PARIS — Villa Moda, the Kuwait-based luxury retailer, has new investors and is embarking on a three-year, $200 million drive to open more stores in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

“We think that the markets in Europe and North America are saturated,” said Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, who remains chairman and president of the company and its majority shareholder. “The opportunities lie in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.”

This story first appeared in the June 18, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Al-Sabah revealed to WWD that he recently sold 45 percent of Villa Moda Lifestyle to several strategic Kuwait-based investors, including a 10 percent holding to Bayan Investment Co., 10 percent to Commercial Real Estate Co. and 10 percent to a group of top clients. The remaining 15 percent stake was split between several institutional investors.

The new investors were disclosed just as a new Villa Moda, the third, bows in Qatar this month.

Over the next three years, Al-Sabah and his partners expect to invest upward of $200 million in their expansion drive, not only as retailers but as developers. The plan is to buy large properties and help establish destination luxury neighborhoods in emerging markets.

“In all of the ventures, we’re buying the property next door,” he said, citing Mumbai, India, as an example. “We are now geared toward making a margin and profit from real estate and retail together.”

Although the Villa Moda location slated to open in India last spring has been delayed, Al-Sabah said his project has been expanded to give the entire street a facelift and establish it as a “Fifth Avenue” for the city.

His goal is to quickly triple the Villa Moda network, with a public offering coming within the next 30 months, market conditions permitting.

Moving swiftly in that latter region, Al-Sabah revealed he is heading to Vietnam and Singapore shortly to investigate possible Villa Moda franchises there.

Al-Sabah has already identified his next project: a 50-room boutique hotel and fashion complex in Bahrain, where elements of the store and hotel will intermingle. Also on the books for 2005 is an accessories-focused outlet in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Al-Sabah said he received an invitation from Queen Rania of Jordan to explore opening a retail concept in her country.

Meanwhile, the new 4,300-square-foot Villa Moda at the Ritz Carlton in Doha, Qatar, has received an enthusiastic reception by fashion-obsessed locals, according to Al-Sabah.

“They only want rich, expensive, runway looks. We were totally shocked. For them, basics doesn’t mean anything,” he said, citing eveningwear as the best-selling category from such vendors as Valentino, Gucci, Pucci, Chloé, Dolce & Gabbana and Emanuel Ungaro.

Al-Sabah noted that most women come shopping in their traditional black abbayas — offset with showy designer accessories. “They know exactly what’s the look: the hottest bag, the latest shoe,” he said.

An opening party for Qatar is being planned in tandem with the Mubai opening, slated for October. As reported, the Qatar unit is expected to generate first-year sales of $3.8 million, with India pulling in about $7.1 million. Meanwhile, Al-Sabah said sales at the six-month-old Dubai store are running 45 percent ahead of plan, outperforming the Kuwait flagship.

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