Harrods has gone into partnership with Saudi designer and podcaster Hatem Alakeel for eight episodes of his audio-visual show, Gems of Arabia. The podcast aims to highlight the "shimmering hidden gems" of the Arab world.
"We will be collaborating with authentic inspiring personalities that change perceptions, elevate the narrative, break the cliches and reiterate the important bridge that Harrods is creating with authenticity in Saudi Arabia," Alakeel tells The National.
So far, Alakeel has hosted royals Princess Nourah Al Faisal and Princess Reema bint Bandar, along with local artists, including designers Nadine Kanso and Honayda Serafi, and will continue to speak to young musicians and influencers in the region.
"It’s an honour to be considered as one of the Harrods Game Changers. I am grateful to Harrods for recognising Gems of Arabia as a key platform to bridge the West with Saudi Arabia," he says.
Following the disruption to travel caused by the pandemic, Sarah Myler, international business development and communications director at Harrods, tells The National that the famed London department store "wants to forge ever closer ties to the region" and work with partners who have their finger on the pulse of this fast-moving and exciting region. She said that the Middle East has become "a second home" for Harrods.
Saudi customers are one of the brand’s largest groups in terms of numbers, while the Middle East accounts for a hugely important proportion of Harrods' revenue and growth. "Our Knightsbridge store has been a popular retail attraction for Middle Eastern visitors since the 1970s, when clientele began spending summers in London and travelling to Harrods as the widely recognised 'best store in London'," Myler says.
"Harrods has a long-standing and close relationship with the Middle East," she says. "Our clients have been travelling to London for a long time and we know the brand holds a close place in their heart. To us, these partners are ‘game changers’ — they are brands and individuals with whom Harrods can launch exciting and exclusive partnerships that showcase the future of luxury in the Middle East. Our ambition is to support these game changers through our global perspective and reach, through our stage and wide network of contacts."
The initiative builds on similar work Harrods has carried out in China, which has focused on ensuring its presence in global markets that are "meaningful" to the brand, and built on co-operation with local brands and individuals. Alakeel started his journey as a fashion designer with his label Toby, which designs thobes for men.
"For us, Hatem is a brilliant example of an industry game changer," Myler says.
The goal of the Game Changer initiative is to build a community of like-minded individuals in local markets and support the next generation of talent in the region, by providing key opinion leaders with a global platform and wider network of contacts.
"We want innovative voices with interesting perspectives, all of whom can drive change and conversations on the future of luxury in the Middle East," she says.
"There is a long-standing, strong relationship between Harrods and the Middle East. We have seen the region in particular return to growth post-pandemic, with a huge number of our clients returning to the UK market following the removal of travel restrictions. We have just accounted a return to profitability and growth post the pandemic, and the Middle Eastern region has been pivotal to this."
With its rich heritage and culture, and endless drive to innovate and inspire, the Saudi luxury market is continuously overflowing with opportunity, and is "therefore a huge focus for us at Harrods," she adds.
"There is so much talent and inspiration across the region that we want to support and showcase on a global scale."
The special editions of Gems of Arabia were recorded at Harrods in Knightsbridge and Alakeel continues to record podcasts in Saudi Arabia.