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YEAREND SPECIAL: Egypt's priestesses of lifestyle luxury: What recession? - Daily News Egypt

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YEAREND SPECIAL: Egypt's priestesses of lifestyle luxury: What recession?

In Egypt, consumer choices have become more refined during a year which was witness to a great expansion in the field of local luxury outlets, but it was a matter of aesthetics and not economics for Egyptians. Whether it is furniture or fashion, it is about selecting the finer things in life, making long term …

In Egypt, consumer choices have become more refined during a year which was witness to a great expansion in the field of local luxury outlets, but it was a matter of aesthetics and not economics for Egyptians. Whether it is furniture or fashion, it is about selecting the finer things in life, making long term investments in one’s wardrobe and one’s home.

Daily News Egypt caught up with three women running three different businesses in Egypt’s luxury market, only to find out that whereas luxury retail is suffering abroad, there is a renaissance of sorts taking place in Egypt.

HIP Boutique, owned and managed by Rania Shaheen, has acquired a stellar reputation both locally and abroad for carrying choice pieces. Starting three years ago as a small concept store within a furniture store, HIP today has three outlets and Shaheen was nominated as one of the top 10 VIP buyers at London Fashion Week recently. She has become part of the buyers’ cognoscenti, invited by Sarah Brown to 10 Downing Street during London Fashion Week’s most exclusive and intimate fashion event.

She is the local retail equivalent of Anna Wintor: she gets designers excited to be stocked in her store and even more enthusiastically, introduce their pieces to the local market by putting on exclusive fashion shows. Such was the case with Matthew Williamson in early December.

She is also on very friendly terms with big names in the business, serving as a sort of fashion consultant and thus, causing many designers to reassess their considerations of the Egyptian consumer.

Her target client is “updated and sophisticated with either a small budget or big budget, who knows what they’re wearing, and I’m going to continue like this, bringing what is abroad to Cairo and that’s it. It’s good to find what you travel to get in Egypt now.

“When the economy was booming, I already had 12 high end designers. I didn’t add high end then, I added medium brands, so my volume expanded with medium range brands. My client base is expanding too so although people’s buying power is less, there are more people buying.

Locally, HIP is where one shops to acquire unique vibrant pieces from brands such as Zac Posen or elegant classics by Lanvin. “Thank God, I don’t see the affects of the recession, particularly because I expanded into [lower price points] and small scale brands.

Shaden Abdel Hak is president of Art of Form, a retail store that sells high end Italian furniture. Opening in June with a big celebratory bang, Abdel Hak was able to bring the biggest names and brands in Italian furniture and interiors to Egypt.

“The client of brand names in fashion is the same client of brand names in furniture, says Abdel Hak. “The opening was fashionable and glamorous but also an artistic collaboration with the brand’s designers.

Missoni Home, Giorgetti, Poliform, and Moroso are the main brands which the store carries, but there are many other brands in the store that offer original pieces that are both beautiful and can be regarded as investment pieces: it is furniture-cum-art; not your Ikea or generic Made in China pieces.

“Since opening in June I’m meeting my [profit target] expectations, some months I’ve even exceeded my expectations but the Egyptian market is not easy to work in.but in the end, it is a very good business. You measure it by real estate. For example, SODIC [an Egyptian real estate developer] is moving thank God, increasing their prices and doing new projects and so we’re also doing very well [alongside them].

When people buy nice homes, they do require nice furniture to fill them with.

What Abdel Hak succeeded in doing this year was impart a particular philosophy. She is vying for a simple and better lifestyle, one with more taste and value for money. “I am ensuring that I’m selling reasonable European prices. If this is what you want, I want it to be reachable and reasonable. I want the Egyptian market to be an important market for these designers and suppliers and care about our lives and our tastes like they started doing for the Russian market. A lot of brands have their changed their identity for [them].

Her latest advertising campaign was a massive production, shooting her furniture on feluccas, downtown in Tahrir Square, in the Sakakini Palace and in the desert by Wadi Rayaan. The images are beautiful, and suppliers have gotten so excited about having their designs promoted in the Egyptian market with such ingenious advertising campaigns that brands are approaching Abdel Hak to further tap into the Egyptian market.

Future plans include a shop in Gouna to be opened soon, and a section in high end retail store Beymen so as to tap into a younger market closer to downtown.

Ola Dajani is one of three partners who brought the Turkish store Beymen to Egypt four years ago. She is the face of the brand here in Egypt, and one can often spot her stylishly dressed and taking care of business throughout the store on any given day. With a background in finance, and an MBA from Columbia, Dajani brings a great sense of business acumen to the game.

Young and ambitious, her efforts with Beymen have been able to change shopping habits in Egypt, to the degree that shopping in Beymen has allowed many to disregard shopping abroad. “What we’ve done for the market and paved the road for is making shopping acceptable in Egypt.

“The market is bigger than people think, says Dajani, “And customers are very diverse.

Dajani’s target is to be as inclusive as possible; “[Efforts have been made] this year to focus on contemporary brands, diversifying the collection, and targeting young clientele.

But it is also an effort that is being made by designers and not just the vendors explains Dajani to provide pieces of better quality. Prices have decreased slightly recently too.

But locals’ obsession with Beymen is even deeper: Beymen’s buyers have impeccable taste.

2008 was a record year for Beymen, but profits have decreased between 10 to 12 percent in 2009 states Dajani who seems nonplussed: “We are part of a big company that can back us up – we have financial and management resources to push us and to carry us through even during our difficult times.

“The interesting phenomenon is that the super rich are still the super rich and it’s the people in the middle who have been affected, says Dajani.

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