
The boutique is part of a franchise partnership with Qatar-based Al Mana Group. “For international locations, I don’t know the regional market well like a partner would, so I prefer to work with a partner like Wissam.”
Wissam Al Mana, executive director who oversees Al Mana’s luxury and retail division, said bringing Shoji to the region was an obvious choice. Al Mana, who is also a partner in Saks department stores in the Middle East said it was the success there that spurred him to meet Shoji in New York in 2014 to explore a partnership.
“Tadashi’s brand was the number-one performing contemporary evening brand in our portfolio at Saks. Of all the brands we were carrying in the department store, it was ahead by far. It was outselling everybody by five to one.”
Shoji credits part of his success in the market is the large variety of styles and sizes he offers. “We put out between 70 to 100 styles every season, and our production is very easily changed for regional needs.”
He described market visits as “enlightening” and a vital part of growing his business. “Traveling like this is a joy for me and especially meeting with customers.”
Anything that surprised him? “Instead of long sleeves we have been doing three-quarter sleeves for the last four to five years across global markets, but that’s not selling as well here. They want longer sleeves. Also they want dresses not showing the knees. Those kinds of things I can accommodate for this region. I’m a designer and a businessman, whatever pleases customer, if we can do it, we want to do it.”
At the dinner, Shoji regaled his clients with stories of his early days in Los Angeles 35 years ago, describing himself as an “accidental designer.”
“I initially wanted to be an artist but then I realized I couldn’t live the life of a starving artist. I ended up in LA. I was on a tourist visa and I wanted to stay. The easiest way was to get a student visa. I went with a friend who was going to fashion school and I liked it.”