By Alistair Mulhall  www.timeoutdubai.com

Giorgio Armani knows how to sell you clothes. But as his long-awaited Armani hotel opens at the Burj, we ask whether he can cut it in the world of five-star hospitality he recipe for a successful fashion mega-brand seems simple enough on the surface: decorate a city with advertising billboards, hire a celebrity to endorse a fragrance, then create a cutting-edge denim range and offer cheaper diffusion lines that are more accessible for everyday fans. Hey presto, the money rolls in.

Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll discover the ruthless, competitive side of the fashion industry, where the world’s most powerful brands strive to invent fresh tactics to ensure their relevance each season.

The trick is ensuring an appeal to all different tribes of customers. Twice a year, when these mega-brands reveal their collections alongside new ad campaigns, it’s crucial that they tick every box. Were there A-list celebrities front row at the show? Which big-name photographer shot the campaign? Is there an affordable route to the brand for those who don’t have large disposable incomes? Perhaps, more importantly, can the brand still feel exclusive when so many people inevitably spend a fortune on it?

Giorgio Armani, the 76-year-old Italian designer who founded his label back in 1974, has long been ahead of the game. With an annual turnover of US$1.6 billion, his brand has rocketed skywards ever since he made the decision to go to America in the ’80s and tailor Hollywood superstars such as Richard Gere. When it comes to the nearest competition (Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, of course) he has trumped them every year – by a country mile.

And now here comes the latest innovation: a move into hotels. This, as you’d probably imagine, is a very big deal. Armani may have been one of the first designers to realise that global success meant his Dhs15,000 dresses needed the bag, fragrance and kitchen sink to match, but can he cut it in the world of luxury hospitality?

The eagerly awaited grand unveiling of Armani Hotels’ first venture is set to take place this week: a 39-floor, five-star hotel housed in the Burj Khalifa. With 160 guest rooms and suites and 144 residential apartments, it’s no small venture. The launch itself is shrouded in secrecy, but, as with any opening in this city, the press, both here and internationally, will be quick to pass judgment as soon as they get a peek inside.

It’s a tall order. If you look at the track record of other designers who have tried something similar, it has been a case of hit or miss. Italian textiles brand Missoni operates two Hotel Missonis, in Kuwait and Edinburgh. These have been a success, but they are essentially smaller boutique hotels. The closest rival will be Palazzo Versace in Dubai (a palatial hotel designed by Miss Donatella), scheduled for completion later this year. This ambitious project down by the creek made a big splash when it was originally announced, thanks to innovations such as the temperature-controlled sand. And to be fair, its forerunner, the Palazzo Versace in Queensland, Australia, was a big success. However, the glam Italian brand’s fashion sales are dwindling, which takes the shine off a once-glowing label.

So does Armani have a chance of stealing the hospitality spotlight? Maybe, but in the midst of a recession the Armani hotel will still have to go head to head with Dubai’s other established ports of call known for their luxe factor. The One&Only Royal Mirage, The Address Downtown Dubai, the Burj Al Arab… this city is littered with expensive, popular and fashionable addresses. And with more luxury hotel chains opening here and in Abu Dhabi as the year rolls on, competition for business will continue to grow.

But let’s leave all this aside for a moment. For now, the fashion fans and trendy tribes that make up Dubai’s style set will be clucking around all week in a state of high excitement. There will be whispers of potential celebrities rumoured to be flying in to grace the Armani hotel opening. There’s also the fact that Giorgio himself, probably the most famous fashion designer in the world right now, has created the interior.

Apparently, this extends to him having overseen every last detail. Armani Casa, Giorgio’s successful homewares line, has created special products and pieces for the rooms, and who wouldn’t want to spend the night between the sheets of an Armani bed dreaming about the brand’s racy underwear campaigns?

Of course, this will be the hotel’s pull when it comes to guests. By booking a night in one of the ultra-luxurious rooms, visitors are buying into the Armani world: living his dream; identifying themselves with the brand that has persuaded the Beckhams, Beyoncé and (most recently) Megan Fox to bare all in its ad campaigns. This is the world that Giorgio Armani created, and its gravitational pull is immense – even in these parsimonious times, the cash registers continue to ring at his stores worldwide. And it’s likely these customers will be prepared to splash out on his hotel as well.

Make no mistake: whatever the economic woes facing the rest of the population, there is, and probably always will be, an elite who can and will spend. Big time. All the brands have to do is convince these big spenders that their product, their vision, is worthy of a consumer’s credit card. Who’s to say Giorgio Armani can’t once again be that man?
The Armani Hotel at the Burj Dubai is set to open this week. See www.armanihotels.com for info, or keep an eye on www.timeoutdubai.com for previews of its restaurants and bars.

Giorgio Armani: One of the world’s most expensive high-end labels, specialising in men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, accessories, eyewear, cosmetics and perfumes. Sold in standalone stores and department stores worldwide.

Armani PrivÉ: Armani’s haute-couture line made history by being the first Paris couture fashion show to be streamed live online. The label is strictly made to order and can be seen on the red carpet worn by
A-listers such as Anne Hathaway and Hilary Swank.

Armani Collezioni: A more minimal, casual high-end Armani sub-label, but less expensive than Giorgio Armani. Available from independent boutiques or high-end department stores.

Emporio Armani: A younger yet more upmarket label for adults in their twenties and thirties. In January 2010, Cristiano Ronaldo and Megan Fox became the male and female faces of the label.

Armani Jeans: The designer’s denim-related clothing line was created in 1981. There are 15 standalone Armani Jeans stores worldwide, as well as an Armani Jeans Café in Milan.

AIX Armani Exchange: One of the most powerful youthful fashion labels in the industry, known for its provocative ad campaigns. Armani Exchange communicates through sexy ads and cheaper price points.

Armani Junior: The designer’s boutique brand for children.

Armani/Casa: (‘Armani Home’ in Italian) is a high-end home collection featuring furniture, lamps, linens and dining essentials. The brand has stores worldwide.

Armani Cosmetics: The large beauty brand offers cosmetics, skincare products, perfumes, and colognes. It is produced and distributed by the luxury division of beauty brand L’Oréal.

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