Girard-Perregaux is one of the first of a number of high-end watchmakers to open monobrand outlets in the Beirut Souks. Executive sat down with Girard-Perregaux Vice President Stefano Macaluso recently to talk shop, the economy and the Lebanese market.
E Monobrand outlets are a new phenomenon in Beirut’s high-end luxury market, and yet we’ve see a number of them cropping up already in the Beirut Souks. Any thoughts on what could be causing this trend?
The idea of monobrand outlets is, as you say, relatively new here in Beirut, and I think it reflects an increased interest by big-name brands in Lebanon and in the Middle East in general. At a time when luxury watchmakers were tallying losses in Europe and the United States, sales soared in this region. Even in Dubai, which suffered its own imploding economic bubble, we had our best year ever for top-end, extremely complicated pieces in 2009.
I think the Middle East continues to hold a lot of potential. Middle Eastern countries will not be affected like European countries, which resorted to big cuts in social investment.
The situation is still complicated in the United States and in Europe, but we are also reacting there, though a little behind our developments in this region, and will shortly be opening a monobrand boutique on Madison Avenue in New York. So the next stage for the brand, even if the market has slowed, is expansion.
E How long have you had a foothold in Beirut?
Our first contact was [just over] a year ago, after I was invited by Ziad Annan [of A&S Chronora] to discover the location. I fell in love with the city immediately and saw great potential for growth, because as I’ve said, Lebanon was booming even in the face of global recession. With a strong regional partner and a good business climate, it seemed an opportune moment to open our own boutique.
We consider the location [in the Souks] to be very good, even if it is currently under construction. Compared with other sites in the Middle East in particular, I appreciate the architectural approach, as opposed to say that of Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Kuwait, which tend to opt for a more aggressive supermall approach. The Souk is a good compromise between the traditional market, with visibility for every brand, and the sophistication of modern architecture. In all, it feels like a more human approach to commercial development.