When Mohamed Al Safar, 31, a collector of trainers, ran out of space in his Dubai apartment for his 2,000-plus pairs of rare shoes worth an estimated $1 million (Dh3.6m), he chose the next best place to house them: a penthouse in the Burj Khalifa.
Here, in a luxurious apartment more than 100 floors up in the world’s tallest tower, Al Safar proudly displays his prized possessions in the living room, all neatly lined up in transparent boxes, shielded from dust and direct sunlight. The room temperature is always maintained at the optimum.
“This is just one third of my collection. The rest are in my home in California,” he says. “I usually spend half a year in the US, but since the Covid-19 situation, I haven’t been able to travel much.”
Al Safar, a Bahraini national, is probably one of the biggest collectors of rare trainers in the UAE. He is the director of his family-owned Al Safar Group, which has interests in education, hospitality, property and food retail, and has its headquarters in Bahrain. He splits his time between the US, the UAE and Bahrain.
Al Safar says his interest in trainers was sparked when he was in school in Bahrain. “We were all in uniform, but we were allowed to wear whatever footwear we wanted. So it became our only form of expression,” he recalls. “I’ve always liked collecting things even as a kid, so as my obsession with sneakers grew, my interest in owning the rare ones started.”
This passion was further fuelled when he went to study in the US. “I immersed myself in the sneaker culture there, and very soon made contact with insiders and collectors who’d get me the most in-demand pairs. And my collection just grew,” he says.
But unlike others, Al Safar has no plans to make money from his collection, which he estimates is now worth well over $1m. “There are two types of sneakerhead,” he says. “Those who will buy sneakers to rock and those who will buy them to make a profit. I only buy what I like. I am not interested in making money out of them.”
Sometimes his obsession gets the better of him, he jokes, sharing a story about how he once paid $35,000 to a collector in Chicago to personally deliver a pair of trainers to him in Dubai.
"It was a pair of Jordan 4 Undefeated and the seller told me the rapper Travis Scott was interested in them, too. So I made [the seller] an offer he couldn't refuse – a free trip to Dubai with hotel stays and everything. That's how I got the shoes."
Among Al Safar’s favourite pairs in his collection are two variants of a Jordan 4 Retro Travis Scott (Friends and Family) model, now going for $30,000 each on leading trainers and streetwear reseller site StockX.
A ‘Friends and Family’ model means it was given to affiliates of the person or company that made the sneaker and was not sold to the public.
There’s also a Jordan 4 Eminem (Dh73,461) and Jordan 4 Wahlburgers (Dh91,826), created in collaboration with actor Mark Wahlberg. A previously unseen model that never made it to production by Yeezy, the brand from rapper Kanye West, is also proudly displayed.
Air Jordan, a collaboration between basketball star Michael Jordan and Nike, is one of the world’s most successful footwear brands, taking in $3.1 billion in wholesale revenue last year, according to Forbes. Nike has often highlighted Jordan as a driver of its growth.
Al Safar’s obsession is not limited to shoes. Holding pride of place in his Burj Khalifa penthouse is a monogrammed 400-kilogram, 317-centimetre-long oversized park bench created by Louis Vuitton menswear designer Virgil Abloh for the fashion house’s spring/summer 2020 runway presentation in Paris last year.
The businessman, who considers himself a loyal fan of the French luxury brand, says he had to haggle a bit to obtain the piece of furniture, but it was well worth the $40,000 he spent on it, which included transportation costs.
“They know me very well, so I called them after the show and told them I really wanted it. They were a bit surprised, but said they would send it,” Al Safar explains. “It came to Dubai in one single piece but we had to make adjustments since it wouldn’t fit in the Burj Khalifa’s lifts.”
His apartment is also filled with rare collectibles, mostly from the fashion world. There’s a Kaws BFF Dior Plush figure, from a collaboration with Dior and American artist Kaws, now going for $18,000 on StockX; a range of skateboards, toys and accessories from cult brand Supreme; sold-out items from Louis Vuitton's collaboration with designer, DJ and entrepreneur Nigo, creator of Japanese streetwear brand A Bathing Ape (known as Bape); as well as rare bags, luggage and sunglasses from the French maison.
Al Safar gingerly removes each item from its box and carefully packs it up again. He says he cleans each item, including the shoes, himself. “I don’t trust anyone with them,” he says, with a laugh. “And I love to do it myself. It makes me happy.”
The father-of-two says his wife and parents fully support his obsession. “My parents actually encouraged my collections since I was a kid, and my wife gets every pair of sneakers I buy, so she doesn’t complain. She also has her own obsession with handbags,” he says.
On his shopping list is a pair of Jordan 4 Eminem Encore, released to celebrate the rapper's album of the same name in 2004 – one website calls them "the rarest Jordan 4s to date".
“That’s the pair I’m dying to get,” he says. “Eminem is one of my favourite rappers of all time and I need this shoe to complete his Jordan set.”
StockX currently has the pair listed at $30,000.