From Giorgio Armani to Elie Saab, why luxury brands are building real estate empires

High-end designers increasingly turn their talents to constructing fashionable homes, with the UAE's market top of the trend

Burj Binghatti Jacob & Co Residences is expected to become the world’s tallest residential tower when it opens in 2026. Photo: Jacob & Co
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The real estate market in the UAE is booming, particularly in the ultra-high-end sector where sales of prime villas grew 14.42 per cent in the past quarter compared to last year, according to the Dubai Land Department.

The UAE is a land of opportunity for potential developers, encouraging established brands from other industries to turn their focus towards the prospect of venturing into the high-end real estate segment.

With the luxury property sector in the UAE and several wider regions worldwide thriving, high-end brands are shifting their focus towards the resplendent real estate arena, putting their names to commercial and residential projects and diversifying their companies to create a 360-brand experience. While nurturing client relations remains pivotal, the primary incentive behind these ambitious ventures is the financial rewards, far surpassing the allure of a $5,000 handbag. In the UAE, some property prices are at an all-time high, with soaring real estate values creating the perfect stage for luxury houses to take their brand to new levels.

“Luxury living is all-encompassing,” says Daniel Hadi, chief executive of Engel & Volkers Dubai. “People who own a luxury car will likely wear a luxury watch. If they own expensive art pieces, they want them displayed in their luxury home. If the finer things interest you, one tends to go hand-in-hand with the other.”

Luxury-branded homes effortlessly transform this aspiration into reality, ushering the ultra-affluent clientele into an immersive realm of luxury living; from branded interiors, to opulent furnishings and bespoke internal fit-outs – brands are creating a full lifestyle experience.

“We are in an age where exclusivity, quality and superior experience matter the most to people, and that’s what luxury is all about. It’s natural to see this convergence of prestigious brands with home ownership as the luxury real estate market evolves worldwide,” Hadi explains.

The allure of these partnerships transcends beyond the big names.

“Real estate developers who align with luxury brands will benefit from the reputation and prestige these brands carry among broad audiences,” says Hadi.

"With the high number of international investors in the UAE, having a well-known brand associated with a project brings an important element of trust."

And when done right, partnering with brands “usually brings higher returns and has higher resale value, making it attractive to investors", and is therefore a lucrative partnership for both parties.

But what is the secret recipe to success?

One of the first brands to dip its toe into the real estate market was Giorgio Armani. In 2005, the Italian fashion house partnered with Emaar Properties in Dubai to develop Armani Hotel Dubai and Armani Residences in Burj Khalifa.

The two companies worked together to create 144 luxury apartments, designed and furnished by Armani, with units initially selling for up to $2,500 per square foot. Later, in 2011, they collaborated again to open Armani Hotel Milan, a flagship property for the Italian house in its native city.

Today, almost two decades on, the partnership lives on. In March last year, Giorgio Armani revealed plans for a hotel in Diriyah, Riyadh, partnering with Diriyah Gate Development Authority and Emaar Hospitality Group, which will manage the property.

The third Armani property globally will be designed and developed in collaboration with the designer and his in-house interior design team.

Once complete, it will include a 70-room hotel and 18 self-contained ultra-luxury Armani Residences – designed and furnished by the brand – with spacious interiors and outdoor pools, landscaped terraces and rooftops.

“This is a pioneering project that was born from rediscovering Saudi Arabia’s roots – a dialogue between history and the present that I find very fascinating,” the designer said. “Armani Hotel Diriyah allows me to interpret my idea of lifestyle and hospitality in a particularly subtle and embracing way.

"I am ready to take on this exciting new challenge. I am inspired by this initiative and delighted to be part of a project of such wide geographical and cultural scope.”

Seeing the success from afar has undoubtedly encouraged other fashion and lifestyle houses to embark on their real estate journeys.

Versace unveiled the Palazzo Versace Dubai in 2015 and later teamed up with Damac on a London tower. Elie Saab, under the Elie Saab Maison banner, has produced luxury branded residences globally, and Fendi’s residences are located in cities such as Miami, Marbella and Panama City, presenting properties infused with the essence of Fendi Casa.

One brand that is a relative newcomer to the real estate market, but has big dreams for the future, is luxury watchmaker Jacob & Co.

Last year, it revealed Burj Binghatti Jacob & Co Residences, a partnership with Dubai’s Binghatti Properties. It will be an ultra-luxury tower, which is set to be the tallest residential building in the world when completed. Jacob & Co chief executive Benjamin Arabov views this as a pivotal step for the brand, which projects a future far beyond being simply a watchmaker.

“The dream is to turn this brand into a luxury lifestyle brand," he said.

"Hotels, residences, accessories, luxury products ... For us, it’s about building a lifestyle, and a core of that is building out our real estate division."

Jacob & Co is one of the few watchmakers remaining independent today. A family business, it was founded by Arabov’s father, Jacob Arabo, in New York City in 1986. Arabov was appointed as chief executive in 2016. Today, the company sells its pieces for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with clients including Cristiano Ronaldo, Sir Elton John and Madonna.

Creating a lifestyle brand around this concept has been the family’s dream and one that they deem not just potentially financial, but also an opportunity to build closer relationships with their clients.

“Entering the real estate segment as a luxury brand offers numerous advantages, including the ability to leverage our brand’s prestige and trust, provide exclusive experiences and sound investment opportunities,” says Arabov.

“Our global reach enables us to offer luxury properties in desirable locations worldwide, and our expertise in high-end markets ensures that we can deliver personalised solutions tailored to our target market’s requirements.

"This expansion allows us to enhance our client’s overall experience, meeting their needs with the utmost attention to detail and exclusivity.”

With the completion of Burj Binghatti expected in 2026, there is still work to be done. Prices for the residences start at $22.3 million for the two-bedroom Emerald Villas, while a seven-bedroom Sky Penthouse is expected to sell for about $200 million.

Continuing with the uber-luxury segment, Italian jewellery brand Bulgari has embarked on its own retail venture, partnering with Dubai developer Meraas on several projects over the past few years.

After the success of Bulgari Resort and Residences Dubai, its latest project, Bulgari Lighthouse, is being built on Jumeira Bay. As the third project between the Roman jeweller and the Dubai property developer, the tower is expected to combine the finest architecture and design. Designed by world-renowned architecture firm ACPV Architects, Bulgari Lighthouse will comprise 31 penthouses over 27 storeys, topped with a three-level Sky Villa.

The coastal positioning of the tower will allow for uninterrupted views of the Arabian Gulf and the Dubai skyline, putting it at one of the most sought-after locations in the city.

Residents will also benefit from access to the facilities of the neighbouring Bulgari Resort Dubai.

Anuradha Harish, chief commercial officer at Meraas, says: “Echoing Bulgari’s promise of exquisite design and quality, Meraas is proud to play a key role in thoughtfully curating a collection of unparalleled residential and hospitality offerings.”

With so much opportunity, it’s easy to see why brands embark on such ventures. As the market thrives, the landscape of luxury real estate in the UAE continues to captivate, with more brands poised to follow the path set out by their peers.

Updated: November 09, 2023, 4:50 AM